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Monaco challenge remains unique

Nelson Piquet described driving a Grand Prix car in Monte Carlo as like trying to ride your bicycle around your living room. A victory on the streets of the Principality, he declared, was worth two anywhere else.

f1  Monaco challenge remains unique

Keke Rosberg once likened the flat-out dive down the hill from Casino Square to Mirabeau to being on a toboggan without any snow to cushion the bumps. And Keke was not afraid of anything.
Both these men were racing cars with a manual gearbox, slick tyres and an excess of mechanical grip over aerodynamic downforce. Hence they were very busy in the cockpit, constantly changing gear and correcting slides on the changes of camber. They’d wear out the glove on the right hand, and the sole of the boot on the right foot. Blisters were commonplace at the chequered flag.

f1  Monaco challenge remains unique

Men like Graham Hill – they called him Mister Monaco – and Ayrton Senna made it their own, stamping their authority on the twists, turns and bumps of the streets. And that’s what a great driver does – he takes the little place by the scruff of its impossibly glamorous neck. It is not a place for the faint-hearted.

The Monte Carlo circuit is easier now, but still a huge challenge in a Formula 1 car. As we head towards the race this coming Sunday, I feel as excited and expectant as ever, this Grand Prix being one of my all-time favourite occasions. There is simply nothing like it, there being an element of total madness. Were such an idea to be put forward now it would probably be dismissed on grounds of ‘health and safety’ and lack of palatial facilities. But Monaco survives, and let us rejoice that it does.

The race is something of a lottery, of course, but no less thrilling for that. Despite protestations to the contrary, overtaking is possible, this being proved each year by those with absolute skill and bravery. The streets are the ultimate test of a driver and nowhere else can you get so close to the action on the track. No longer are you able to walk through the tunnel, or stand behind the barriers, but a seat at the swimming pool section, or in Casino Square, is as good a view of an F1 driver in action as you will find.

f1  Monaco challenge remains unique

Every time I walk down to the circuit at the start of practice on Thursday I get goosebumps and feel that surge of excitement as the cars scream up the hill from Ste Devote. I quicken my pace, get out my stopwatch, and make a dash for the nearest vantage point. The media centre is not the place to be. No, you want to be out there, drinking it in, as the cars skim the barriers, blast into blind corners and wail away towards the harbour where they will dash past the yachts in a crazy blur of noise, colour and raw speed. One split second of distraction and the car will be off-line and into the scenery. It is a magical experience for both driver and spectator.

Who will be at the front on Sunday? I have no idea, but all things being equal the best drivers will prevail. So expect Vettel, Hamilton, Button, Alonso and Webber to shine. Red Bull’s aerodynamic advantage will be somewhat constrained in Monte Carlo, while the McLaren is nimble and Alonso will squeeze something out of his Ferrari. If it rains, well, then all predictions are set aside. For once this season a good grid position will be important, with drivers unlikely to be able to storm through the field, so Saturday should be as thrilling as ever. Traffic is the bogey in Monaco, new tyres or not, soft option or hard.

If you have never been to the Grand Prix du Monaco, you have not completed your motor racing initiation. You don’t have to stay in a fancy hotel or visit the Casino, you just have to be there. Yes, it looks pretty on the TV, but on the side of the track, or leaning from a window above, this is a gut-bashingly great motor racing spectacle.

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35 comments on Monaco challenge remains unique

  1. Peter Coffman, 24 May 2011 14:24

    Wonderfully evocative piece, thank you. Monaco is a true legend-maker, and has produced some transcendent drives. In my lifetime, there has been Rindt in ’70, of course; but I also remember Lauda in ’78, finishing second after a pit stop; and Gilles in ’81, winning in a car that had no business in the front half of the field.

    Truly a place that rewards genius. The thing is, much as I admire Graham Hill, I’ve never considered him in that category. Why do you think he was so successful at Monaco?

  2. dave cubbedge, 24 May 2011 16:04

    Nice write there Rob. I became obsessed with GP racing after seeing the opening segment of the movie ‘Grand Prix’ as a twelve-year-old. Seriously hooked ever since through good times and bad. I sure wish I could afford to go to the great races in Europe – Monaco, Le Mans, Spa, Monza. I am grateful for the ever improving TV coverage and will be content to be at the 100th anniversary of Indy this weekend. Hope this years’ Monaco provides us with a change of form for someone! Vettel will take something special to be beaten this year though.

  3. Michael Spitale, 24 May 2011 18:33

    There is nothing like qualy at Monaco…. amazing!

