Why Monaco is losing its sheen – and time is running out to save it


The Monaco GP used to be the definition of F1 glitz and glamour, but new headline events like Miami are stealing its thunder – can the famous street race justify its place on the calendar?

Spectators watch from a rooftop as Alpine's Spanish driver Fernando Alonso drives during the third practice session at the Monaco street circuit in Monaco, on May 22, 2021, ahead of the Monaco Formula 1 Grand Prix. (Photo by ANDREJ ISAKOVIC / AFP) (Photo by ANDREJ ISAKOVIC/AFP via Getty Images)


I’m not sure I totally realised until this week, but Monaco really is losing its sheen.

Maybe that’s just a bit of Formula 1 fatigue as it’s now one of so many races, and especially as a back-to-back with Barcelona there’s just so little time to build-up to the event to allow it to feel special. But then with the likes of Miami and the surrounding hype, or other glitzy grands prix such as Singapore returning, it feels like it isn’t standing out like it once was.

You might already have felt that way, and if not then you most likely will have noticed others suggesting the same as Monaco’s place on the calendar has been coming under question.

That’s because it doesn’t pay a similar hosting fee to other races, and where Monaco used to be THE place to do deals and impress sponsors and partners – a B2B race that would then indirectly pay for itself in many ways – there are plenty of other options now that also catch the eye and just stop Monaco being unique in that sense.

Max Verstappen (Red Bull-Honda) leads the field into the first corner after the start of the 2021 Monaco Grand Prix in Monte Carlo. Photo: Grand Prix Photo

2021 race was a procession – atmosphere off track wasn’t much better

Grand Prix Photo

But it is still unique in so many other ways, and it really needs to embrace them.

Monaco has been trying to adapt, shortening its weekend to fall in line with the rest of the F1 calendar, so now practice is on Friday rather than the traditional Thursday followed by a day off from track running. That move is what allowed the double-header with Spain to be trialled again after its last attempt proved dangerous for teams trying to set up the tricky paddock on the side of the harbour with one less day to work with.

Off the back of what was a good race in Barcelona but one littered with fan experience issues due to a lack of organisation and staffing, Monaco remains a mind-blowing success in terms of logistics, planning and execution to move thousands in and out of the Principality. It’s often said that the race just wouldn’t get approval if it was attempting to join the calendar as a new event – and that’s been true for some time – but it is quite an incredible achievement each year.

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And it remains one of the most spectacular places to watch a Formula 1 car in the flesh, with fans able to get so close to the drivers threading the needle between the barriers. But none of that really appeases those watching on television when the majority of races here are processional and dull, even if the potential for an error can make it hard to switch off completely.

So if Monaco is likely to split opinion among the far bigger audience that is tuning in remotely compared to those in attendance, it needs to double down on the other aspects that make it special to compensate.

It’s no surprise the Covid-19 pandemic triggered questions about whether Monaco deserves to be on the calendar, because it forced the race’s cancellation in 2020 due to the lead time needed to build the temporary track, and then in 2021 restrictions were still so tight that many of the special aspects were still impossible to execute.

Attendance was limited, curfews remained in place and mixing was being avoided by those in the sport. So fans were unlikely to be able to grab a glimpse of drivers heading to different functions around the city, or sample the nightlife on the track while high rollers partied on yachts into the early hours.

Brazilian Ayrton Senna on board his McLaren drives past the Casino of Monte-Carlo on May 4, 1989 during the time trials. - The 47th Formula One Grand Prix of Monaco will be run on May 7. (Photo by AFP) (Photo credit should read DOMINIQUE FAGET,MICHEL GANGNE,GERARD JULIEN,PASCAL PAVANI/AFP via Getty Images)

Monaco was once the definition of F1 glitz and glamour – this might not be the case anymore

AFP via Getty Images

It might all sound pretty obnoxious but it’s the aspirational aspects of Monaco that make it such an interesting place if nothing else. And given the huge amounts of money associated with F1, it does fit the setting in that sense.

This year, there’s going to need to be a return to the previous ways in terms of events, parties, glitz and glamour. Coupled with the history, it creates an atmosphere that makes Monaco a grand prix that so many fans want to experience at least once in their lifetime, even if a good proportion might find that proves to be more than enough times.

Miami was criticised for some of the additions around the circuit such as beach clubs and fake marinas, but the aim was to make it as ‘Miami’ as possible. Making Monaco as ‘Monaco’ as can be would not be the worst approach.

Why am I placing such importance on the stuff that nobody cares about if they’re not there? Because with the 2022 cars, the likelihood is there’s going to be no impact on the almost non-existent racing that went before in Monte Carlo.

Barcelona was a good example of the improvements that have been made with the new regulations, allowing closer racing and delivering some spectacular action even on a track that is notoriously difficult to overtake on. But notoriously difficult and basically impossible are two different things.

The cars are still huge, they’re even heavier than before and the new regulations certainly haven’t improved low speed handling. This is definitely not the track that F1 had in mind when it moved to develop a car that allowed better racing.

And until the cars are made smaller and lighter, it’s going to remain a venue where racing just doesn’t take place without intervention from the weather. Qualifying will still be amazing, but the adage that 90% of the job is done on a Saturday undervalues the importance of starting position in my opinion.

Jarno Trulli leads Renault team-mate Fernando Alonso and BAR-Honda drivers Jenson Button and Takuma Sato into thr Loews hairpin on the first lap of the 2004 Monaco Grand Prix. Photo: Grand Prix Photo

Entertaining Monaco races are few and far between – can the spectacle amongst the yachts and social events still make up for this in years to come?

Grand Prix Photo

So it’ll be some time before Monaco has a chance of offering a better racing spectacle on any sort of regular basis – if ever – but if it wants to ensure its time on the calendar isn’t running out then it needs to make sure the powers-that-be in F1 remain fans of the experience and are personally motivated for it to stay on the schedule.

Enough other venues are managing to do that at the same time as having the potential on the sporting side that it would be foolish to think threats Monaco could disappear aren’t serious.

You can’t buy history and Monaco doesn’t need to, but it does need to bring value in other ways that will ensure the trade-off against a lack of racing is worth it for the world’s biggest racing series.

That, or pay an obscene amount of money for the privilege.