A right-hander leading on to the pit straight, the Virage Antony Noghès is not the most celebrated corner at the Monaco Grand Prix Circuit – although it is perhaps the most significant because it bears the name of the businessman who founded the event.
Won by Bugatti T35B driver William Grover-Williams, the first Monaco GP took place on April 14, 1929 and this year’s race, on May 26, marks the 90th anniversary of a motor sport institution that has changed remarkably little with time’s passage. There have been some alterations – notably in 1973, with the addition of the swimming pool complex and the deletion of the old Gasworks hairpin to make way for the new Rascasse loop – but most of the updates have been subtle. Incessant urban development hasn’t changed the circuit’s original essence.
Of the current F1 tracks, only Monza (b1922) has been in service for longer.
Some feel F1 no longer has any business in Monaco, because overtaking borders on the impossible, but as a spectacle the race has few peers. It might be the slowest venue on the calendar, but proximity embellishes the sense of speed – and from trackside you’d swear it was among the fastest.
It has also become symbolic of the conspicuous consumption that envelops contemporary Formula 1. Parts of the circuit are fringed by the Mediterranean, upon which are parked everything from elegant, nimble sailing boats to billion-dollar superyachts. Between the chicane exit and the swimming pool complex, the immediate trackside area is lined with plush vessels, mostly controlled by tour operators charging a handsome stipend for boarding privileges (about £3000 per head for a weekend pass, sustenance and champagne included).
Monaco once had a reputation for lavish after-race parties, but nowadays most drivers have apartments in nearby Fontvieille where they can grab an isotonic drink and an early night.
Grover-Williams was the first of 46 drivers to have won the Monaco GP, Nuvolari, Moss, Caracciola, Fangio, Brabham, Schumacher, Häkkinen, McLaren, Lauda, Prost and the original Villeneuve being among those to have followed. Only four active F1 drivers have Monaco victories on their CV – two each for Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton, one for Daniel Ricciardo and Kimi Räikkönen – so Ayrton Senna’s record of six won’t be challenged any time soon.
Monaco hasn’t always been on the world championship calendar, though it has featured every season since 1955 and shows no sign of fading.