  4. Ray T, 24 May 2011 19:07

    Sure, Monaco has history and scenery, but as far as a GP is concerned, it’s a street course with almost no ability to pass. The race is run on a Sunday, but the results almost certainly are determined on Saturday. We poo-poo Tilke tracks..but is this any better?

    Its status is determined as the #1 race where the business of F1 is done for next year, thus we see 100% effort from everyone.

    It has a set role in the history of F1, but the actual racing comes alive the next round in Montreal.

  5. Carl, 24 May 2011 20:45

    Great article. I may never be able to attend (I’m saving my pennys toward a suite with balcony at the Hotel de Paris) but I always look forward to this race with almost no passing except of slower traffic because a lap well driven here is reason enough to watch.
    One of the best aspects is the wonderful continuity of the course, although now only about half is still original, but from the approach to St Devote to the tunnel entry is identical to the first race.

  6. Lewis Lane, 24 May 2011 21:35

    Rosberg. Slicks.Damp track.Game over.

  7. Bonedwarf, 25 May 2011 01:00

    I reckon Nico has a shout. I predicted earlier this year that Nico would win Monaco and I stick by that.

  8. Tony Geran, 25 May 2011 01:44


    Great article. One day I’ll get there. Have always wanted to go after my older brother was there in ’75 but alas distance money and time of year (always co-incided with my job’s busiest period) conspired against me. Anyway will be interesting to see how the tyres last at this race given that they didn’t deteriorate when the lap speeds were slower in Melbourne.

    Bonedwarf, big call.

  9. Bonedwarf, 25 May 2011 05:28

    Last prediction I made for F1 was the podium for the 2008 Australian Grand Prix. People said I was nuts. I called it right.

    Of course I also predicted Jean Alesi would win a race from 1990 to about 1997:)

  10. john read, 25 May 2011 07:58

    Rosberg, Webber, Barrichello.
    That will do me for the podium.
    Vettel & Hamilton DNF due to collision with each other.

  11. rob widdows, 25 May 2011 08:10

    Thank you, everybody, for your comments and response. I have never met a racing fan who has not been thrilled by a visit to Monaco.
    Agreed, Graham Hill may not be many people’s idea of a truly great driver, but consider his achievements.
    He conquered Formula One, the Indy 500 and the 24 horus of Le Mans in a remarkable career built on hard graft, mechanical ability and relentless determinaion to win. He mastered Monaco with some very good BRMs and with the application and concentration for which he was justly admired.
    As I think I hve said before, overtaking is possible on this circuit, it is just extremely tricky and demands skill, judgement, bravery and luck. Yes, Montreal is also a great race, and the track encourages an exciting battle. But the point about Monaco is that it is a wonderfully crazy occasion that gives us an opportunity to witness a hugely spectacular and dramatic event. It is something beyond rational argument.
    Nico Rosberg to win? Not in the Mercedes-Benz we have seen thus far this year. But yes, it would be a popular victory.

  12. chris, 25 May 2011 10:33

    I adore Monaco – it is on my wish list [along with Monza and Australia] and have been very fortunate to see Zandvoort/ Spa etc – ah well – one day- still the buzz of watching these drivers get so close, one other thing Rob, you need the co-operation of the driver being overtaken – something that has blighted MotorSport for 20 years

    Graham was one tremendous driver and worthy of anyone’s list of greats, I’m a Jimmy Clark fan and to me no-one has ever gotten close , but Monaco as Jimmy said – was a circuit he loved but could never win and Spa was a circuit he loathed and won there 4 times- go figure that one out- so why did Graham go so well there? DSJ one year [1978?] reviewed the 1978 race alongside the 1964 one, it was an interesting read –

    Nico? i have been a fan of this talented driver since he first appeared in F1, i hope he wins – but money is on Jenson

  13. dave cubbedge, 25 May 2011 16:03

    funny thing that place. it either has a winner who is head and shoulders above the rest (Schumacher, Senna, Prost, Lauda, Moss, Fangio) or, dare I say, a fluke (Trintignant, Beltoise, Depailler, Rosberg, Panis, Trulli). As you can probably predict from my previous posts for the past couple years, it is those ‘fluke’ winners that I supported the most.

    Graham Hill, one of the best ever in my book, although maybe not the most spectacular. Had that incredible double-hat-trick of wins at Monaco and the Glen. He also had a gifted sense of humor. I remember his comment as he signed a female fan’s blouse, “I only wish I had a longer name!” Classic!

