82 times the small principality of Monaco has hosted a grand prix. 82 times the streets have had celebrities, movie stars and music performers crowning the event. And 82 times, thousands of horsepowers will be released with a roar.
Every single year you can read on the internet and in magazines, that the time has come for the FIA to find somewhere else to have a glamour race. The streets are too narrow, the barriers are too close, the speed is too high. Excuses are plenty, but the reality is that there is no place which can replace Monaco. And why? Because Monaco is the essence of racing.
First of all, Monaco is silly. It is silly, admitted, to have a circuit on the calendar that makes it almost impossible to overtake the car in front, or when it rains, turns into a slippery slide, with cars falling off the track like model cars on a childs bedroom floor. Sure, it´s completely nonsense to even think about hosting the event in the first place, what with the safety standards of Formula One today.
Drivers are being covered in cotton, carried to the races by super-comfortable luxury jets, whisked away to their hotel by an air-conditioned limousine, have their luggage brought up by a bell-boy and all is accompanied by the clink of champagne glasses in the bars overlooking the harbour.Monaco is the place to be seen, and the event is not so much about the race anymore. Or is it?
It wasn´t always like this, you know. Back in the days, there were drivers who wanted to be part of the best drivers in the world so bad, they would live from hand to mouth to get in. One of those were three time champion Niki Lauda. Born into a wealthy family, the young rebel wanted to race, but that did not suit his parents. He started racing without their knowledge, but had no money to spend. he came up with an idea.
Lauda had a wonky plan: get the drive, drive fast enough to get noticed by the big teams, and get paid. Problem was, that he started driving a fantasticly slow March 721X. And his situation didn´t improve. For 1973 March wanted to retain him, without pay, but the team soon went belly-up. No money, no drive, Lauda was desperate. He agreed terms with BRM, based on air. He invented an investor, his Austrian bank-friend who didn´t speak English at all. “The money will come,” he said. And all the while he drove as fast as he could. He impressed the team so much, and convincingly lied enough, so they offered him a new contract. No pay, but he didn´t ned to bring money. After qualifying his car ahead of the Ferrari´s in Monaco, Enzo Ferrari called him to a meeting. And the rest is history, as they say. Well, not quite.
It shows that drivers then were willing to take a lot more risk, to put themselves first instead of relying on the team or the car. Sure, you need a good team, and a good car, but if you´re not fast enough, or enough of a player to convince everyone, then you´re out. Lauda´s story has little to do with Monaco, agreed, but the determination and grit he showed, is what the sport as a whole needs to survive longterm.
We have all heard of Ayrton Senna´s amazing drive in Monaco for Toleman. It´s even more amazing when you take into account, that the world could easily never have heard of Senna, if it wasn´t for his tenacity. He had just moved to England to pursue his dream and he won the Formula Ford 1600 championship, but money were sparse. And without money, there were no way he could make it into F1. Senna said that a bad driver with money, could always get a drive, but a good driver without a penny, was helpless. So he announced he was retiring from racing, moved back to Brazil and took up working in the family business.
He found the money to continue his career, and the next three years he dominated everything he entered. He attracted the attention of several teams, he even tested for them, but they didn´t have space for him. Only Toleman, a relative new team, signed him. He scored his maiden F1 point in his second race, and then it was time for Monaco.
Monaco GP 1962
He qualified an amazing 13th on the grid, and the race actually was postponed 45 monutes because there were so much water in Tunnel. Pole setter Alain Prost lead the way from the start. René Arnoux and Derek Warwick hot each other and both crashed into Patrick Tambay´s car. Both Warwick and Tambay suffered leg injuries. On lap 9,Nigel Mansell passed Prost for the lead and pulled away from the Frecnhman two seconds faster per lap.
Six laps later Mansell went off on the run up toasino Square and retired. Prost was back in the lead, but suddenly the rookie Ayrton Senna was second. Lap after lap, Senna ate huge chunks of Prost´s lead, the heavy rain was not only hammering down on the drivers, it was in every sense suicide to even drive. Every single lap there were cars sliding or going off, but Senna persisted.
29 laps into the race, the rain were relentless. Prost passed the start/finish and waved to the officials to stop the race. he signalled again on lap 30 and on lap 31, the officials took notice. At rhe end of lap 32, the race was stopped. At the same time, Senna passed Prost´s McLaren, and would have won the race. However, the rules stipulated that the positions counted are those from the last lap completed by every driver – lap 31 , at which point Prost was still leading. Incidentally, if the race had been completed, Prost would have got 6 points from his second place, instead of the 4.5 points awarded. Prost lost the championship to Lauda by half a point…
The circuit we know today is the fourth re-make of the classic track. The first re-design came in 1973. Tunnel were added, and a new section of track around the new Swimming Pool between Tabac and the a new corner called La Rascasse. In 1976 Nouvelle Chicane were added at Swimming Pool. Other changes has been made, but it still favours the driver, not the cars.
Setup of cars is highest fownforce settings possible, not to increase cornering speeds, but to shorten brake times and keep the cars stable during acceleration. Many of the corners are taken at such low speeds, the aerodynamic benefits are minimal, if any.
Monaco is, as I said in the beginning, a silly track and would never have been permitted ontothe calendar if it were to apply for it today. But if Silverstone is the heart of racing, Monaco is the brains. A smart and somewhat aggressive driver can win here. Fernando Alonso won here twice, so did Hamilton and Mark Webber and Juan Pablo Montoya won here in 2003. And until Ayrton Senna took six victories here, five of them consecutive between 1989 and 1993, Graham Hill were the King of Monaco with five wins.
So what is the attraction? The enormous yachts in the harbour? The models and the moviestars? The answer is of course, simple. It´s the reputation a driver gets from winning here. It´s all the hard work a driver and team has suffered in their effort to become the best on the planet, and taking a win in Monaco, is for some better than winning a championship. And we watch it, not to spot a celebrity, but because we like to think back to a time where drivers crashed and they fought tooth and nail to get ahead. We are watching because it´s the best spectacle all year. And we watch because Monaco is Monaco.
Monaco as a race event, is hopelessly old-fashioned, but just because of that,we can trace the bloodline back to the very beginning. back to a time where men were men, they took chances, they fought, really fought, and they all were the best drivers in the world. Sunday you can watch the best drivers in the world, perform an age-old ritual. Get it on.