by Andrew Frankl
You can always tell if SAS Prince Albert II is going somewhere on official business. First come the motorcycle outriders, then a couple of cars with flashing blue lights and, finally, the Prince himself.
How do I know this? Well, exactly a year ago I was on the receiving end of the Royal visit. Yes, you’ve read it right!
The reason: he very kindly came along to a reception organised by the My Yacht Group on board one of the yachts bobbing up and down on Quay Kennedy prior to the 2015 Grand Prix. Not only did Prince Albert turn up, he helped me blow out the candles on a huge chocolate cake, celebrating my 50th consecutive Monaco Grand Prix!
I can’t deny it. It was 1966 when I descended from the third-class carriage of the Paris to Ventimiglia train and headed for the Hotel Cosmopolite – far and away the cheapest hotel for miles around. It is still there, 4 rue de la Turbie, a stone’s throw from the “plage publique”, namely the free beach.
I cannot quite remember how I’d managed to scrape together enough French francs to pay for the room, all I can remember is that we had one bathroom for 8 people. Still, the wine was almost free, the baguette was freshly baked and even the ham and cheese were within my miniscule budget.
Of course, in those days the hillside was free so all I had to do was clamber up and watch the race. Jackie Stewart – a great friend to his day – won in a BRM in 2 hours 33 minutes ahead of Lorenzo Bandini who did the fastest lap of the day. Alas, a year later he crashed at the chicane and lost his life a few days later. Looking back on it, that was the saddest day of my “Monaco” life.
Back then, as photographers we were allowed to stand on the steps of the “Tabac” corner and could clearly see Lorenzo’s car in flames. To make things worse, there was an idiotic camera crew in a helicopter hovering just above and that of course just made the flames worse.
The year 1970 was a great deal happier. I knew all the drivers by then but Jochen Rindt was a special favourite of mine as he was Austrian and was born in the same town (Graz) as my maternal Grandmother. So when, on the last lap, Jack Brabham locked up his brakes and slid into the crash barrier (nearly killing me in the process, I might add!), it enabled Jochen to win the race ahead of the disconsolate Aussie who crawled in 23 seconds later.
The Monaco Grand Prix of 1972 is another one I will never forget. It was won by Jean-Pierre Beltoise, the only time the popular Frenchman had ever taken the chequered flag in his long career. It was also a very special win for team owner Louis Stanley. A huge man with ego to match, he had been spending his wife’s money like water. Not just her money, I hasten to add, but also Marlboro’s – F1’s new sponsor and one with links to the sport to this day.
One can argue against cigarette smoking (personally I’ve never touched the stuff) but if you were to ask the drivers of the day they would see it in a very different light. For years they were THE sponsor of Formula One and have helped the fortunes of many young men. During my F1 career, I have worked at many functions, often with the great Michael Schumacher, and often paid for by Marlboro.
But back to 1972 and the pouring rain. It wasn’t so much a race as a lottery. Beltoise gambled, his luck lasted and there he was on the podium receiving his trophy from none other than Her Royal Highness, Princess Grace. She looked absolutely impeccable, just like in the movies.
For me 1974 was very special indeed as the Ronnie Peterson won the race. The Swede was a personal friend who used to stay with us when he was racing at a track near to our home in England. In my book “Frankly Frankl: Life, Love Luck & Automobiles” there is a chapter devoted to Ronnie with two pictures. One is an action shot taken by me as he was coming through Casino Square and the other a painting by Michael Turner depicting Ronnie all crossed up inches from the Armco barrier. The Petersons like the painting so much they’ve used it as a Christmas card and were kind enough to send me one.
Fast-forward to 1996 and another unforgettable race. It was raining cats and dogs and, against all odds, Olivier Panis won having started from 14th place! By then I had moved from the hillside to a TV commentary box, commentating for Hungarian TV, and it was a special year as my soon-to-be wife Suzie was sitting alongside me. And that’s not all, by then I’d graduated to Le Meridien Beach Plaza, a fine establishment right on the Med, the Cosmopolite thankfully a distant memory!
Suzie and I were in the elevator standing next to Olivier and his wife Annie. He seemed really miserable bearing in mind he had just won the race. “What am I to do?” he said, “All I’ve got are a pair of jeans and a T-shirt! It never occurred to me that I would win the race!” Olivier, said I, this could be your lucky day. We were more or less the same size so I was able to lend him a suit, shirt and tie so that he could attend the post-race gala in proper attire. Problem solved.
Getting married in the Principality in 1996 was a very special occasion indeed, and we are now not far off our 20th anniversary. The ambience at Sass Café may have changed but the cavalcade of fine cars jostling for a prime parking space in Casino Square has not! The American Bar of the legendary Hotel de Paris is as great as ever, and it is there that the late, unforgettable Graham Hill celebrated after winning the Grand Prix. Monsieur Ill is how the French called him and Graham just lapped it up. His son Damon also became World Champion but without the wit and panache of his late father.
