Monaco is a very special country and the Monaco Grand Prix an exceptionally special event on the F1 calendar.The monarch principality started off as little more than a village by the sea bordered by France on three sides and the clear, sapphire blue waters of the Mediterranean.
It’s the second smallest country in the world after the Vatican. It’s a place of pilgrimage too. Not for pious pilgrims headed to the prayer but yacht-set playboys headed for the casino.
It’s ruled and owned by the House of Grimaldi, (think house Lannister from GOT) who in the late 1850s developed the Casino de-Monte-Carlo as a way to fend off bankruptcy. Its only claims to fame are the casino, favourable tax laws and the Monaco Grand prix. When it started out it didn’t even have a road connecting it to the rest of France.
Now, the population is about forty thousand, making it the most densely populated country on earth. But as far as cramped countries go it’s not that bad as almost everyone there is a billionaire, the rest are millionaires and casino staff.
The Monaco Grand Prix is regarded as the crown jewel of the F1 calendar and one third of the Triple Crown of motorsports, and for most racing drivers, the most important racing event of their lives.
Enzo Ferrari famously equated winning the Monaco Grand prix to half a championship win. The Triple Crown is an unofficial achievement, where a driver wins the three most prestigious
motorsport events on earth: the 24 hours of Le Mans, the Indianapolis 500 and the Monaco Grand Prix.
Because the Monaco GP and Indy 500 are held on the same day a driver can’t compete in both in the same year. Graham Hill, aka Mr Monaco won the Monaco GP a record six times and is the only driver to have completed the Triple Crown. Juan Pablo Montoya the only other driver to win two events. 17 drivers have attempted the Triple Crown winning at least one event.
The race is also special in that it’s the home race for a lot of drivers. Monaco, because of its very favourable tax laws is a popular place with F1 drivers. Many past and present having an apartment and call it home when not racing around the world. It’s one day in a year where they get to literally walk to work.
Lewis Hamilton, Daniel Ricciardo, Brendon Hartley and Charles Leclerc all have a spot in the city.
But for all its glamour and prestige, the Monaco Grand Prix is not what a fan would call exciting. It’s the shortest track on the calendar at 3.3km and it’s also the slowest, averaging 329kph.
It’s also quite narrow meaning little chance of overtaking even by the very bravest of the bunch. Watching the race has often been described as watching a procession with cars maintaining track position all the way.
It’s a temporary street circuit with Armco barriers laying out the racetrack in six weeks and was first held in 1929 after a friend of the Grinaldi family suggested a race to boost the prestige of the place. This was over two decades before the world championship began. It is characterised by tight twists and many elevation changes that favour the skill of the driver over power.
70 per cent is driven at full throttle, just millimetres from the barriers. Any silly mistake and your hopes of greatness are shattered. With no run off areas it’s generally accepted to be more dangerous than modern racetracks and would not be permitted onto the calendar were it built today.
Michael Schumacher even admitted that the safety levels were only acceptable once a year. Only because it is Monaco. Especially dangerous is the tunnel section where drivers have to cope with a sudden change from light to dark and then dark to light while averaging 250kph.
It’s quite possibly the most boring race on the calendar for a spectator but as a test of pure skill, Monaco is like none other.
After this weekend Max Verstappen and more painfully the native Charles Leclerc will be licking wounds and nursing bruised egos. Daniel Ricciardo the newest Mr Monaco will be savouring the razzmatazz that is the magic of Monaco and winning half a championship.