Even the mighty suffer as economic crisis gets to F1 in Monaco

May 24th, 2009 - 10:55 am ICT by IANS  

By Sebastian Fest
Monte Carlo, May 24 (DPA) Silvery, shiny, really expensive, the bottle of Remy Martin Louis XIII Black Pearl Magnum hurts one’s eyes and one’s pocket with its mere presence. It costs 50,000 euros ($70,000), and one could say that it is a sign that the crisis has reached even Monaco.

The pricy brandy is on show in a glass box at the Bar Americain, one of the most exclusive places in the principality, in the noble Hotel de Paris. The liquid is actually kept in a hotel safe, and the bottle is just there to lure customers. But the Remy Martin is just not selling.

“We’ve had it for eight months, and so far no one has bought it,” one waiter told DPA.

As an alternative, cheaper beverage, he offers a “very rare” Macallan 1967 for 4,500 euros ($6,200) a bottle.

But these do not look like times fit for such crazy things, not even at a Formula 1 Grand Prix in Monaco. The most emblematic race, the place where any driver wants to win, is in a freefall: only 80 percent of the tickets had been sold by Thursday, while several of the balconies that the rich and famous usually rent for many thousands of dollars were still on offer and limousine rentals were down by 50 percent.

“It is going to generate 20-22 percent less money than last year,” Michel Boeri, president of the Automobile Club de Monaco and the leader of the Senate of the International Motorsport Federation (FIA), told La Gazette de Monaco.

“There are fewer people than last year, and they spend less,” adds the waiter of the Bar Americain, while the piano plays The Girl from Ipanema.

But Monaco’s decline did not start this year.

“Already in 2008 it was apparent that the old atmosphere and charm were gone. And I think that, due to the crisis, this year will be even worse,” said Nick Heidfeld, the German BMW-Sauber driver.

Another German, Nico Rosberg, can measure the magnitude of what is happening particularly well. He is the son of the Finn Keke Rosberg, who won the Formula 1 World Championship in 1982 and the Monaco Grand Prix in 1983. The current Williams driver has lived in Monaco since the age of four, and he went to school just a few metres off the track where 20 drivers are set to race on Sunday.

“I was in the harbour this week and there are clearly fewer boats than other years,” Rosberg, 23, told DPA.

He was contradicting local media, who see the marina - where the yachts owned by the richest dock - as the only place where the crisis is not apparent.

Rosberg notes that there is a lot of talk of the crisis in Monaco.

“Everyone in Monaco is affected by this, the richest here have probably lost huge sums of money,” he said.

It is true that Monaco’s crisis has little to do with those of other countries, who would dream of “suffering” like the country led by Prince Albert. However, at their level, it does impose restrictions on many.

Large companies and banks that used to rent balconies overlooking the track in the price range $11,000-190,000 have to be more discreet in the current context, and that is why many of them declined to show off with expenses that might be considered obscene.

Tickets for the Monaco Grand Prix were selling for 90-500 euros ($125-700). Significantly, by midday Thursday there were still more than 2,600 tickets available on the event’s official website, something unthinkable in earlier years.

The stands clearly showed empty spaces in Thursday’s tests, and the decrease in the number of spectators was affecting the businesses that derive from the Grand Prix.

The Canadian Genevieve Blouin, 26, who has been travelling the world for five years as the manager of one of Ferrari’s official souvenir shops, is also feeling the crisis.

“At the Asian Grand Prix everything is the same, but I noticed the crisis when we got to Europe,” Blouin told DPA.

However, in the lobby of the Hotel Hermitage, a must for Monaco’s rich and famous, officials insist that nothing has changed. Weekend prices are the same as 12 months ago: 7,900 euros ($11,000) for four nights in a standard room and 17,100 euros (almost $24,000) for the Suite Jardin.

“There is no crisis here,” the Hermitage insists.

A minute’s walk to the Bar Americain is enough to cast doubt on that. There, longed-for and lonely, the bottle of Remy Martin Louis XIII Black Pearl Magnum awaits a buyer to show that, despite the crisis, Monaco still holds millionaires like those of old.

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