These days of course the battle is between local hero Nico Rosberg and crowd favourite Lewis Hamilton. When it comes to fame (as well as fortune) it would be hard to beat the Englishman’s appearance in a recent edition of TIME magazine’s 100 Most Influential People.
For me three drivers stand out as far as Monaco is concerned: Jackie Stewart, Michael Schumacher and, of course, the unique Ayrton Senna.
Let me finish with one of those very special stories concerning Ayrton. He had just won the 1993 Monaco Grand Prix and was having dinner with the team and, most importantly his girlfriend, Adriane. They walked out of the famous and, amazingly expensive, Rampoldi restaurant hand in hand, jumped on his Ducati motorbike and roared off into the distance.
As I pack in San Francisco to head to my 51st Grand Prix de Monaco, I can only hope for an equally thrilling race to add to the many memories, Oh, and perhaps another cake for my 60th!
Andrew Frankl is a native of Hungary. He fled his home country for the UK after participating in the 1956 uprising, almost exactly 60 years ago. In Britain he and his partner ran CAR magazine for 24 years. After selling it, he re-connected with his childhood sweetheart and moved to California. Working as a commentator for Hungarian TV and radio, as well as testing cars and writing for The Auto Channel and FORZA – the biggest Ferrari magazine in the United States – Frankl is an active member of the Ferrari Club of America and the San Francisco Yacht Club. There are a few tickets left for My Yacht Group Grand Prix weekend events. Contact MyYachtGroup.com
PHOTOS: Top, Andrew Frankl interviews HSH Prince Albert, right, Ronnie Peterson in Casino Square as painted by Michael Turner, left Andrew Frankl interviews Michael Schumacher.
Open Season in Miami:
Lamborghini Huracan Spyder – First Drive
by Nicholas Frankl
Senior editor & Motor racing correspondent
Nothing says “I’ve arrived” like a new Lamborghini. There’s something special and exotic about this legendary brand that still resonates with both the purist and casual admirer alike. Consequently, cruising roof down in a brand new, not-seen-before matte black Huracan Spyder on historic Ocean Drive in South Beach Miami was akin to bringing a new Gulfstream G650 jet to your 30th anniversary school reunion.
I was immediately welcomed at the VIP parking slot in front of the famous Avalon Hotel – in fact the owner leaped out to move his motorcycle and make more room and then offered me a complimentary mimosa! I took advantage of the free parking and requested a rain check on the booze.
The all-new LP 610-4 develops 610 bhp from its normally aspirated (a dying breed it sadly seems) and rather glorious V10 that red lines at 8700 rpm and takes you and your windswept hair from 0-62 in 3.4 seconds (two tenths, if you can count them, slower than the coupe), 0-124 in 10.2 and, if your face can take it, to over 200 mph. It weighs 120 kg more than the coupe, but I’m pleased to report doesn’t appear to suffer any unruly scuttle shake when pressed around bumpy roads and is 40% stiffer than its predecessor, the still excellent to drive Gallardo. The soft top folds in just 17 seconds and can activate up to 31 mph, which demonstrates just how stiff the car must be, otherwise the engineers would have been fretting about twisting the mechanism.
A spirited drive from South Beach over the 395 causeway – essentially a lovely smooth drag strip when traffic-free – onto a long left on-ramp leading to the I-95 and a blast down to a quiet and 4-lane wide straight away that leads to Key Biscayne was exactly what this black devil needed. Admittedly there wasn’t really anywhere to test the handling, as there aren’t any real corners in Miami, but that didn’t stop the V10 roaring and propelling the 3400-lb beast at an extremely high rate of speed, more than adequate for mere mortals and realistically as fast as any supercar I’ve driven, including the recent McLaren 657 LT and Ferrari 488.
Importantly, at least for this writer, is the emotion of the Huracan. Okay, so I’d still buy the manual transmission if it was offered, but that’s not the way the new breed of owners like their medicine. That said, its significantly more engaging on an emotional level, in no small part because there are no turbos attached to it. It boasts a silky 7-speed LDF dual-clutch transmission, sophisticated and superior 12.8 inch integrated TFT infotainment system with a kick-ass stereo, triple mode engine and suspension settings that combine a 14% fuel saving improvement with auto engine start and cylinder deactivation, plus multiple airbags, and auto roll-over hoop protection. Lamborghini has managed to engineer a very quiet, one could even say docile “every day driver” for town use that, at heart, is an aggressive and exhilarating supercar that can take on the competition without any excuses and could only come from one small town on the outskirts of Modena. Thank goodness the world can still produce wonderful Lamborghinis like this one.
Customer deliveries begin in spring 2016 at a price of
€186,450 + taxes / $260,000 approx.
The barefoot global elite
Nicholas Frankl, Founder & CEO of My Yacht Group, talks to Nancy Heslin
Anywhere there’s a gathering of the 1% of the 1%, Nicholas Frankl is close by, “megayacht in tow”. And Frankl, whose My Yacht Group creates unique turnkey luxury hospitality on board private super yachts, has a supreme (and shoeless) guest list, from astronauts to Olympians, and from A-Listers to royalty.
