GOES THE FULL MONTE

MY FIRST TASTE OF THE MONACO GRAND PRIX IS OF A 12-YEAR-OLD GIRL, WEARING A BLACK SINGLET STAMPED WITH THE WORDS ďIíM EASY, AND IíM WORTH ITĒ IN SILVER LETTERS. THIS IS FOLLOWED BY A PLUMP ENGLISHMAN WHO, AFTER LANDING HEAVILY ON THE PACKED TRAIN STATION PLATFORM, YELLS ďCAN YOU FRENCH F--KS EVER MAKE A TRAIN RUN ON TIME?Ē

Alex Inwood

After elbowing my way through the crowd, which is doused in a fog of cigarette smoke, I settle on the famous Le Roche hill. The crowd swells alarmingly during the six-hour wait for the race to begin, a never-ending sea of people flowing onto the steep hills around me. These are hardcore racing fans, armed with folding shovels to shape the soft earth, pillows in trash bags and modified deck chairs.

Beers are shared, songs sung and hands offered as people climb the precarious slope. This, I tell myself, is what motorsport is about. Then the first support race starts and everyone goes mad. As if alerted by some unspoken signal, everyone stands and screams, which again is brilliant.

What isnít brilliant is the small Arabic man who, after arriving late, stands behind me and uses my

Monaco is better than Bathurst, better than Le Mans at four in the morning

back as a resting place for his knees. Then a camera lens so large it could photograph footprints on the moon lands on my shoulder and he starts taking photos with the enthusiasm of a machine gunner.

photos with the enthusiasm of a machine gunner.

To stop myself breaking what Iím sure is a very expensive camera, I leave, and after a short walk find myself at the harbour. Each yacht is bristling with humans, speckled on the decks like pins in a cushion, dressed in Chanel or Gucci and sipping Champagne or eating oysters. Iím convinced that the net worth of the boats would cure world poverty. Itís enough to make you sick. But of course it doesnít, because Monaco is amazing.

And the racing Ė well, the racing is the best Iíve ever seen. The day before, a media mate lent me his photographerís vest; a flimsy white tabard worth its weight in superyachts. Think of it as a master key for the entire track, meaning that if you wear the vest, thereís nowhere you canít go. Which is why during qualifying I found myself standing in the famous tunnel, pressed so hard against the Armco it cut my legs. My head dangled over the track, stuck through a small hole in the protective wire, the cars so close I had to cling to the fence for fear of being blown backwards by their turbulent passing.

That hour, camped in the dark as the cars flew by, their titanium skid plates kicking sparks into the air and the exposed hands of the drivers wrestling with their steering wheels, was the best motorsport experience of my life. Better than Bathurst, better than Le Mans at four in the morning. I can only imagine how loud the old V8s would have been in that amphitheatre, their ld engines screaming at 18,000rpm at close to engines screaming at 18,000rpm at close to 270km/h. Probably like the world was ending.

Even back on the hill, with a telescope on my shoulder and knees in my back, Monaco was unforgettable. The noise, the smells, the electric atmosphere all had me thinking, as I waited for my train to go home, which was 40 minutes late, that I hope my first Monaco isnít my last. g.

Berth trauma

RACING at Monaco was once described by Nelson Piquet as like ďriding a bicycle around your living roomĒ, but Max Verstappenís misjudgment at St Devote during this yearís race showed how quickly things can go seriously wrong.

It paled in comparison with Alberto Ascariís off while leading in 1955, the Italian lucky not to drown when he miscued the chicane at the end of the tunnel and ended up in the harbour.