History revived on the streets of Monaco
With its harbourside setting and aura of glamour, the Principality’s Grand Prix Historique is unmatched
The first Monaco GP was run on April 14, 1929 so that the Principality could establish an event that would enable the Automobile Club de Monaco to attain full International status.
Although the Monte Carlo Rally had been run since 1911, little of it took place within Monaco itself and the ACM only held National status. Antony Noghès, the son of the club’s founder Alexandre Noghès, instigated the race and took charge of the myriad of organisational duties.
The first event was won by British driver William Grover-Williams (a.k.a. ‘Williams’) driving a Bugatti T35B car that was painted in a dark green colour to represent his nationality.
A white Mercedes SSK was thrown around the track with great precision by German ace Rudolph Caracciola, finishing third behind Georges Bouriano’s Bugatti.
The crowd, which had turned out in force, loved it and the event became a regular highlight on the calendar while also introducing some much-needed income to the Principality.
By 1933 the race had been elevated in status to a full International GP and counted for the-then European Championship. The course used was and still is a convenient two-mile circuit that starts on a straight by the ACM building, climbs the steep hill into Casino square and then falls downhill twisting and turning, goes through a fast right-hand tunnel, down to the harbour front and then around a tight right-hand bend back on to the start straight. Sounds simple? It isn’t!
It has always been a very demanding track for both drivers and cars. There is no let up in concentration whatsoever as the slightest mistake will most likely result in contact with something unforgiving.
Traditionally the race always had considerable attrition due to mechanical failure, especially gearboxes with countless changes needed per lap. Today’s technology has helped to overcome many of the problems.
When the World Championship for drivers was irst established in 1950, the Monaco GP was included as a qualifying race and since 1955 the Monaco GP has been run every year. It is without doubt the most popular of all GPs for both spectators and TV.
Traditionally the only other way to race at Monaco other than by being a Grand Prix driver was to take part in the Formula 3 race that used to be run alongside the Formula 1 race. This was also the most important race in the F3 calendar, as it gave an upcoming driver the chance to showcase his talent in front of the very people he hoped to drive for one day. True to form, success in F3 has often led to success in F1, and today on Grand Prix weekend showcase events for the GP2 and Formula Renault 3.5 junior categories are the modern equivalent.
So what about everybody else who fancies a race around the Monaco GP circuit? It was round about 1976 that a gentleman called Uwe Hucke inally managed to convince the ACM that a support race for vintage GP cars, to take place just before the real GP on the Sunday, would be a good idea. It was indeed a great race with a Mercedes W125 chasing down Bugattis, Alfa-Romeos, ERAs and other pre-war machinery. However, that was a one-off event and another vintage race did not take place until 1984 when a Bugatti-only event was run, in the wet, before the GP proper. But in 1997 the ACM decided to run an event every two years with several races for types of cars that had raced in the Principality in the past. Initially this fresh event took place a week before the real GP and latterly two weeks before.
The formula for the races changes slightly from, say, F3 to Formula Junior so more runners can participate. The 1970s 3-litre F1 cars are very popular and the front-runners put up some excellent times. They also run a race for front-engined GP cars only, which are considered the cream of the crop with the likes of Maserati 250Fs, BRM P25s, Ferrari 500s and Connaught B-types all battling it out for honours.
The Grand Prix de Monaco Historique, sponsored by Credit Suisse for the second time, is now established as the most prestigious and glamorous event on the calendar. This year, on May 11-13, the streets of Monaco will once again resound to the growl and bark of the great Grand Prix cars of the past.