Case in point, five years ago, at My Yacht Group’s legendary Friday night bash during the Monaco Grand Prix weekend, the head of a Monaco private bank was on board, as were Lewis Hamilton, Nigel Mansell and, as every year, HSH Prince Albert.
The banker approached Frankl, who lives between Monaco and LA, and said, “Nicholas, I live in Monaco and I can’t get hold of these people. I estimate you have at least $100 billion worth of guests on board and you’ve only got 100 people.”
While Frankl admits he doesn’t ask his friends for their bank balances, his My Yacht Group parties bring together an extraordinary variety of like-minded synergistic company, like astronaut Felix Baumgartner, John Lennon’s son Julian, Pakistan’s prime minister Shaukat Aziz, Denise Rich, Steve Wynn, easyJet founder Sir Stelios Haji-Ioannou, and many others…
Frankl, who turns 45 in July, knows first-hand that the global elite prefer to mix with other successful people, as interesting people beget interesting people. But the real key to his success?
“I’m not selling anything. I’m not asking you to open a bank account or buy a car or a watch. I’m just hosting a really cool group of engaging people, many of who know each other or are just one degree of separation away, and who are used to being the celebrity in the room.”
My Yacht Group, which is run by London-born Frankl and his twin sister Annabelle, whom he credits as “the brains and beauty behind the operation”, is very consistently reaching these individuals in phenomenal places throughout the world. And all they ask is for people to come to their luxury yacht party, which in most cities other than Monaco, is the only yacht party.
After years in Monaco, MYG expanded to Art Basel in Miami, then the Cannes Film Festival, Pebble Beach Concours, the Austin Grand Prix, Monaco Yacht Show and now Asia with Art Basel Hong Kong.
Few people would know seeing photos of a smiling HSH Prince Albert aboard Frankl’s My Yacht Group Monaco party, the long and unique history of their friendship. Frankl, representing Hungary, and HSH competed against each other in the bobsleigh event at three Winter Olympics, in Lillehammer in 1994, Nagano in 1998 and Salt Lake City in 2002.
“We trained together in Calgary in Canada. Prince Albert and I were head to head arch-rivals, and became good friends. There’s a tenacity and drive from athletes that the general populace does not have. Prince Albert was a sportsman like everyone else and that’s what he liked.”
Acknowledging that bobsledders are a character and a breed of their own, especially the “B” Club, like the guys from the Virgin Islands, Jamaica, Trinidad, Armenia and Monaco – “none of us are going to win the gold so it was a great comradery."
Frankl emphasises that “It’s hard work no matter what level you compete at. I was one second off the pace, which was collectively twenty-five places divided by a second. But my training is the same, my exhaustion is the same, my emotions are the same, as is my drive and will to succeed.”
After bobsled, looking for a new thrill, Frankl went on to test motorcycles and now is a licensed pilot. It’s not, however, the same 56-second rush you get in a bobsled, which Frankl says “is like driving the notorious old East-German “Trabi” – no redeeming elements in this car other than a roof – and drive it down a cobbled street with only 4 inches on either side of the wing mirrors, with very high walls, at 200 mph with square wheels and tight corners.”
Frankl would have loved to have been a Formula One driver. He grew up in motor racing, going to his first race at eight-weeks-old. (Belgian driver and Monaco resident Jackie Ickx correctly predicted in 1971 in Monaco that Frankl’s mother, June, would have twins, which she only discovered to be true two weeks prior to their birth.)
His charismatic father, journalist and author Andrew Frankl, is currently Grand Prix Editor of FORZA. He started off as publisher of CAR magazine, making one of Britain’s largest automotive magazines, and has attended over 200 Grands Prix, commentating for radio and television while writing for numerous automotive publications.
“My father knew all the drivers and we hung out with them. For example, Niki Lauda stayed at our house when he was getting started. I wanted to be a F1 driver, but my father was never keen on that because so many of his friends in the Seventies – François Cevert and Ronnie Peterson – were killed.”
As evidenced by his ability to stylishly tuck into a bowl of spaghetti Bolognese while remaining an engaging storyteller, Frankl inherited his father’s charisma. With his adaptable social vocabulary like “dude” and “rad man”, Frankl worked with Sky TV and BBC radio and commentating on Formula One (and in 1995 pitched a “Top Gear” show to Sky that back then they wouldn’t do).
He was hired in 1996 by Edward Asprey to run a three-year $50 million Ferrari sponsorship of the Ferrari Formula. “We put together a global hospitality platform and to be honest, I don’t think Formula One has ever had another guest experience quite like that, but our problem was that, we assumed wrongly, other guests from other sponsors at the same event would be interested in Asprey products – jewels, diamonds, Ferrari silver models, it never happened. So we created our own private yacht party in 1997 and it was a success.”
