An F1 Team Lost a $250,000 Diamond at the Monaco GP, and It’s Still Missing Today
A struggling F1 team, a rookie driver, and a diamond worth $250K mounted on the car’s nose. What could go wrong?
The history of Formula 1 is full of controversy and skullduggery, usually related to sneaky engineering or the action on track. But this story has almost nothing to do with racing itself. Instead, it's a tale with all the makings of a Hollywood heist: Monaco, movie stars, and a $250,000 diamond that remains missing to this day. But this isn't fiction.
Rewind to the 2004 Monaco Grand Prix. Jaguar Racing, its drivers, and its sponsors rolled into that race weekend looking to score some points and make a splash with a big promotion tied to the film Ocean's Twelve—the highlight of which involved the team placing real diamonds worth approximately $250K apiece on the nosecones of its two cars in the race. If you're already thinking that sounds like a bad idea, well, you're onto something.
As it happened, Jaguar driver Christian Klien crashed out on the very first lap, getting caught up in traffic, losing his front wing and spearing into the wall on a hairpin turn. Klien was ok; his car was craned off the track and the race continued. But the button-sized diamond previously affixed to the car's nose? It vanished, never to be seen again, sparking a mystery that remains unsolved today. How's that for PR?
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Diamonds Are an F1 Car's Best Friend
The Monaco Grand Prix is itself the perfect example of wealth and excess in F1. The tiny principality's race is often considered the most prestigious on the calendar and a prime target for celebrities looking to immerse themselves in the greatest party in motorsport. With yachts parked by the track and the circuit winding amongst some of the most expensive real estate in the world, it provided a perfect backdrop for what was to unfold in May 2004.
That year, Jaguar's F1 team was in its fifth season. There was plenty of pressure from Ford, the owner, and HSBC, the main sponsor, both of which were growing tired of the team's lackluster results. The team had finished seventh in the constructor's championship for two years running, so 2003's season had focused on cutting costs while aiming to achieve “respectability” with regards to performance. Both eluded the team nonetheless.
Speaking to The Drive, Nav Sidhu, then Jaguar Racing's director of communications, notes that at that time the pressure was on for the team to deliver something to justify its huge budget. "It was no secret at the time that Ford was looking to sell the team," says Sidhu, adding that Jaguar Racing "was under a lot of pressure... to go out there, and really try and get value from its presence in Formula 1."
Additionally, Sidhu had long felt that F1 wasn't doing enough with the promotional opportunities the spectacle of the Monaco Grand Prix presented, noting that "You'd get your stars turning up [at Monaco]...they'd put a pass on, they'd turn up on the grid, they'd do an interview to promote their new film or album, and that would be about as much as Formula 1 would do with these A-listers in town."
Having heard Ocean's Twelve was in production, Sidhu set about pitching a promotional deal that would see the team reskin its whole operation for the Monaco Grand Prix with Ocean's Twelve branding. His plan was to use the glitz, glamour, and wealth of Monaco as the ideal backdrop to promote a heist film, while using the movie's stars to draw attention to the Jaguar brand.
Perhaps fortuitously, Jaguar had previously worked with Steinmetz Group, a global diamond dealer, setting up the weekend's big moment: Steinmetz handed over multiple diamonds—five total, according to Sidhu—to be fitted to the nosecones of the actual race cars during the Grand Prix. For an early photocall, the cars wore a giant emerald-cut gem stuck on the front, unbranded. For the actual contest, genuine diamonds were set in a stainless steel carrier, which was embedded into the very tip of the nosecone, along with Steinmetz branding.
In the history of outrageous PR stunts, the decision to mount expensive stones on the front of cars on a track known for tight racing sticks out as a curious one. Monaco is one of the easiest places to snag a wing on a barrier or to clip another car. (And if we're really going to get into it, the diamonds weren't the best tie-in with the film. Ocean’s Twelve primarily concerns the theft of a Fabergé egg, not a gemstone.) Regardless, varying reports valued the diamonds anywhere from $200,000 to over $350,000, depending on the media outlet, with confusion possibly stemming from the values being quoted in GBP or USD.
According to Sidhu, though, the danger was the point. “If there was no jeopardy, there wouldn't be a story in it in the first place. There’s nothing remotely interesting about putting a diamond on a car, other than situations where there might be a risk to that diamond.”
While it might seem prudent to use stunt diamonds, Sidhu points out that it was out of the question. "These were real diamonds," says Sidhu, noting that "You're just not going to find a reputable diamond company in the world that's gonna give you fake diamonds." He adds that all parties were clearly aware of the risks going in, and that the reputational damage to Steinmetz if the diamonds were revealed to be fake would be far more costly than the value of a single lost diamond anyway.
Sidhu's plan was bigger than just F1, too. His efforts to pitch the promotion to the movie's producer, Hollywood legend Jerry Weintraub, had paid off, and he'd secured a handshake deal that the stars of Ocean's Twelve would be present for the race weekend. Jaguar had press shoots with George Clooney, Brad Pitt, and Matt Damon at the race, helping to generate major crossover appeal. It was an absolute PR coup for the midfield team.
