What is it about Monaco?
The high-rise apartments have trashed the old Victorian elegance, the streets and traffic are brain-fryingly chaotic and the almost palpable smell of money leaves a vulgar aftertaste. And yet no matter how many times you go back, each visit lures you in. You become transfixed.
Perhaps it’s the glimpse of lives most of us can barely imagine. Mostly, at least in the month of May, it’s about the kerbing, safety barriers, pit buildings and other racing paraphernalia that sprouts up around the harbour. The bling is the backdrop, but what sticks is the circuit. This bizarre place is at the heart of why we love motor racing.
The ninth Grand Prix Historique Monaco, two weeks before the contemporary Formula 1 race, featured all the gaudy, opulent ingredients that are so familiar, but with a dose of old Monaco charm and character. The simple twin-row paddock contributed much, but it was the cars sheltered within that really made the difference. The quality of entry for the seven races was simply astounding.
From pre-war Grand Prix machinery to F1 chassis covering three decades, plus a welcome dose of 1950s sports cars and colourful ’70s Formula 3s, there was familiar fare from the Goodwoods and Silverstone Classics, but with added rarities for extra spice. Out on track, they all looked wonderful against such a backdrop and, as at every historic festival, some were driven beautifully – and some weren’t. The intimidating narrow streets increase the gulf between the haves and have-nots (talent in this case, not wealth) more than anywhere else.
F3 used to be the traditional Grand Prix support in Monaco, but on this occasion the 1970s 2-litre brigade upstaged the main acts with the best race of the day. David Shaw’s Nelson Piquet Ralt RT1, rebuilt after a qualifying shunt, got off to a flier from pole position, but that start was patently too good. A drive-through penalty cost him any hope of victory.
The race developed into a fantastic scrap between Paolo Barilla, Valerio Leone and Ollie Hancock. Former Minardi F1 racer Barilla pulled the decisive move on Leone at the second part of the swimming pool complex – hardly a regular passing spot in Monaco. Hancock took advantage of traffic congestion at the final corner to snatch second, only for Leone to squeeze back past at Tabac. It’s usually strictly single-file through there, too.
The pair of bewinged F1 races that sandwiched the F3 encounter offered spectacular sights and ear-piercing sounds. Katsuaki Kubota offered nostalgic overload by winning the 1966 to 1972 F1 race in his glorious JPS Lotus 72. Michael Lyons’ Surtees TS9 kept him on his toes until a misfire set in, which allowed Rob Hall’s growling Matra MS120B into second. But determined Duncan Dayton had designs on the place in his Brabham BT33 and, having already clattered the barrier at Tabac, chose the needle-and-thread left-hander to slice past Hall.
The race ended early under red flags when the March of Richard Smeeton attempted to pass American John Goodman’s lovely Ferrari 312B2 at the start/finish. A catastrophic coming together left the Ferrari looking a lot less lovely – a great pity – and the drivers were lucky to escape injury.
Lyons made up for his Surtees disappointment by proving predictably dominant in the race for non-ground-effect F1 cars of 1973 to ’78. His day was made easier by Nathan Kinch eliminating himself in qualifying when he sideswiped the barrier at Ste Devote in his Williams FW06. Sam Hancock’s Fittipaldi might have challenged Lyons, but clutch problems at the start of the formation lap forced him to line up at the back. His recovery to seventh at the flag was admirable. That flag was red, by the way, after Kubota blotted his day by rattling his March 761 into the Massenet barrier.
Andy Middlehurst was another dominant winner – as usual – in his Lotus 25, beating Sid Hoole’s Cooper T66 by nearly 40 seconds in the 1961-65 F1 race. Joe Colasacco’s Ferrari 1512 had crackled away behind him until second gear disintegrated. It had been a joy while it lasted.
Roger Wills claimed Pre-61 F1 and F2 honours, while second place was only decided on a drag to the line between Frank Stippler’s Maserati 250F ‘Piccolo’ and Tony Wood’s Tec-Mec. The former just got there first.
Alex Buncombe was an easy winner in his JD Classics Jaguar C-type in the 1952-55 sports car race, but it was John Ure who provided the entertainment in his beautifully driven Cooper Bristol. Down the road, Motor Sport’s Andrew Frankel made his Monaco debut driving brother Richard’s highly original C-type, which had competed in Monaco’s only sports car Grand Prix back in 1952 in the hands of Tommy Wisdom. Our man acquitted himself immaculately all weekend and the result – 24th out of 37 starters – was more than respectable in a car he had to bring home in one piece. It was due on the Mille Miglia four days later in Richard’s hands.
As was the case for many in Monaco, the result was immaterial. The emotion of racing on these famous streets was reward enough, the sense of achievement making the sight of grown men hugging each other quite common back in the paddock.
For once in motor racing, it really was the taking part that counted.
We’ll have to wait until 2016 for the 10th Grand Prix Historique Monaco. If you haven’t been, start saving now. You’ll love it. Damien Smith
Streets, cars, names, desire
The racing might be good, but Monaco’s historic weekend has other strengths
Hard results are not what the Grand Prix Historique Monaco is all about. It is a celebration of great cars, and close racing is frankly a bonus.
Set pieces this year included demonstrations from Renault Classic and Audi Tradition in partnership with Chopard. F1 old boys and Sky F1 presenters Damon Hill and Johnny Herbert were present on the Friday, the latter having a run in an ex-Ronnie Peterson March 701. Hill relished his drive in the original turbo F1 car, the 1977 RS01. “It was amazing,” he grinned in the pitlane. “It just goes to show driving is obviously hard-wired into me. You could certainly feel the turbo kicking in and there was plenty of lag. I don’t know how fast I was going through the tunnel, which was very dusty. But it felt fast!”
Hill was reunited with ex-Williams team-mate Alain Prost on a memorable afternoon. Prost had a run in his 1983 RE40 on Saturday, before Jean-Pierre Jabouille took over.
In the next pit sat a pair of glorious pre-war Auto Unions, a Type C V16 and a Type D V12. Chopard ambassador Jacky Ickx was on hand to drive, the Belgian legend looking quite at home on a track where he famously served as clerk of the course in the sopping 1984 Grand Prix.
Coys and RM Auctions both hosted sales over the weekend, RM’s high-profile Saturday event setting a new European benchmark for the company. The Hesketh 308 featured in Motor Sport last month was bought by DJ Chris Evans for €250,000, while the Lister Knobby prototype (also included in June) went for €1,176,000.
The Credit Suisse Drivers Club was again the place to relax between races. On Friday morning, the bank hosted its popular media forum, featuring Sir Stirling Moss, Jochen Mass, Derek Bell and, for a modern perspective, Porsche racer Romain Dumas. They held court for an entertaining hour and the whole thing can be heard, at your convenience, via our website.