May 23, 2013

The F1 guessing game

© Getty Images

One of the perks of the Monaco Grand Prix is the raft of party invitations that start making their way around the paddock in the weeks running up to the race.

A typical Monaco weekend usually involves juggling multiple invitations per night, dashing from a cocktail do to a dinner, and then on to a yacht party. Because that is the business of Monaco – it’s much more than just a motor race.

There’s an unspoken competition between teams and their sponsors to throw the biggest and best bashes, to lure as many VIPs as they can from Cannes. These parties may look like wasted investments to the outside world, but they do reap dividends in terms of free publicity, general good will, and all of those sorts of immeasurable attributes that people rely on to justify whatever it is they feel like.

Monaco’s parties aren’t about champagne and lithe women in cocktail dresses. That might be the backdrop, but the foreground is all business. Promotion, self-promotion, and all of the wheeling and dealing that allows CEOs and high-flyers to justify their business’ on-going involvement in Formula One.

At least, that is how it used to be.

In the run-up to this year’s grand prix, the emails landing in F1 inboxes were queries from fellow colleagues, everyone asking where the invitations were. Had we dropped off the list, or were there no parties? Oddly, it turned out that the answer was the latter.

Now, there’s no reason at all why your average F1 fan should give two hoots about paddock parties, or the lack thereof. Who cares how many canapés your average journalist is missing out on over the course of the Monaco weekend?

Actually, you should care. Given that recent months have seen a number of big-ticket sponsors arriving in the sport – Rolex and Emirates spring to mind, although they are far from alone – it is baffling that none of them would choose to use the Monaco weekend as an opportunity to promote their brand and secure a return on their hefty investment in the form of some publicity.

Rolex had a party in Australia, and got some promotion there, but Emirates have yet to do anything to celebrate their involvement in the sport. The assumption was that everyone was waiting for Monaco, but the assumption has been proved incorrect – there’s simply nothing on.

My worry is that the lack of parties signifies a lack of interest, that the sponsors feel that their F1 investments are offering diminishing returns. But my hope is that Monaco has become the party cliché, that those looking to do something different with their F1 involvement have decided to switch their attentions to a different race with a view to standing out from the crowds.

What will be interesting is whether or not these missing Monaco invites pop up in Singapore. It has long been said that the Singapore Grand Prix is the Monaco of the east. Maybe the eastern jewel in the F1 crown is on its way to displacing the original – maybe, in the eyes of sponsors and bigwigs, it already has done.

Only time – and party invitations – will tell.


Posted by Kate Walker on 25/05/2013

Ah, but Monaco parties do get a lot of coverage in the non-F1 press (the likes of Tatler, Hello!, etc.), which gives the sponsors - and the sport - coverage in non-traditional arenas. That's why they do the parties.

But thanks for the kind words! It's always nice to be called self-indulgent.

Posted by Gareth on 24/05/2013

Maybe the sponsors couldn't give a hoot about parties, but are real fans themselves. Maybe their aim is not to please self-indulgent journalists but simply to provide cash to keep the F1 show on the road for the millions of F1 fans around the world? Is it possible you might not be the centre of attention after all?

Posted by GearGrinder on 23/05/2013

Maybe it is really down to the lack of press they actually receive from these parties? How do the column inches compare to the inches added to the journo's beltline?

Honestly, over the years I have read very little about any particular party at Monaco, other than the fact that there was one. No real news, no real reporting, no value.

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Kate Walker is the editor of GP Week magazine and a freelance contributor to ESPN. A member of the F1 travelling circus since 2010, her unique approach to Formula One coverage has been described as 'a collection of culinary reviews and food pictures from exotic locales that just happen to be playing host to a grand prix'. Kate Walker