May 06th 2014

Grand Prix de Monaco Historique : a mechanical feast for the senses


For the duration of a week-end, between the 9th and 11th of May 2014, Monaco regains its status of world capital of classic racing. The Grand Prix de Monaco Historique is the most prestigious event in that small world. It mainly pertains to its taking place on the exact same track as the Formula 1 race. And that track is one of the most challenging ever imagined, since it is almost impossible to overtake in the narrow, steep and winding streets of that town. This unique combination of historical, mechanical and sporting interest has led us to become main sponsor and official timer of the Historical Grand Prix 12 years ago. Our commitment has since then taken the shape of several generations of sports watches, called Chopard Grand Prix de Monaco Historique. They have always taken a cue from the design, technical and practical aspects of racing.

During these days, the Monaco landscape will be dramatically altered by the arrival of the 9th Grand Prix. One will inevitably come across Maseratis, Bentleys, Ferraris and Bugattis. But these powerful and highly desirable marvels won’t be of the brand-new, idle-and-shiny kind, sitting on the parking lots of 5-star hotels. They’ll be lying on the floor, a jigsaw puzzle of dirty spare parts, under the tents lined up to form the Grand Prix’s paddocks, alongside the Port Hercule embankments. In these alleys resides the Grand Prix de Monaco Historique’s true spirit. There, it becomes incarnate and palpable, as this race is first and foremost a sensory experience.

The first feast is for the eyes. No other event features so many different classic race cars. According to one’s age, one can recognize this and that generation of F1. From the 50’s, they’re low, slender with sharks-like air intakes. The ones from the 70’s prefigure the ones from today, more pragmatic and aggressive. It’s becoming harder to find someone who actually saw the 1930’s Bugatti race back then. Their power seems ludicrously low today, but they were actual marvels of intelligence. Another time, another engineering… We at Chopard are following a similar evolution. The way we choose our engine says a lot about our philosophy, our mechanical personality. It is focused on excellence and reliability, which are both based on the interaction of hundreds of components, all of which are crucial to one another.

The Grand Prix de Monaco Historique is a celebration of mechanical art. V6 blocks are resting on workbenches, V12 blocks are lying scattered on the floor, waiting to become whole again. No less than 50 years of technological progress are lying there for everyone to see…and smell. It is striking how Monaco smells of oil, gas and exhaust fumes (and not the unleaded kind). As soon as an engine starts, it is pushed in high revs, just to warm up and lend itself to a sound check. The air becomes blue, and barely breathable sometimes. But no one seems to really mind. It would be like complaining about stables smelling of horses, or a watch manufacture smelling of cutting fluid. That’s life…for an engine.

One can hear the Grand Prix’s heartbeat. Each car category has its specific pitch, more or less high. It is the result of regularly updated sets of rules, that defined the engine’s specs. The older ones had long exhaust pipes, clearly visible alongside the cars’ bodies. But as the competition grew more professional and sharp, they became shorter. Linked to engines with higher revs, their sound went up in pitch and intensity. Hundreds of explosions a minute, the ones that give the engine its power, are happening right there, in the open air, without muffling, near everyone’s ears.

The race is an incredible concert. At first, the cars start and rumble, one over here, two over there. They line up slowly. One knows the race has started with the astounding, deafening explosion of roars it entails. Monaco is then submerged by an air-saturating thunder. People know what’s happening by the Mediterranean seaside miles and miles around. The feat for the eyes returns. It’s an explosion of colors. Arrows of red, black, yellow, green and white zoom through the city streets. They only become clearly visible at the curves, narrow bends that have become Monaco’s signature. It is a city where the mountain drops in the sea, where rocks give way to water without warning. The race track rises uptown before diving towards Port Hercule, where the platforms are standing.

During two and a half days, a unique spirit reigns over Monaco. There are not that many tourists, as the grand Prix attracts mostly connoisseurs and aficionados. But isn’t an elitist event. People there aren’t snobs, nor do they look down on the public. Pilots and mechanics talk, laugh in between races, and let the public share their passion. Classic racing is shaped by fair-play, and the paddocks are where it shows. The humility of the competitors is inversely proportional to the price of their metal steeds.

These factors are what brought Chopard closer to this race. Because elegance stems from design, but also from people’s behavior. In a similar gesture, we had become a partner of the Mille Miglia race, which takes place on open roads. It is that very spirit, although much more contemporary, that has recently led us to become « Official Timing Partner » of the most famous and respected race car team outside Formula 1, Porsche Motorsport.

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