The Asprey contract ended and Frankl become this unpaid concierge service for the Asprey clients, while still doing Sky TV. He decided to monetise his “Mr Monaco” status and in 2005 launched My Yacht Monaco and knew just who to invite. When the Prince (who Frankl says has always been “a fantastic and incredibly supportive friend for over 20 years”) and his guests arrived, Steve Soderbergh, the Oscar winning director, who was on board, texted his friends: “This is where it’s happening.”
Contact My Yacht Group about their “Monaco Grand Prix Experience” yacht hospitality and charity events from May 26-29.
Going once, going twice…
going to the Historic Grand Prix
by Nancy Heslin
My foray into car racing came during the Monaco Grand Prix in 2005 when the Star Wars franchise took over to promote “Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith”. Red Bull’s set up in the paddock came complete with Stormtroopers, R2D2 and CP30, while the team’s race cars sported Star Wars liveries.
In addition to interviewing George Lucas for “People Magazine” over lattés on race morning near Rascasse corner, I was privy to all the free food and drink services throughout the day, and, most appreciatively, toilets (I indulged in one too many Red Bulls).
With revving engines and the smell of burning tyres, testosterone was pumping through my system so excitedly that by race day’s end I was certain I’d grown a full beard. Thankfully, this was not the case, but I remember observing the metal grandstands, fans squished together crisping in the afternoon sun and having to pay for concessions, and thought it all so uncivilised. If I couldn’t go to the Monaco GP in style, I wouldn’t go.
Truth be told, I thought the same for Historic Grand Prix. Why bother? Well, today I answered my own question.
My introduction to the Grand Prix de Monaco Historique, the biannual race that celebrates its 10th edition this weekend, started with yesterday’s Press Breakfast at the 7th Credit Suisse Historic Racing Forum, in their new Credit Suisse Drivers Club.
Discussing the subject “Manufacturers versus Privateers”, media from across the globe were entertained by a panel of former F1 drivers: Jochen Mass, Alain de Cadenet, Ray Mollock, Emanuele Pirro and the legendary Sir Stirling Moss, who on this day 60 years ago, three weeks after Grace Kelly’s fairy tale marriage to Prince Rainier III, won the 1956 Monaco Grand Prix for the Officine Alfieri Maserati team.
A brief black and white clip of the victory played to thunderous applause from the room.
The hour-long dialogue – which in previous years included the topics “Is historic racing better than Formula 1” and “Is the spirit of historic racing under threat” – started with Pirro’s question about the future of racing, will it become a sport for technology or a sport for man?
As I listened to this group of veterans talk about today’s overly-complicated manufactured cars and how today’s drivers are paid to win to justify the investment, it became clear that while the panel’s faces are more lined and their bodies have aged, the memories of racing for these men is as fresh as a win last week. And the undisputed admiration and comradeship amongst them stems not simply from a love of racing, but a love of cars also. Their generation with their coloured helmets bobbing and exposed, built the cars, mastered the cars, and celebrated the cars.
“Forced into retirement” four years ago at the age of 83, Sir Stirling weighed in on the then-versus-now question. “I would not swap my era for now. I had the pleasure of 600 races because I loved doing it. There’s no pleasure, exhilaration or fun nowadays.
Driver input those days was more by the driver. In 1961, there were 100 laps at the Monaco Grand Prix. I’d see the driver behind me, and every lap, I’d say to myself, ‘I’m going to try to do a perfect lap’. At the same time I have to make it look like I wasn’t working too hard, so I’d give a thumbs up to the driver behind while I was actually clenched on the ground.”
He added, with his distinctive humour, “Monaco is such an intimate course. Every lap I’d blow a kiss to the woman with the pale pink lipstick … it never went anywhere though...”
Alain de Cadenet - who released the film “Pistons Passions Pleasures, A Sicilian Dream: The Story of the Greatest Road Race in History” last October (and also has been quoted saying, “I drove Le Mans at 230mph ... with only one working eye”) - summed up the sentiment best by asking the audience in closing “Do you prefer today’s racing?” Not a single hand was raised.
As I left, making my way over to preview RM Sotheby’s car auction, I likened the impressive toughness of this death-defying crew of racers to French Resistance fighters, bound together by the times, and all for a love of something greater than themselves.
Next stop on my Historic Grand Prix lap was a meeting with RM Sotheby’s Chief Operating Officer, Alain Squindo, at Le Sporting, who discussed the May 14 auction.
Squindo, a history major from Georgetown University in Washington, D.C, is in charge of all operations – the logistics, the PR, marketing, travelling with 45 staff members – that relate to putting the event on.
Unlike a conventional auction house with a sales room, the industry gravitates towards existing classic cars events, like the Historic Grand Prix on Sunday or, another major event for RM Sotheby’s, the Pebble Beach auction in California. “We fill a select number of spots, we sell only 800 cars a year in six to eight auctions, with an average price pointing well into the six-figures with many multi-million dollar transactions.”
Squindo has been with RM Sotheby’s for nine years and says he loves the travel and interacting with clients in their hobby and their passion. “They race and collect cars, travelling with their families and so it’s a joy to deal with happy people.” One of his personal highlights came last year, when he and his team pulled off the most viable collector car sale in history, selling a record-breaking $172.9 million over two days in Monterey, California.