The stunt wasn't without its logistical hurdles, though. F1's parc ferme regulations state that cars cannot be modified beyond the qualifying session of the race weekend, meaning the cars couldn't just have the diamonds stuck on for the race itself. In the end, the Jaguar cars ran with the diamonds attached from Thursday practice onwards. Jaguar driver Klien even crashed in one of the practice sessions, though the damage was to the rear of the car, with the nose remaining unscathed.
Looking back, that was just foreshadowing the events that would unfold on race day.
Just Part of the Chaos
On Sunday May 23, 2004, the last time anyone saw the diamond, Klien himself didn't even get to drive for very long.
The race itself took some time to get going; the start was aborted twice, once for Olivier Panis stalling his Toyota, a second time for Jarno Trulli’s Renault leaking coolant onto the track. After all that fuss, the Grand Prix finally got underway on the third attempt.
As the cars tore away, Klien immediately found himself in the thick of the struggle, having qualified a lowly 15th on the grid. Cars jostled for rank to secure their place in the typical Monaco precession, as the track offers little opportunity for passing. As is typical on Lap 1, carnage ensued. Trapped between the two Jordan entries at the back of the pack, Klien made contact with Nick Heidfeld's car.
As a result, Klien's wing broke off and ended up jammed under the front wheels of his Jaguar. He was left with minimal braking ability and zero steering as his car plowed straight ahead down the run towards the Loews hairpin. The Jaguar went nose-first into the barriers on the first lap, with Klien's race over less than a minute after lights out. The nosecone of the Jaguar was buried in the tire wall, so marshals threw yellow flags to cover the area and stepped in to help recover the car. A group pushed the vehicle away from the tire wall and craned it off the track. It was an inauspicious end to rookie Klien’s first race at Monaco, all over before it had really begun.
And what about the diamond? That's exactly what Sidhu was thinking at that moment, as he told The Independent just after the race while calls from press started pouring in. “At that point, I should probably have been worried about the car or the race or the driver but, I must admit, my immediate thought was for the diamond,” he said then.
Complicating things, Jaguar team members couldn’t get to the car right away due to safety regulations during the Grand Prix. By the time they finally did get down there two hours later, they realized the diamond had disappeared.
So Where Did It Go?
Naturally, plenty of photos were taken of the crash, as F1 photographers work hard to document the action. Most show Klien’s car nosed into the tire wall outside the corner and the marshals' efforts to recover the vehicle. Press at the time didn’t go deep into investigating the whereabouts of the diamond afterward, with Sidhu and many others content to believe that someone had likely pocketed it in the aftermath. As Sidhu told The Guardian at the time, "Someone here has walked away with more than a motor racing souvenir."
As for who that might be, prime suspects would naturally be anyone present around the car during the recovery process. They would have been well-placed to quickly pick up and pocket a piece of carbon fiber with a diamond stuck on it without anyone noticing. But after reviewing the photos and footage, I think it’s highly unlikely the corner marshals standing outside the barrier at Loews could have recovered the diamond, despite this popular narrative.
As seen in pictures of the car being recovered, the nosecone had snapped just below the Jaguar R5 logo—the section that had the small round diamond stuck on. Naturally, one would expect that the piece would have broken off when the car hit the tire wall, either burying the diamond there or leaving it on the ground for someone to pick up. However, video of the crash from the official telecast suggests that the diamond likely never made it down to the tire wall at all.
Squinting at the 4:3, low-resolution footage of the broadcast on YouTube (start at 7:38), it appears as though the diamond-carrying section of the nosecone had already fallen off the car before it hit the barriers at Loews. The freeze-frame images are blurry, but the shape of the damaged nosecone before the car hits the wall appears to match shots of the vehicle post-recovery.
Thus, the marshals at the bottom of the Loews hairpin probably wouldn’t have found the diamond there. Instead, the diamond likely flew off somewhere around Mirabeau Haute or on the run down to Loews, where Klien made initial contact with Heidfeld. Therefore, it’s more likely a marshal—or perhaps even a wily spectator—posted further up the track may have snagged the diamond instead. Maybe the lucky finder quickly offloaded the diamond to a local jewel dealer, not something too farfetched to consider given the crowd that hangs around Monaco.
This theory has support from one important spectator of the incident: photographer James Moy, who was posted up at the Loews Hairpin when Klien came barrelling in and whose photos you see above. In a more recent episde of the F1 On The Edge podcast, Moy mentions having private archive images of Klien's Jaguar before it hit the wall. "I was one of the closest people to it when it crashed," Moy said, noting he didn't see anyone pick it up, nor did he see it at the crash site. "The first frame where Klien's come into my view, the nose is already damaged. The diamond has already gone."
Of course, there’s also a chance that the diamond got accidentally swept up with other debris after the race and was somehow trashed. It's a far less fun possibility to think about, but a valid one nonetheless.
