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The Historic Monaco Grand Prix

How to describe Monaco…? Filmic, red carpet living; to know Monaco is to know what it is to truly play as an adult.
It is the second smallest independent state in the world after the Vatican, densely populated and driven by tourism. A major banking centre; it does not levy income tax on its residents. This makes it enormously attractive to the rich – hence 30% of its population are millionaires.

view of Monaco and a driver`s helmut

It is also beautiful. The climate is warm. Visitors come here to experience this paradise – to keep company with the glamourous – while enjoying the Place du Casino in Monte Carlo and the Grand Prix.
The race takes place around the streets of Monte Carlo and La Condamine, including the famous harbour – during the end of May (occasionally early June). Unusually for Formula One it has been held on the same circuit since its birth.

Playground for the Rich and Famous

Spectators congregate around the track, those who do not get as close can watch from the temporary grandstands in the harbour where the rich bring their boats in. Balconies, hotels and resident’s homes boast birds eye views.
It is considered to be one of the most prestigious automobile races in the world. Part of the ‘Triple Crown’ of motorsport along with Indy 500 and the Le Mans 24hrs.
Monaco chooses to be different. It doesn’t need to conform. There is no podium, the prize-giving ceremony is held on the steps of the royal box. These trophies are handed out before the national anthems (as opposed to other GPs where they follow).

A Cut Above the Rest

Building the Circuit de Monaco takes 6 weeks. It’s removal takes 3 weeks. It is the only event to have practice day on a Thursday – to allow the public to use the roads on a Friday.
It is also the only GP that does not adhere to the FIA’s mandated 305 kilometres minimum race distance (3,367 km). The race nearly didn’t run in 1972, with the organisers (who traditionally decided on the amount of cars allowed to race) preferring to set the limit at 16 drivers. Bernie Ecclestone had been negotiating a deal whereby at least 18 cars were permitted to enter. 24 cars were eventually authorised – which on the narrow streets of Monaco seemed dangerous. By the early 1970s some events were cancelled due to issues highlighted by Jackie Stewart – who was already becoming an advocate for improving the safety of the sport. By 1974 the ACM managed to get the numbers back down to 18.
It is a thoroughly demanding track; narrow and tight, with many elevation changes. To win here requires meticulous driving, technical excellence and sheer fortitude. Brakes work hard. Overtaking is near hopeless in this restricted space – making qualifying all the more critical.
Portier corner is considered to be key to achieving a good lap time. It follows the Loews Hairpin (slowest corner in F1) and is followed by the tunnel (flat out section) – where drivers emerge blinking into the sunlight. Great names including Senna and Schumacher have ended some races here. A course as difficult as this would not be allowed to be added to the schedule today due to safety reasons.
Loews Hairpin Monaco GP
The fastest ever lap Kimi Raikkonen recorded here was in qualifying for 2006 GP and registered at 1m 13.532. There has currently only been one fatality – Lorenzo Bandini in 1967 – before tighter safety regulations were implemented.

Safety First

In 1969 Armco barriers were placed strategically on the circuit for the first time in its history. Before this – it was virtually identical to everyday use – except for the concession of the removal of parked cars. This immovable elegance – the track fitting around what was already there – rather than purpose built in a more convenient space adds to its charm. If a driver left the road during the race he would end up crashing into whatever was nearby – sometimes this was the mediterranean (Alberto Ascari and Paul Hawkins). By 1972 the track was almost completely lined with Armco. Safer but still unrelenting.
Nelson Piquet likened the experience to ‘riding a bicycle around your living room’ adding ‘A win here was worth two anywhere else’.

Moncao GP – History in the Making

The first Grand Prix race in Monaco took place at 1.30pm on 14th April 1929 and was won by William Grover Williams driving a dark green Bugatti Type 35B. It had been organised by Antony Noghes with the backing of Prince Louis II (the patronage of the royal family continues to this day) through the Automobile Club de Monaco. The first race was by ‘invitation only’. Mercedes Rudolf Caracciola drove a Mercedes SSK and came 2nd despite starting 15th in a race famed for few overtaking opportunities.
M.Louis Chiron, a high level driver in European GP racing, whose support assisted the creation of the Grand Prix in Monte Carlo, was unable to compete in its debut because he was already committed to racing in the Indianapolis 500 (the two often clash – the distance making it impossible for drivers to compete in both). In 1931 he won – the only native of Monaco ever to have won. In 1955 he became the oldest driver to compete in a Grand Prix.
By 1933 Monaco was already ranked alongside the French, Belgian, Italian and Spanish GP – this was the first year where grid positions were decided by practice time, rather than the established method of balloting. 1950 was the first Formula One World Drivers Championship here – Juan Manuel Fangio taking first place.
Multiple wins in Monaco are reserved for the special few; Stirling Moss and Jackie Stewart both achieved 3 wins, Alain Prost 4 wins, Graham Hill ‘Mr Monaco’ and Michael Schumacher have won 5 times. But the record is still held by Ayrton Senna with 6 wins (5 consecutive wins between 1989-93). Senna was extremely popular in Monaco – in 1987 the day after the race (the first time a GP was won by a car with active suspension) he was arrested for riding a motorcycle without a helmet and immediately released when they realised who he was. Like many Formula One drivers he also had a home here.
red bull f1 racing car with young coiuple

Grand Prix 2016 is off to an Exciting Start

Last year in Monaco Lewis Hamilton lost a controlling lead due to a ill-timed pit stop. This strategic error by Mercedes occurred following a late safety car that was out due to Max Vertstappen’s crash. This allowed Rosberg and Vettel to overtake Hamilton – a move which the narrow streets of Monaco would not permit him to correct. Hamilton was hoping to win here for the first time since 2008. Instead his lead in the championship was cut to just 10 points – a position, I imagine, he would gladly accept this year.
So far this year, the longest season (21 races) in the sport’s history; we have seen crashes, car faults, the qualifying method changed and then changed back, new tyre choices, talented debuts and just plain bad luck. We have heard Mercedes accused of sabotaging Lewis Hamilton’s fight to retain the title after his mechanical troubles continue (referring to his car during the Chinese GP as a ‘four poster bed’) – whereas his team mate Nico Rosberg can currently do no wrong with a 43 point lead. With 17 race wins in his career Rosberg is, at present, the most successful driver never to have become world champion.
As I write this – Rosberg has won the first 4 races of the season. No driver who has won the first 3 races of the season has ever not gone on to be crowned champion at the end. Can Rosberg be halted? Surely with 17 more races there will be plenty of opportunity?
How will the new tyre plan fair on the demanding Monaco circuit? Will this be where the competition opens up?