  14. Big Al, 25 May 2011 16:57

    I think Nico’s Dad has a better chance, to be quite honest! ( insert smiling face here!) I love Monaco; it’s the only race I get up to watch live here on the Canadian west coast. Usually not much of a race, but truly a spectacle. Amazing that it’s still allowed in this day and age. I used to get up early for every race, but due to endless safety car processions in the wet a few years ago and flappy wings now, all but Monaco get recorded…

  15. Rich Ambroson, 25 May 2011 17:50

    I have to agree with Dave Cubbedge, Chris, and others who do feel Graham Hill was one of the greats (maybe not on the very highest shelf with Fangio, Nuvolari, Moss, and such, but much much higher than most others). One doesn’t win at Monaco as many times as Graham Hill did, along with two World Championships, as well as his other achievements without some greatness.

    And, as always, I enjoyed reading Rob’s work here on Motorsport’s site (and in the “real” print version, as well!).

  16. Ray T, 25 May 2011 18:49

    Rosberg COULD win Monaco, no doubt, but not this year, or in that car. I’d love to see him at a better team, away from he who’s name shall not be spoken.

  17. dave cubbedge, 25 May 2011 20:46

    gotta admit Ray, we finally have found some common ground!

  18. rob widdows, 26 May 2011 07:46

    I do like the tale of G.Hill signing the blouse. Nice one.
    And typical!
    Just about time for first practice, good weather and a good forecast throiugh to Saturday.
    Hopefully, and importantly for me, we will see a proper battle for pole this weekend, instead of the tyre-saving strategies we have come to see in recent races. Don’t like that at all.
    Here we go then, Monaco 2011. Very well worth getting up early for I would say.

  19. rob widdows, 26 May 2011 14:10

    The early signs for a good race on Sunday are good. Free practice is not the perfect guide but indications are that Ferrari and McLaren look like giving the Red Bulls a race.
    Alonso was truly spectacular today, hurling his Ferrari round in 1.15.1 to top the timesheets. A few laps on the ragged edge reminded us of the great driver this man is, and a great driver makes a real difference in Monte Carlo. Only tenths behind are Hamilton, Button, Rosberg and Vettel, just 0.198 separating Rosberg from Alonso which underlines the importance of the driver on this circuit. Vettelis right there too, of course, but Webber, Massa and Schumacher were further away in these early sessions.
    Neither Alonso or Rosberg featured in the fastest eight cars through the speedtrap……………their times coming from a mesmerising rhythm through the twisty bits.
    Saturday is a whole new contest of course but the tyres look like lasting longer than we have seen in recent races and there will be a good old-fashioned fight for pole.
    Monaco is every bit as exciing and spectacular as ever it was, Alonso, Hamilton and Rosberg a joy to watch as they used the confidence they had in Friay’s cars to put their markers down for the race on Sunday. Red Bull has competition – how strong it is we will see later in the weekend.

  20. Bonedwarf, 26 May 2011 21:03

    Big Al: Western Canada here too. Alberta. Though the days of me getting up to watch ANY race live are over. Did that the first season I lived here. Decided never again. VHS, now DVR’ing them.

    Practice today was good. Am I alone in feeling Massa is always 3 seconds away from a massive accident?

  21. Andy Reeves, 27 May 2011 10:41

    Hi Rob Ed Nigel et al
    I see that the teams are quoted by BE as being ‘happy’
    to extend the season to the 4th December to accommodate Bahrain in the schedule. As of yesterdays meeting at Monaco.
    Can that be interpreted as a FIFA type ‘happy’ arrangement as in $$$$$ !?.
    Have you guys had the opportunity to talk to the crew members about this proposal ?.If so what was the reaction ? , Before the words …….. off !

  22. Ed Foster, 27 May 2011 11:16

    Hi Andy,

    Anything that BE says needs to be taken with pinch of salt! As far as i know the teams aren’t happy that the last race of the season may be on December 4. It makes the season very long and I don’t think a single team has agreed to it yet.

    Apparently they are talking to their employees and making a decision soon. This is of course, all being done with the presumption that Bahrain will be at peace.


  23. jimbo, 27 May 2011 15:02

    one of the most vivid never-forget memories ever was watching (I think for the first time?), overhead helicopter shots of Dickie Attwood about to possibly win the 1968 race. Pity all that stuff wasn’t saved.

  24. Carl, 27 May 2011 23:08

    The best Grand Prix of Monaco was 1970, when Jochen Rindt. tossing his Lotus 49 into wonderfully controlled four-wheel drifts, caught and passed Jack Brabham at the last corner, the Gasometer hairpin, on the final lap.

