Deserted, disconcerting, almost spine-chillingly unnerving in a wholly Hollywood disaster movie kinda’ way. As if one is the only person left alive in a place usually chaotic with the hustle and bustle of a busy city street.
Monaco’s Casino Square at 05.59 on a grand prix Saturday morning is a strange experience indeed.
Bathing the scene in a rapidly evolving blue-to-purple glow, the sun’s light appears. As warmly glowing shards of yellow and orange illuminate sections of Armco and track, the Principality comes to life.
Up early to photograph the sun rising over this most special of Formula 1’s various venues I’m all alone save for an interesting mix of scattered souls, some – like me – woken by an early alarm, others yet to climb into their own beds…
From the sweeping left of the Massenet corner I look to the east. In the harbour below, the sparkling super yachts, tightly packed, elbow one another gently in search of just a little more room.
Teetering on vertiginous heels after a night of alcohol-fuelled revelry on sundry floating gin palaces, now not-so-glamorous women concentrate hard as they stagger precariously along the gang-planks, their equally dishevelled men-folk offering less than solid support.
Nightclub staff and others who ply a nocturnal trade, shifts over, walk wearily and silently home.
Clang, clang, scrape, bang, bolt, as if the gates of hell are slamming shut, the intermittently placed Armco barrier openings are pushed hard back in to place, completing the unforgivingly solid and sinuous ribbon of steel that edges the 3.3km track.
Track sweepers sweep. Lap-after-lap-after-slow-lap their spinning bristle brushes swoosh the Tarmac clean. By the time their humming hoovers fall silent, not a single solitary cigarette butt is left to spoil the hallowed surface. Right here, right now, nowhere is there is a cleaner surface on which to drive.
Orange-jumpsuited men are suddenly all around. The best race track marshals in the world arrive for a day’s volunteering.
Walking through the famous tunnel I emerge into the now bright morning sunshine.
A pungent chemical smell fills the air. The track edge painting crew are hard at work pushing and pulling their sticky paint-soaked rollers back and forth. Bright red and white kerbs await the squealing Pirellis.
Everything, everything at this special place has to be just so, as perfect as is practically possible. Monaco is a unique affair at any time of the year. Preened and pampered people living cheek-by-jowl in compact and bijou multi-million-Euro-costing apartments, it’s a bizarre little town but, when the eyes of the F1 world gaze upon it, there really is no place quite so exceptional.
08.09 and a powerful purr can be heard overhead. The bright yellow medical helicopter hovers in the bright, cloudless blue sky, gently touching down atop a waterfront apartment block. And the day is set fair.
Everything is just so, everything is ready.
Let battle commence.