“Fine Art for RM Sotheby’s is a very traditional and elegant English approach that suits them extremely well,” Squindo explains. “But the car auction business as we know it in North America started in the Midwest, in California, as a very fast-paced, no-reserve style and we have blended the two approaches, maintaining professionalism and discretion.”
The same criteria that apply to art apply equally well to cars: rarity, provenance, condition and basic appearance.
“The best way to know what car is going to be attractive at a point in time,” Squindo says, “is to ask the question ‘What did the gentleman in the bidding room have hanging as a poster on his childhood bedroom wall?’ In 2016, for these guys growing up in the Eighties, it was Porsches, Ferraris and Lamborghinis – they are buying the car they lusted after as a child.”
Saturday’s auction, with some 500 bidders attending, will offer 105 sports, racing and coach-built automobiles, including the ultra-rare 1968 Ferrari 275 GTS/4 NART Spider (expected to fetch between €19 and €23 million), and Italy’s famed Quattroruote Collection. The 2014 Historic Monaco Grand Prix auction had €41 million in sales.
Monaco is one of the Meccas for motorcars, with an essentially captive audience with the Historic Grand Prix and serious collectors. A typical buyer (and seller) profile is 55 to 65, a mostly male market from North American and Europe.
“A car auction, at least ours in particular, is slightly different,” Squindo feels, “because they are tremendously entertaining. Quite frequently it’s a very full auction room, an engaging auctioneer, there are a few cocktails, people from around the world with Caster Oil in their blood … it’s tremendously electric.”
What really makes an auction though he says is a great bidding war, for a car that will never be available again, and two people battle back and forth. “The engagement is international because you have eight people on the phone desk fielding calls from North America, Russia and Asia in concert with internet bidding. This is getting stronger and we have the same financial credentials in advance but we do at times shut off internet bidding at very high dollar value, because we like to physically interact with the bidder. We take steps to ensure internet bidding is safe and every bid is valid.”
Squindo mentions that they are the largest team in the industry, with more specialists than anyone else and with a larger marketing team, all in-house. They don’t simply advertise their 100 cars; their specialists actively make the calls to find buyers.
The reason the auction is a preferred way of selling is because “you create a real moment in time for thirty seconds”, where if you have a once-in-a-lifetime car that’s exposed to 1000 people, 8 people on the telephone desk, people are forced to raise the paddle, in that room, in ten seconds.
Squindo graciously excused himself and set off to his next appointment with a group of investment bankers.
If, like Alain Squindo, seeing the Historic Grand Prix satisfies a life goal, there are still tickets left for race day Sunday. Otherwise, preview of RM Sotheby’s auction is open to the public Saturday May 13, 09:00-16:00.
PHOTOS: Top, Sir Stirling Moss, right, Alain Squindo, Sotheby's Chief Operating Officer on site at Le Sporting for the biennial collector car auction, below, Sir Stirling Moss sitting on the same car that 60 years ago today spectacularly won the 1956 Monaco Grand Prix
Sonia Irvine’s winning formula
by Nancy Heslin
Starbucks is not the kind of place you’d expect to find Sonia Irvine, head of the multi-million dollar Amber Lounge, Formula One’s most exclusive party for racers, supermodels and A-Listers, such Jennifer Lawrence. Dressed in flowing cottons, she sips her decaf, briefly glancing apologetically at her phone that dings as often as the barista calls out the name of the next order (Sonia’s cup is nameless).
“We didn’t have a lot of money growing up,” the single mother of two from Newtownards in Northern Ireland tells me. “Our clothes came from Oxfam. One Christmas Eddie would have a good Christmas and the next year, I’d have a good one, but my parents could never afford for both of us to have a really good Christmas. It taught us to respect money, and my brother and I never waste money.”
Sonia and her younger brother Edmund “Eddie” Irvine, Jr., a Formula One driver from 1993 to 2002, have come a long way since the days of Santa’s visits, but they have kept their feet planted on the ground and kept family close by.
“We had an amazing childhood, we were happy. Mom was always a bit eccentric in a lovely way. She just let us live, there were no constraints. We wanted to learn how to paint. She found gloss paint in the back of the shed, we painted everything – including ourselves – which was impossible to get off.”
Sports always played a part in the siblings’ upbringing. They both competed in swimming at the national level, Sonia from the age of 12 until she went to university, although she admits that “I hated swimming in the end, getting out of the water and being sick because you trained so hard.” These days Sonia rarely uses the pool at her house. Sonia agrees that the training had a massive impact on her, and her brother.
“Eddie and I are, right or wrong, quite direct. When we don’t like something, we’ll say it, but we go and get things. We both started with nothing. When Michael Schumacher would get equipment, Eddie understood that he was the best in the world. ‘There’s Michael Schumacher and then the rest of us.’ That was his psychology. And I guess that’s why we are both able to turn things around.”