“It has gone,” Sidhu told The Independent, adding “We have 100,000 people milling around trying to find a bit of crashed car across the course"—referring to spectators hunting for trophies after the race—"and I think there is going to be a lot of activity around the Loews hairpin. I don’t expect we are going to get it back."
“There wasn’t an insurance company on the planet that would insure half a million pounds worth of diamond stones when they go Grand Prix racing. But we knew that, and that was the calculated risk that was factored into the agreement,” Sidhu says today. Rather than a catastrophe, the team and sponsors instead saw the loss of the diamond as the cost of doing business.
With people going every which way once the race ended, Sidhu told us that "it became evident very quickly that it was too late." Resigned to the loss, and dealing with a torrent of calls asking for information and questioning if the whole thing was a stunt, Sidhu had more pressing PR matters to deal with. As far as he was concerned, the diamonds had already done their job in generating millions of dollars worth of press for the team and the film, with the crash and subsequent loss only serving to boost the story into the stratosphere.
"We weren't actively out there looking for the diamond, and nor were we actively encouraging people to find it in return for a reward," he tells The Drive, clearly still satisfied almost two decades later with how it all played out. "So that risk factor's played out, the diamond's got lost, and as you can see right now, the entire planet was consumed with our story, the brand, and Ocean's Twelve. Job done!"
For its part, Steinmetz didn't take issue with the loss, the huge exposure of the event being of far more value to the brand than a single lost diamond. "It was probably two or three days after that Grand Prix that the reality really sunk in with Steinmetz; they were a relatively unknown diamond company before that race," says Sidhu, adding "Here we are now, sixteen or seventeen years on, still talking about that brand. As far as their global recognition is concerned, it's not something that they could have paid for."
Beyond the coverage in the immediate aftermath, the stunt was quickly forgotten by the next race, with no major outlets following up on the story for the rest of 2004. In the years since, however, owing to the unresolved nature of this story, speculation and conspiracy theories have continued to pop up from F1 fans around the world.
Some have contended that the diamonds weren't real at all. Given the risky idea of sticking expensive gems on the nose of a racing car, it's a fair claim by some measures. Additionally, with Beny Steinmetz—the billionaire behind the company and considered by some to be Israel’s richest man—sentenced to five years in jail after being convicted of corruption, it'd be difficult to reach him and ask about an 18-year-old sponsorship.
However, as Sidhu stated, the theory doesn't really hold up. Getting the Steinmetz brand name in front of the world in pictures with Clooney, Pitt and Damon is the kind of press that money can't buy. Additionally, had a diamond gone missing and later been revealed to be fake, it would've sunk Steinmetz's business in an instant.
There's also the theory that suggests Jaguar had Klien crash on purpose on Lap 1, creating the opportunity for the diamond to disappear into the right hands. This one doesn't make a whole lot of sense either, because it would have meant that Jaguar gave up a solid opportunity to score points with one car if things went sideways at Monaco. Given the prize money allocations in F1, a few points scored by a lower-tier team like Jaguar could be worth millions of dollars at the end of the year, so crashing out in a race on purpose simply makes no financial sense for a one-off sponsorship deal. It also goes against the very ethos of the sport, something that drivers are usually reticent to do.
Additionally, the manner in which Klien crashed doesn’t fit the narrative, either. If it was done on purpose, understeering into a corner cleanly where the diamond could be recovered by those in on the plan would make more sense. Hitting another F1 car, getting your front wing stuck under the wheels, and leading to your own car spearing into a wall, out of control, is far too complicated to be done on purpose. As a bonus, there’d be no way to determine where the diamond ended up after it snapped off in the collision.
The press storm eventually subsided, with many drawing the conclusion that Jaguar and Steinmetz had paid dearly for their folly, to the tune of one expensive diamond. It's a simple analysis, but it entirely misses the point, according to Sidhu.
“The benefit [of the promotion] far outweighed the cost. Even before we got to Sunday afternoon, we’d already generated tens of millions of dollars of coverage around the world,” says Sidhu. His phone rang off the hook for days after the crash, with news outlets running with the story and sharing the names of Jaguar, Steinmetz, and Ocean's Twelve around the world. “Sunday afternoon was just a dollop of icing on what was already a very fat cake leaking with cream by that point," he chuckles.
In the end, all we can really say is that the diamond likely snapped off Klien's car sometime before he hit the barriers at the Loews Hairpin. Where it ended up after that is anyone's guess, whether it went home in someone's pocket, or if it simply got swept into the gutter only to be washed down the drain at a later date.
In any case, nobody has ever come forward with more information on the diamond's whereabouts in the nearly two decades since that fateful Monaco Grand Prix. Jaguar's lost Monaco diamond will remain just that, and any new potential sponsors from the diamond industry would do well to learn from Steinmetz's example: don't stick your valuables on the front of a race car. You might just lose them, and besides, as Ocean's Twelve showed at the box office that year, the sequel is never quite as popular as the original.
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