Monte Carlo Grand Prix, May 15
If the Monaco Grand Prix was held anywhere other than through the streets of Monte Carlo, it would be rejected out of hand by everyone connected with the Formula One circus.
The road surface leaves a lot to be desired, the width is ludicrous in places, some of the corners are artificially tight, and ‘run-off’ areas are just a state of mind. The pit-lane would not pass an intelligent scrutiny, the paddock is a water-front slum, facilities are primitive and any sort of logical movement about the place is virtually impossible. But, if all the wrongs were righted it would not be Monte Carlo, and without Monte Carlo nobody would want a similar shambles in Nice or Menton.
Apart from being a tax-haven for the rich and a convenient home for international ‘travellers’ of non fixed abode, Monaco thrives on other people’s money – and the world of Formula One is a good customer, the teams causing their sponsors to spend money like it was going out of fashion.
The bigger and more ostentatious you can be in flaunting your wealth and influence, the more successful you are considered to be by your rival’s Public Relations Department. And all in the warm, colourful, exotic atmosphere of the south of France: except that this year we hardly saw the sun, and the rain made even the most ostentatious display look tawdry.
Ferrari’s Gerhard Berger lined up 3rd on the grid behind the McLarens
Being a law unto itself, the Automobile Club of Monaco manages to have Formula One practice and qualifying on Thursday and Saturday, whereas any other country has to have it on Friday and Saturday. On Sunday it contrives to start its race at 3.30pm, just to be different. But Monaco is Monaco, and if you want to run a Grand Prix round the streets you have to make allowances – and then some.
As there is no pre-race testing allowed, the first morning of official practice is usually used to bed in the circuit, the cars blowing away the dust, forcing a clear line through the streets where no racing car has been for a year, and coating that line with rubber. At least, that is what normally happens: this year it rained most of Thursday, so qualifying was rather inconclusive for some, though not for all.
Honda produced two versions of its latest turbocharged V6 engine, one more suited to the characteristics of the circuit than the other, and Lotus and McLaren each had a pair to try. The McLaren team was in a class of its own, depressing all the opposition even on the wet track, and even more so as the track started to dry out at the end of the qualifying hour.
Even within McLaren there was first and second divisions, for Senna was also in a class of his own, almost two seconds faster than his team-mate Alain Prost.
With 31 entries, one had to be eliminated, and on Thursday this was done by rules. Certain drivers had to pre-qualify during the morning testing, the slowest being dropped, and these drivers had to stop and have their cars’ weight checked every time they re-entered the pit-lane. Stefano Modena forgot to do this with the EuroBrun, so he was disqualified. Four more had to be eliminated before the race and this was done on qualifying lap-times up to 2pm on Saturday.
After more rain, Thursday evening and yet more on Friday, the weather took a slight turn for the better on Saturday. After a grey and cool test-session on Saturday afternoon. As can be imagined, there was something of a rush to get out and record a qualifying lap.
Wet or dry made little difference to Ayrton Senna, who was still in a class of his own. FIA restrictions on boost-pressure from the 4-bar of last year to the 2.5 bar of this year seemed to change little, McLaren and Senna finding reserves of speed elsewhere. Pole position this year for Senna was 1min 23.998sec, against last year’s pole time by Nigel Mansell in the Williams-Honda of 1min 23.039 sec. Senna’s team-mate was one-and-a-half seconds slower, while the rest were happy to be within four seconds of the flying Brazilian.
Senna leads at the start
The four drivers eliminated were Nakajima (Lotus), Schneider (Zakspeed), Campos (Minardi) and Bailey (Tyrrell). The fastest 3.5-litre non-turbo car was Mansell’s Williams-Judd in fifth place, and ‘those who profess to know’ had predicted that the non-turbo cars had a good chance of success round the streets of Monte Carlo! If they did have an advantage it was not noticeable.
Rain returned on Sunday morning, but did not develop, though it ruined the 30-minute ‘warm-up’ session and everyone had to prepare for the race with very little knowledge of what they were really trying to do. The attitude of most people was to try not to be lapped by Senna too often.
The 78-lap race was due to start at 3.30pm, but for some their troubles began before then. On his way round the circuit to the ‘dummy-grid’ Arnoux’s Ligier-Judd V8 died on him, and he had to make his way back to the pits and take the start from the pit-lane in the spare Ligier. When Senna led the remaining cars round on the parade-lap Streiff was in trouble with the accelerator pedal on the AGS-Cosworth DFZ and instead of taking his place on the grid, he disappeared into the pit-lane, never to be seen again. We were down to 24 cars and the race hadn’t started.