Sonia became a physiotherapist and had her own private practice in Ireland treating sports injuries, where she would work before and after going “to my NHS day job”, where she ran a physio department for stroke and Alzheimer patients. “I loved elderly care and gerontology. Nothing is as satisfying as getting a stroke patient to stand or take a step for the first time.”
In 1996, Eddie was racing for Ferrari and, as the story has been told many times before, asked Sonia to be his personal physiotherapist. She wound up working for the whole Ferrari team.
“This was a total different world. It was quite intimidating; my brother didn’t really introduce me or help me fit in. I just got on with it - I suppose I used my Irish ways. I learned so much but it wasn’t enough for me being a physio, there was a lot of just sitting around all the time.”
When Eddie left to join Jaguar in 2000, Sonia stayed in the F1 world, “working for a sponsorship agency that serviced all the teams along the paddock”.
“As my parents taught me, you’ve got to make the best of what you’ve got, there’s no point in moping. You are in control of your own life and no one owes you anything.” So in 2002, she launched Amber Lounge – the word Amber was randomly picked from a dictionary – which was never a long-term plan. It was only three years after Sonia first put on the now-legendary pop-up Formula One after-party in Monaco that she considered expanding the hospitality venture within the F1 circuit. “I never see a reason not to do anything. If I want to do it, I do it,” she maintains. Today, in addition to the signature Monaco Grand Prix, Amber Lounge is at the Singapore, Mexico City and Abu Dhabi Grand Prix races.
The Amber Lounge team is made up of 12 to 14 people, and there are hundreds of others involved on the events side. “My work in principle is don’t come to me with a problem, I’m not interested. Come to me with a problem and a solution, tell me what you can do.” What’s it like to have Sonia as a boss? “I think very determined, very hard but fair, and I push everyone,” the soft-spoken blond reflects. “If people give me 100%, I’ll give them 150% back.”
Sonia balances her intense workload with her family life. It’s not difficult to be a single mom, she remarks bluntly. She doesn’t have a nanny to help with her 6 and 14 year old girls, she’s involved in the school runs and homework. “I want to spend as much time as possible with my kids. I’m at home for dinner and on the weekends, this is my choice.”
Currently her schedule is a little more stretched than usual as, for the first time in its 14-year history, Amber Lounge will morph into the “Amber Summer” the week following Monaco Grand Prix weekend. “I’ve been wanting to do this for a few years,” she explains, “and all the pieces fell into place, so it was time. I’m very excited to be doing something new.”
Open daily from 17:00, Amber Summer will take over 350sqm at the Meridien Beach Plaza serving an Asian-style night menu, a late night menu and, for revellers, breakfast from 5am to 7am. Unlike Amber Lounge and its wild nightlife though, Amber Summer is a place to relax: “You can come in your beachwear and have a casual drink, or bite to eat before heading out at midnight to the clubs and then come back to Amber Summer for breakfast.”
Meanwhile, this year’s Amber Lounge charity fashion show, which supports a different organisation nearly every year, is celebrating its 10th anniversary on Friday May 27. This edition it has chosen the Amber Foundation (a coincidental name and unrelated to Amber Lounge), which helps disadvantaged street kids, and was suggested to Sonia by her friend Eddie Jordan, the Irishman behind the Jordan Grand Prix.
“On Friday the fashion show will have nine of the drivers – including Daniel Ricciardo and Daniil Kvyat from Red Bull, Marcus Ericsson and Felipe Nasr from Sauber and Nico Hülkenberg from Sahara Force India, Esteban Gutierrez, Rio Haryanto, Pascal Wehrlein and Jolyon Palmer from Renault. The teams are incredible for giving their time. They are super busy and I’m super lucky.”
Over the last decade, the Friday night Fashion and charity auctions have raised more than €4 million in donations for organisations such as the Special Olympics, the Elton John AIDS Foundation and the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund. “This year, we will have some fabulous auctions lots including a unique piece designed by Yanush Gioelli, a Private Pilot's license at White Waltham Airfield and a lunch with one of the actors of Game of Thrones.”
Saturday night, there’s an Extravaganza with different acts, including Jasmine “Sun Goes Down” Thompson, who will open the fashion show on Friday.
Each night there’s a three-course sit-down dinner for 250 people, wine and champagne included. Individual tickets for the legendary after-party start at €350, while a VIP table for 8 people (all you can drink) will set you back €8,950.
“I want people to walk away from Amber Lounge and say ‘That was the best experience I’ve ever had and I have to come back next year’. If they don’t walk away happy, I take it very personally.”
A one-of-a-kind F1 Driver Fashion Show, Live Charity Auction, and 3 nights of wild After Parties with live entertainment at the Saturday night Extravaganza featuring Jasmine Thompson can be found at Amber Lounge from May 27-29. See amber-lounge.com for ticket information. PHOTO: Sonia Irvine
European Poker Tour plays in Monaco
The European Poker Tour, the series of high stakes poker tournaments that attract the jet-setting elite of international poker professionals is here in Monaco from April 26 to May 6. Prizes of over one million euros attract professional poker players who descend on destinations such as Barcelona, Malta and Prague, competing to be crowned the winner of events such as the “Super High Roller.” And the most prestigious of all the EPT tournaments is the grand final, which is held in Monaco.
