Monaco – A Preview

Monaco on race day

This is it. The one we have all been waiting for. It is time for F1 to park its fleet of super yachts and check into the impossibly glamorous, opulent, crazy little Principality tucked away at the bottom of France.
Welcome folks to Monaco. It really is like no other place on earth. What is there to write about Monaco that hasn’t already yet been written. So the husband suggested telling people stuff they might be surprised about. I’ll give it a go.
Monaco is one of those rare eulogized over places that really, truly lives up to the hype. No one can go to Monaco and not fall in love with the place. Is it a bit gauche? Yup. Is it quite superficial? Yup. But no one ever said Monaco was perfect. It is a fabulous mix of contradictions and surprises. Admittedly I have never seen so many tiny little dogs (some even better dressed than their Chanel clad owners!) in one square mile anywhere else in the world but Monaco with all its off-the-scale wealth is genuinely such a friendly and chilled place. I have always found the service in restaurants to be amazing (stand out so – eg. maître d’ rooting out the last bottle of a particular wine from a cellar) and the bar staff to be fabulous. Maybe it helps if you love F1. I seem to recall talking about all the pictures of F1 drivers with the not-yet husband and the bartender in the Rascasse bar. On the night we got engaged!

Pretty safe bet that I’d say yes standing here!

The race experience at Monaco for a normal fan is all-consuming, intense and way more accessible than any other grand prix venue I’ve been to. The whole place is surprisingly jammed full of proper, fanatical petrolheads. Sure there are A-list celebs in abundance (that is a bad thing how?) and various scions of billionaires and oligarchs (admittedly the latter don’t stray far from their launches awash with with Cristal). Monaco is tiny but crammed full of mind-blowingly good restaurants, bars and clubs. Unlike other tracks where fans just trickle away in the hours after a race (most of those normally spent in a traffic jam) and head off to different venues, there is no need for anyone in Monaco to spend hours schlepping back to a hotel or somewhere else. Everything you need is there on tap. If you want a good night out,  why would you look anywhere than Monaco?
Basically if you like F1, then even in Monaco, you’re in The Club. I remember dining with the husband in a restaurant overlooking the exit of the tunnel (weeps at the memory of my once wonderful life) talking to The Two Biggest Rubens Barichello fans in the world. Now I like Rubens as much as the next man or woman but they took it to a whole new level. And they weren’t even Brazilian. They were English! Basically if you’ve seen the Alan Partridge stalker episode you’re getting warm. Nice enough guys but just a teeny little bit ‘on the sign of three to husband’ lets run away NOW! I think the evening culminated in (and the memory is slightly hazy) wandering into a Canadian bar where the husband talked to lots of Canadians about Gilles Villeneuve. There may have been hugging.

The not-yet husband by the pitlane
Monaco brings you closer to the action than anywhere else. The cars are literally millimetres away as they flash past and OH MY GOD the noise. I have never known anything like it. Another perhaps surprising fact about Monaco is where else can you walk the ENTIRE track of a GRAND PRIX CIRCUIT (without being a driver, girlfriend of driver, member of a team, TV/media personality, journalist, former F1 legend, former F1 driver-now-rentagob, Bernie, random A list celebrity and Geri Halliwell) – copy and paste the following caveat where applicable. Admittedly who would want to walk the Sakhir track in Bahrain?! But wow wow wow to do it in Monaco was simply amazing!

The race-winner’s car. Thinking of Michael especially this weekend.

There was also the time after qualifying, we ended up randomly drinking in a gorgeous bar overlooking the marina with the ITV F1 team (who then had exclusive coverage of all F1 races). That was a slightly messy afternoon where we almost missed our coach back to our hotel. To add insult to injury as we stumbled onto said coach, I might have not been very polite about the pole-sitter, David Coulthard, before the husband drew my attention to the plethora of Scottish flags and caps all up and down the coach. David Coulthard fans didn’t tend to like Michael Schumacher and I was pretty much the Schuey poster girl on the coach. Awkward doesn’t even cover it.

The 1956 Monaco Grand Prix
Everyone universally agrees that Monaco is a visually stunning backdrop for a race but as is often pointed out the narrow streets of Monaco where overtaking is nigh on impossible do not make for great races – but then again you know what, you can get dullsville races at Silverstone and Monza. It is only really Spa and Interlagos with their nailed on thrilling races that are the exceptions to the rule. A lot of fans who take F1 very seriously are rather sniffy about Monaco. Each to their own and all that but I do think there is a lot of inverse snobbery towards Monaco. F1 without Monaco is unthinkable. It is an intrinsic part of the fabric and history of the sport. And those who think otherwise can bog off*

*I may have had a glass of wine at the time of writing (Friday night – not actually had one yet on Saturday morning!)
And when Monaco does entertaining, it does it very very very well. Just to rattle through a few classics off the top of my head (I could be here all day!)…

1982 – Any one of 5 drivers could have won. With two laps to go when it started raining, Prost was leading before then crashing out. Heading into the final lap, the race leader Riccardo Patrese spun and stalled at Loews. Then Didier Pironi led into the tunnel and ran out of fuel. Andrea de Cesaris also ran out of fuel before he could take over the lead. Derek Daly, the next potential winner, suffered a damaged gearbox meaning Patrese, who had managed to restart his car by rolling downhill and bump-starting, won the race.