    In his effort to stay ahead, Brabham had left his braking just a moment too late and slid into the barrier. What Brabham said at that moment was obvious, profane, and understandable.

  25. john read, 28 May 2011 00:34

    Hello Andy and Ed,
    Let’s not shed too many tears for the team employees who may have to work for another fews weeks if the season is extended.
    There is plenty of money in F1 to have extra employees and rotate the staff if necessary and I am sure there are many mechanics and other tradesmen around the world who would happily exchange their full-time jobs for a taste of F1.
    Those that don’t like it can always resign and stop whinging.
    What about the wage-slave mugs who PAY to travel and attend the races (and buy the advertiser’s goods)?

  26. dave cubbedge, 28 May 2011 03:07

    I find it somewhat amusing that a certain WC Nelson Piquet’s quote opened up this article. Of course he never won at Monaco and as a matter of fact, his only achievement was to be on just about every highlight video of the place as he tangled with Riccardo Patrese’s Benetton Alfa Romeo at the 1985 event. Spectacular that was, for sure!

  27. chris, 28 May 2011 05:31

    Dave, NP is one driver who seems to have slipped very quickly off the radar, i for one was never remotely a fan of his and feel he was somewhat fortunate to have been as successful as he was- but the Monaco race i remember very well was when he tried to pick on the Jones boy, and was intimidated beyond his coping skills and put his car into the barrier- whilst detesting accidents of any sort with a passion i do recollect a dry chuckle or two that day [1981?] when Gilles in that ridiculous Ferrari won? wasn’t it?

    Rob, envy is a cruel feeling- hope you are having a lovely time- mutter mutter

  28. rob widdows, 28 May 2011 08:25

    Are the teams happy to extend the season? That probably depends on where they stand towards the end of the year. If Red Bull has already taken the titles, then they won’t want to finish in December! If it goes “down to the wire” then everybody will be happy to keep going! I don’t think many people are very happy to go to Bahrain, whatever the duration of the season.
    Richard Attwood at Monaco – yes, now there’s an under-rated driver if ever there was one. And he is still winning historic races in his BRM! Great guy.
    What a weekend! Monaco GP AND Indy 500 tomorrow! Not a good time for the TV to fail! I do remember that mine expired a few minutes before the start at Monza many years ago – and I had to dash round to my neighbour………………!

  29. chris, 29 May 2011 07:02

    rob. coinciding weekends monaco – indy reminds me of one of the greatest motor racing years 1965 with jimmy winning indy and graham driving his best race at monaco and winning

  30. dave cubbedge, 30 May 2011 15:22

    this championship isn’t going down to the wire. it’ll be over with in a month or so.

  31. NaUru38, 30 May 2011 21:15

    Monte Carlo: “trying to ride your bicycle around your living room.” That description also applies to Pau and to a lesser extent to Long Beach.

    But in my country there is an even tighter street circuit: Piriápolis ( The F3 Euroseries ran 135km/h laps at Monaco and Pau, right?. Well, South American F3 drivers run 110km/h laps at Piriápolis. It has 16 turns, nearly all of which require braking.

  32. dave cubbedge, 31 May 2011 16:22

    yes Chris, Jonesy out-psyched Piquet that day (much to my liking), but it was Gilles and the flying brick Ferrari that stole the victory.

  33. Doug Fisher, 1 June 2011 11:32

    Great race.
    BTW, Rob, did you by any chance work in the states years ago as a FF mechanic ?
    Doug Fisher

  34. rob widdows, 15 June 2011 09:51

    Yes, amazingly, I did work for Joe Stimola Racing, a team based on Long Island, for a short time in 1975. But I was hardly a mechanic, more of a ‘gofer’ doing odd jobs for Joe who was a larger-than-life character who ran a team and a workshop where there were always some interesting cars. I do recall that, one evening, he asked me to deliver an AC Cobra that has been in the workshop. It was pouring down with rain and I was very, very nervous, I can tell you, as I drove this thing along some very slippery roads. I have wanted one ever since!
    Anyway, yes, this might be what you are referring to. We ran Formula Fords for various people, mainly on the East coast.
    Having run around for the feisty Mr Stimola I eventually found a proper job with WNET/Channel 13 in New York. I was never going to impress anyone as a mechanic!

  35. Paulo, 14 September 2012 21:17

    Piquet is 100% right! but nobody can think about F1 out of Monaco!

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