Monaco Life spoke to four professional players from Europe and the US, to find out what brings them to the PokerStars and Monte-Carlo®Casino EPT Grand Final.
by Samantha Rea
Craig McCorkell is a British poker pro and winner of a prestigious World Series of Poker [WSOP] bracelet. He won 100,000 euros in the acclaimed Main Event in Monaco.
“My win in Monaco was early in my poker tournament career, so it was really important to me. I was lucky to even get there because it was 2010, so the volcanic ash cloud meant there were no flights. I made it to Paris by Eurostar – then I was faced with a train strike in France!
The first place prize money for the EPT Grand Final in Monaco is always massive – it’s double all the other EPTs. It’s changed this year – the prize won’t be as much, but I’ll always come back to Monaco – it’s such a beautiful, historic city.
I stay at the Monte Carlo Bay, Le Meridien or the Fairmont. I like the pool at the Monte Carlo Bay and the views from the room are amazing. When I’m not playing poker, I like walking along the seafront and round the garden of the Monte Carlo Casino - it’s picturesque and the weather’s amazing at that time of year.
I look forward to the restaurants the most – I love Nobu at the Fairmont hotel, and Maya Bay for fresh sushi. I’ve had quite a few nights out in Monaco - my favourite bars have to be Jimmy’z, and the Irish bar, McCarthy’s.”
Melanie Weisner is an American poker pro whose career highlights include winning first place in the Women’s Event at the EPT grand final in Monaco.
“Winning the Women’s Event in Monaco was fun as there were a lot of players – and that same trip, I finished second in another tournament. The grand final in Monaco is the summit of the EPT, so achieving those wins in that calibre of event was particularly satisfying!
Poker players, especially Americans, often associate gambling with Las Vegas, but I think Monte Carlo is the world’s most iconic gambling spot. It’s much more elegant than the glitz of Las Vegas, and it’s not like any other stop in Europe - it’s the crowning glory of the EPT.
I always stay at the Monte Carlo Bay. The Alain Ducasse restaurant, Le Louis XV is the most luxurious environment I’ve ever been in. It’s magnificent - it’s like something out of Cindarella.
The whole area is full of beautiful excursions. I’ve been on scenic drives to Nice, San Remo and Beaulieu-Sur-Mer, where I had one of the best meals of my life at La Reserve. I’ve been jet skiing and sailing, and one year I was there when the Grand Prix was on – that was super cool.
Monte Carlo is special – everyone should experience it. It’s ritzy, high class and everything is beautifully designed. It’s the pinnacle of wealth – luxury is in the air.”
Igor Kurganov is a Russian poker pro with over $10 million in poker earnings. He’s amassed more in winnings at the EPT in Monte Carlo, than any other poker player.
“I play well in Monaco - the buy-ins are bigger than other places, which increases my focus! My first win there was the best – I was a new kid on the poker scene and I beat [six-time WSOP winner] Daniel Negreanu, for over a million euros. He didn’t expect to lose to me, but I felt like I could take anyone on! Of course that wasn’t true, but luckily the cards fell in my favour!
Monaco is the EPT people look forward to the most, because it’s the biggest one of the year - it attracts players from the US who never come to Europe. Everyone has a good time because the place is gorgeous and the weather is great - whenever I think of Monaco, I picture it being sunny!
I stay at the Monte Carlo Bay - when you stand outside, the view of the ocean makes you feel like you’re on a yacht! I enjoy the pool, and the walk from the hotel to the tournament area. I eat at Maya Bay, which does great Thai and Japanese food, and I go to Buddha-Bar – it’s loungey, and there’s a huge Buddha inside! I like the Eastern décor.
I order food from a vegan place called Loving Hut, that’s just outside Monaco. I place huge orders and they deliver it directly to the tournament room - everyone crowds round to eat with me! This year a friend is coming by to do some Formula 1 racing so maybe I’ll manage to hop on!”
Bertrand “ElkY” Grospellier
French poker pro ElkY is a WSOP bracelet winner, a World Poker Tour Champion and a Team PokerStars sponsored pro. This will be his tenth year in Monaco for the EPT.
“I love to play in Monaco - the salle des etoiles, is one of the most beautiful tournament rooms. When the curtains are drawn back, the view is spectacular. It’s fitting for the grand final to be held there - it’s one of the most prestigious places to play poker. The France Poker Series starts the festival, which is great because I’m French, so I get to play with all the French people!
I love the Monte Carlo Bay. It’s a beautiful hotel, right by the beach, and next to the tournament area. It’s easier to play a tournament when you don’t have to travel to get to there!
There are so many great places in Monaco – the Palace, the aquarium, the Oceanographic Museum, the Joel Robuchon restaurant. My goal, with my girlfriend, is to go to every Robuchon in the world, but it’s difficult as he keeps opening new ones!
