Monaco seems out of place – but it still deserves to be on the F1 calendar


Monaco shouldn't be complacent about its place on the GP calendar in a changing F1 landscape, but that doesn't mean the championship should leave it behind writes Tony Dodgins

16 LECLERC Charles (mco), Scuderia Ferrari F1-75, action during the Formula 1 Grand Prix de Monaco 2022, 7th round of the 2022 FIA Formula One World Championship, on the Circuit de Monaco, from May 27 to 29, 2022 in Monte-Carlo, Monaco - Photo Antonin Vincent / DPPI

Leclerc's stance on keeping Monaco part of the F1 calendar is clear

Antonin Vincent / DPPI

“Monaco is an anachronism.” I think the first time I read that was more than half a century ago. I can’t recall whether it was Nigel Roebuck or Doug Nye. No matter, someone who knew what they were talking about.

Jackie Stewart versus Jochen Rindt at Silverstone in ’69 turned me on to F1. Then I remember as a nine-year-old somewhat uncharitably punching the air as Jack Brabham went straight on at the last corner of the last lap at Monaco’s old Gasworks Hairpin and Rindt snatched victory with a final lap almost a full second quicker than Stewart’s pole time!

Even then, it was considered almost impossible to pass a closely-matched car at Monte Carlo. Attrition helped Rindt and Brabham lost bucket-loads of time behind recalcitrant backmarkers. Jack was rattled when he found Piers Courage on the piece of hairpin road he wanted, with a flying Rindt closing in. He got on the marbles and slid straight on. Different times. Less than four months later both Courage and Rindt were dead.

Jochen RIndt at the monaco Grand Prix 1970 in the Lotus 49B

Even in 1970, Rindt needed Brabham to go off to win at Monaco

Bernard Cahier/Getty Images

Gripes about Monaco not being a ‘race’ were as relevant then as they are now. But it was always cut some slack as F1’s blue riband event. It was a poser’s paradise, the place where the great and the good wanted to see and be seen. Yes, it was all over post-qualifying on a Saturday afternoon but the drivers knew that and it was something you could wear once a year.

They relished the unique challenge that comes with going quickly with no margin for error between unforgiving barriers and walls at, literally every turn. And that’s still true. As a Monégasque, Charles Leclerc may be biased when he says there is no way F1 should lose Monaco from its calendar, but listen to what he says.

“There’s no place where a driver can make as big a difference to the result and nothing boosts adrenaline quite like a qualifying lap in Monaco.”

Although I imagine some suspect Ferrari strategy calls and being stacked behind a team mate in the pits comes pretty close…

What Leclerc says is true. You only need to look at the multiple winners: Prost, Senna, Schumacher. It’s just that they needed to do the job on a Saturday rather than Sunday.

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Call me a cynic but the gripes and moans about Monaco always reach new heights whenever it’s time to cut a new deal with the organising Automobile Club de Monaco (ACM). The ACM has always paid less than anywhere else to F1 in hosting fees and been granted special privileges. It controls its own circuit advertising for instance, which is why you see Tag Heuer signage when Rolex is F1’s official timing sponsor. And it produces its own host broadcast which, over time, has lagged further behind the impeccable standards of F1’s own broadcast crew. You do notice it, because we’ve come a long way from 20-minute clips on the Beeb three times a year.

And yet, this time it feels different, the threats to Monaco seem real. Interest in F1 has never been higher and Liberty Media is coming up with ‘signature’ races in places such as Miami and Las Vegas. And it has more premium-paying requests for races than the maximum 24 its agreements with the teams permit.

Monaco’s current commercial deal ends at the end of this season. In response to speculation about it being dropped, ACM’s president Michel Boeri recently told La Gazette de Monaco, “I can guarantee you that the Grand Prix will keep taking place beyond 2022. I don’t know if it will be a three or five-year contract, but that’s a detail.” Which sounds very confident, but…

31 OCON Esteban (fra), Alpine F1 Team A522, action during the Formula 1 Grand Prix de Monaco 2022, 7th round of the 2022 FIA Formula One World Championship, on the Circuit de Monaco, from May 27 to 29, 2022 in Monte-Carlo, Monaco - Photo Marc de Mattia / DPPI

Overtaking is more difficult than ever at the principality

Marc de Mattia / DPPI

It’s probably fair to say that Monaco has always been a little complacent about its importance to F1. You only need step off the plane in Nice to appreciate that the Riviera is a bit special. There’s a unique quality about the light, appreciated by the likes of Picasso, Monet, Cezanne, Van Goch, to name but a few artists who lived and painted there. And a drive along the Corniche between Nice and Monaco makes you feel as glad to be alive as any anticipation of the on-track spectacle you will witness when you arrive.

But that may no longer be enough. It used to be the place where the movers and shakers needed to be. Where bigger sponsorship cheques were signed after a few days living the high life in Monte-Carlo. These days though, F1 business is done a little differently. In the current stand-off someone is going to have to blink first and it’s probably going to have to be Monaco.

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I hope they do. Because anachronism Monaco may be, but it’s still a glorious one. I don’t want to come across anti-American but sometimes you do wonder how much they really get it, whatever the sport. Okay, it’s good to let off some steam and show some, err… passion, but you do wince when raucous New York tennis crowds cheer double faults. Or when some imbecile at Augusta screams ‘Get in the hole!’ as someone tees off on a par five…

Martin Brundle’s Miami grid walk was doubtless as painful to F1 purists as it was to Martin. Yes, times change, but let’s not pander too sycophantically to the cult of show and so-called celebrity. F1 itself is a global spectacle. It doesn’t need the fluff. At least in Monaco the harbour was real…

It’s probably right and proper that Monaco needs to pay more and up its game, even if there’s precious little that can be done in terms of the circuit. Liberty has acknowledged that it wants to retain F1’s historical events as well as expanding its new ones. Let’s not throw out the baby with the bath water.

Whether it’s that 1970 Monaco race, Beltoise in the wet in ’72, Lauda’s chase of Depailler in ’78, Senna’s mesmerising Toleman drive in ’84 or his qualifying lap four years later, Schumacher ‘parking’ in 06, even Leclerc’s second Q3 run last weekend before the red flag. They all mean something to those that truly care. Let’s not throw it all away for a few dollars more.