Grand Prix Business Diary: Monaco

The Monaco Grand Prix, as always, was the domain of the rich and famous as Formula One gathered on the Mediterranean for the most traditional and glitzy Grand Prix of the season.

The rich, famous and just plain influential descended, as is traditional, on Monte Carlo for Formula One's most glamorous and traditional event of the season. George Lucas and Cuba Gooding Jr. were aboard the Red Bull Energy Station, Will Smith was with McLaren and Antonio Banderas was a guest of Force India.

From a business perspective, however, it was the meeting of Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich and Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim, who shared a pre-race lunch, that drew the most eyeballs. Who pays when two of the richest men in the world dine together? A middling Formula One team, obviously; Chelsea's recent partnership with Sauber has seen Abramovich join Slim's Telmex as an investor in the Swiss team.

Energetic activation

Even in a harbour full of some of the most luxurious and expensive yachts in the world, Red Bull's Monaco Energy Station – an 800 tonne, 1,200 square metre colossus floated into the principality each year for the Grand Prix – stands out.

It was, for the third year in succession, the scene of a mass team celebration in the swimming pool on the top deck. High above, in a building some way away from the action, a rather large inflatable can of Monster Energy, signifying the location of the Mercedes sponsor's hospitality, looked rather pale by comparison.

To Infiniti and beyond

Having recently been anointed the world's eighth most marketable athlete, world champion Sebastian Vettel unsurprisingly looked pleased with his copy of SportsPro’s most marketable issue when it was presented to him on Friday afternoon.

Vettel, a global ambassador for Red Bull partner Infiniti, was slightly more reticent, however, about discussing his own marketability. “You can think about your image,” he said in Monaco, “but just sticking to the example of the FX car we have launched together [with Infiniti], you try to give a certain amount of input according to what you like.”

Vettel joined Infiniti last year soon after the car manufacturer, Nissan's luxury brand, joined forces with Red Bull Racing. “We had one common project with the FX,” Vettel explained, “where I was allowed to get a bit of an idea of the design process; based on the FX we did a little bit on top to make it a bit more individual and to my liking as well. But I'm not telling them which cars to sell, which cars not to sell, how the cars should look.”

Mallya firm on Force India finances

Vijay Mallya's Indian Empress uber-yacht was hard to miss in Monaco's harbour but, rather surprisingly, it was the Force India owner's first visit to a Grand Prix this year.

Mallya's airline Kingfisher has been in significant financial difficulties in recent months but the man himself, appearing in Thursday's official FIA press conference, batted away any suggestions that the team is in any peril as a result: “The airline is a victim of extraordinarily high oil prices and excessive taxation,” Mallya said. “I have sporting interests and I am passionately involved in all these sporting interests, I think I said it earlier. Sahara Force India is independent, fully funded.

“It's a joint venture between the Sahara Group and myself, there has been a significant capital infusion at the end of 2011, another significant capital infusion from the Sahara Group is due in 2012 and going beyond to 2013. So, Sahara Force India is extremely well taken care of and set.”

U-S-A! U-S-A!

If Monaco is Monaco and Singapore's night race has quickly established itself as the Monaco Grand Prix of the east, then might next year's proposed New Jersey Grand Prix be the Monaco of the west? Work is, according to reports, progressing well on the pit buildings and other facilities that will be required for the street race on the New Jersey side of the Hudson, overlooking the Manhattan skyline.

And plans are already afoot to ramp up the publicity for Formula One's return to the United States, which begins with a Grand Prix in Austin later this season. With the teams heading to North America for the Canadian Grand Prix in two weeks, expect some significant promotional work from Formula One teams. 

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