One of my favourite places to go is Eze - it’s a village on top of a cliff. It’s a 15 minute drive from Monaco and the view is gorgeous – if the sky is clear, you can see as far as Corsica. I like to have half a day there, so I can visit the botanical garden.
The win I’m most proud of in Monaco, is reaching the final table of the Super High Roller. I was up against players like Daniel Negreanu, and [European Poker Tour Champion] Patrik Antonius - I finished in 3rd place for 621,000 euros!”
MONACO FOODIE: The World’s Favourite Drink
There’s nothing like a whiff of scandal to ensure popularity in perpetuity. Tea –that innocuous hot drink that reminds me of grandmothers, knitted cosies and scones – has had more than its fair share. Tea has sparked intrigue, attempted bans and even warfare. Tea has been described as dangerous liquid fire and better than sex. Nowadays more tea is drunk worldwide than any other beverage except water.
In my search to find out more about the world’s favourite drink, I have found Sabine Ripoll. This niçoise tea connoisseur knows more about Camellia sinensis infusions than anyone else on the French Riviera. She has sold tea to Alain Ducasse, tea-trained Michelin-starred restaurant teams and served tea to the Chinese government. Today she’s teaching me about tea during an hour-long tea ceremony.
“Tea has vintages like wine. I tasted a tea from 1800 once,” says Ripoll, showing me her stash of decades-old tea. She delivers one bombshell after another about a drink that I thought I knew well. I’m starting to wonder whether the British dust-in-a-bag with added milk and sugar should even be regarded as the same drink.
Indeed our beloved cuppa of black tea is actually Chinese red tea. It seems that something was lost in translation during the 17th-century tea clipper shipments. Chinese tea colours range according to the fermentation process from white through yellow, green, blue (Oolong) and red to black tea (known as pu-erh tea by Westerners). Pu-erh tea is the Château Latour of the tea world and Ripoll’s specialisation. “Once you drink pu-erh tea,” she reasons, “you’ll never drink anything else.”
While most teas are drunk one to two years after harvest, pu-erh tea can be kept for decades. Prestige pu-erh tea is made into paper-wrapped, compressed-tea cakes. This preservation method started as a space-saving device for yearlong horseback voyages from Yunnan, a province in southwestern China, to Tibet. The compressed tea leaves lived and breathed through the paper during the journey as a combination of oxygen and microorganisms continued the post-fermentation. When the Chinese realised that the tea tasted even better post-voyage than before, tea vintages were born.
Nowadays vintage pu-erh tea fetches high prices at auction. A tong (seven cakes) of FuYuanChang pu-erh tea from the 1900s recently reached £1 million (€1,276,065). At just over £500 (€638) per gram, that would make a pot of tea around £4000 (€5,100).
Ripoll sources pu-erh tea from the Yunnan province where tea was first cultivated as a medicine. Tea trees dating several thousand years old and measuring over 20 metres in height bare little comparison to the small, clipped tea bushes designed for intensive cultivation elsewhere.
“You don’t have tea trees like that in India,” says Ripoll, opening a hand-painted box with a cake inside, accompanied by a photo of the 23-metre, 2,500-year-old tea tree (on a hillside terroir where deeper root systems yield better tea) that produced the leaves for the cake we are about to taste. She gouges out a handful of leaves before rinsing them several times in boiling water. The leaves are so strong that an infusion of mere seconds is enough and the same leaves can be reused for up to three hours.
No tea ceremony is the same. Each item for our tea ceremony has been chosen to suit my partner and me from the century-old teapot to the gurgling toad that soaks up the rinse water. Ripoll favours delicate 40-year-old, broad-rimmed teacups over their commercial impermeable-glazed, thin-brimmed counterparts. She insists, “Everything from the teacups to the teapot influences the taste.”
We pour our first cups in silence and make a wish. The smoothly nuanced hot liquid slips down my throat as I make my wish: to win the lottery so I can buy my own tong of vintage pu-erh tea. PHOTO: “Everything from the tea cups to the teapot influences the taste”
Sabine Ripoll firstname.lastname@example.org, +33 6-27-12-00-98.
Le Continental, Place des Moulins, Monaco, leteashop.com, +377 97-77-47-47.
This family-run establishment is Monaco’s best address for tea. With 130 single-estate tea references from China, Japan, India, Taiwan, you’re spoilt for choice. After relaxing over a pot of tea and cake, you can browse the shop for tea-related paraphernalia, from handcrafted mugs to tea strainers.
Louise Simpson (www.louisesimpson.net) is a food, travel and lifestyle writer. Since studying French literature at Cambridge University, Louise has written for The FT, The Times, Condé Nast and The Independent in the UK and for Zagat and Google in the US.
Previous Monaco Foodie: http://www.monacolife.net/index.php?action=show&id=5097
Lunch with Monaco Life
Francesco Grosoli, Barclays’ newly appointed CEO EMEA for Wealth and Investment Management, shows Louise Simpson the colour of money over lunch