Speed and posing in Monte Carlo: Francesca Peak revels in the most glamorous destination on the F1 calendar, courtesy of Rolex

Formula 1 Grand Prix de Monaco 2016When you think of Formula One, you don’t think of the gruelling driver training, the complex mechanics, or the global travel involved in an exhausting 10-month schedule. Instead, it’s the lavish parties, glamorous crowds, and beautiful surroundings. More than any other international competition, Formula One is a seductive combination of speed and charm, and nowhere is this more evident than at the Monaco GP.

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Since the first race was run on the Circuit de Monaco in 1929, the event has remained one of the most competitive and desirable for drivers and fans alike. Along with the Indy 500 and Le Mans 24 Hour race, it forms the Triple Crown of Motorsport, lusted after by every driver that graces the tarmac. And this year, about 10 years into being a Formula One fan, it was my chance to see the sport’s most legendary race up close and personal.

For this year’s Monaco Grand Prix, I was hosted by Rolex, Formula One’s official timekeeper, and taken underground – literally – to see all sides of the race weekend. Driving into the city from Nice airport, the colours of the houses and Mediterranean nonchalance drew me in, definitely something I could get used to. Oddly, the track is opened to pedestrians and cars when races aren’t taking place which, while making it much easier to drive up to the hotel, meant walking to dinner was a little unnerving.

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Formula 1 Grand Prix de Monaco 2016

One question I always had about race weekends was what visitors do to amuse themselves on the mornings before qualifying and racing. The answer in Monaco is, of course, take a classic car for a spin along the Grande Corniche, the mountain road that connects Monaco and Nice. My ride for the morning was a navy blue Jaguar XK120, in perfect condition but seemingly produced in an age before seat-belts were compulsory. The almost dangerous lack of power steering and extremely low gearstick were certainly a glimpse into the world of Formula One before today’s technology kicked in – no wonder the drivers had to be thin and fit as marathon runners.

A rainy Sunday took us around The Paddock, otherwise known as the Beverly Hills of motorsport: this is where the teams park up their motorhomes for the weekend, worth tens of millions of pounds. The Red Bull motorhome is more of a floating disco – by day a modest bar, restaurant and press centre, by night a disco with live DJ and dancing until the early hours.

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Being shown around The Paddock by Sir Jackie Stewart (a Rolex Testimonee for nigh on 50 years) was an honour – this year celebrating the 50th anniversary of his first win in Monaco, Stewart spoke of the track and the sport with nostalgia, affection but a tone grounded in reality, as only a brutally honest Scot can. Walking through the teams’ homes with Stewart made one realise how revered and legendary a personality he is – the sport certainly couldn’t be blamed for forgetting those who made it what it is today.

The weekend ended with the race itself which, thanks to a dry qualifying session followed by a race in the pouring rain, made for a more interesting race than usual. We watched from the Norman Foster-designed yacht club, an impressive structure nestled next to the water on the edge of the track. While some braved the rain outdoors to watch the cars passing beneath, others stayed inside with a blanket and a glass of champagne to watch on television with live commentary by Jonathan Legard. Somehow everything’s more immediate when the commentator’s standing right behind you.