Monaco 1982 – Patrese leads the field 

1984 – The one where Mansell crashed and Senna in a Toleman (quite) was quite incredibly catching Prost before the race was controversially stopped in Prost’s favour.

Monaco 1984 – The arrival of Ayrton Senna as a phenomenal talent

1992 – Perhaps Senna’s best ever Monaco win. After building up a commanding lead, Mansell got a puncture and ended up behind Senna. He threw everything at him – the racing was out of this world – but just could not get past Senna.

Monaco 1992 – Senna with Mansell in hot pursuit

1996 – A mental race. Should have been Damon Hill’s victory but his car conked out with engine failure (I was absolutely GUTTED for him as I’m sure it would have meant so much to follow in his father’s footsteps) then Alesi, the new race leader, crashed out meaning Olivier Panis in a Ligier won the Monaco Grand Prix!

The most unlikely of podiums: Panis, Coulthard and Herbert

2004 – Jarno Trulli anyone?

If you’re only going to ever win one F1 race, you might as well make it Monaco!

Whoever came up with the batshit crazy idea of racing a load of high performance cars around the ridiculously tight and twisting streets (with a tunnel thrown in just to add some spice)? Clearly a freaking grade A loon. It wouldn’t happen today in the modern-day F1 with its endless Tilke-bot circuits. So say all you like about the poseurs, the plastic celeb fans that Monaco attracts, it is still the Ultimate Challenge for a driver. And because of this, Monaco is actually a great leveller where the differential in the car performance can be more balanced out by driver skill than anywhere else. There simply is no room for error because erm… there is no room on the track! It is no surprise that the true greats of F1 have dominated at Monaco. No one has ever won more at Monaco than Ayrton Senna (6 wins). Michael Schumacher and Graham Hill (the original Mr Monaco) both chalked up 5 apiece and Alain Prost has 4 wins to his name.

The original Mr Monaco, Graham Hill

Outside their home race (and perhaps even including their home race!) the Monaco Grand Prix is the one that they all want to win. To see a driver win his first race in Monaco is such a beautiful moment.

A euphoric Jenson Button wins in Monaco for Brawn GP
And so to this weekend. Well I am bizarrely hopeful for a non-Mercedes victory. Probably slightly illogical (see wine, above) I feel if anywhere can buck the trend it is Monaco. Of course the outcome of qualifying (and the weather – currently predicted to be fine and dry…boo hiss) will be crucial. I would be beside myself to see another team grab pole and then we would have the wonderful prospect of Hamilton or Rosberg swarming behind a Red Bull (or whoever) trying to get past. And if they do then that’s cool. But I just want to see an Actual Race for a change. There is a reason I haven’t blogged about the Spanish Grand Prix (though admittedly have been very busy on other fronts). It was mind-numbingly dull and I still feel p-ed off that I sat through the whole thing.

I feel Monaco is a Crucial Race for Rosberg. He had a magnificent win here last year which should lift him. I can’t help but think if he loses out to Hamilton in Monaco then it could be Game Over. It is fair to say the mind games have begun in earnest. Lewis Hamilton made these comments on the eve of Monaco:

“Let me tell you this, I come from a not-great place in Stevenage and lived on a couch in my dad’s apartment – and Nico grew up in Monaco with jets and hotels and boats and all these kind of things. So the hunger is different.
“I want to be the hungriest guy in the cockpit from all 22 of us – even if every driver has to believe that he’s the hungriest. If I were to come here believing that Nico is hungrier than me then I might as well go home. So I’ve got to be the hungriest. To win the world championship you need to be the hungriest.”

Its fair to say Lewis hasn’t slept on a couch for many a year and I am sure that Nico Rosberg is every bit as hungry and desperate to win as his team-mate. Battle lines have been well and truly drawn.

Well 30 minutes to go until The Most Exciting and Important Qualifying of the Season. I am almost dizzy with excitement.
It ain’t over until the bearded lady sings!


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One Comment Add yours

  1. Rich G says:

    I think it says a lot that of the 5 highlighted races there is only one in nearly two decades. I completely agree that very few tracks guarantee good races (and quite often the races are sadly deathly dull), I think the unfortunate thing is that Monaco is the safest bet for predicting a dull race as thanks to the cramped spaces the chances are excitement is not exactly likely.
    However, no way would I want Monaco gone, for both it's history and the atmosphere about the place that simply isn't replicated at any other track. It can be felt just watching it on tv, never mind being there where clearly it is magical (well if you remove all that “I do” nonsense lol).
    The depressing aspect of Monaco is the likeliest form of “excitement” comes via crashes rather than overtaking, and I don't think any of us ever want the former to be considered the excitement.

    A wonderful part of the F1 calendar that should never be lost, just a shame it will no doubt be deathly dull tomorrow (on a par with Spain ? Shudder at the thought…)

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