Monaco Grand Prix

Since its inception in 1929, the Monaco Grand Prix has grown to become one of motor racing’s greatest events—on par with the 24 Hours of Le Mans (est. 1923) and the Indianapolis 500 (est. 1911).

It is not only the slowest and most difficult of all the World Formula One Championship races, but also one of the premier highlights of Europe’s annual social calendar.

The Monaco Grand Prix is conducted over the streets of Monte Carlo and La Condamine, a circuit notorious for its snakelike layout and tight turns. Its famous tunnel is unique among racing challenges, and its winding streets leave little margin for error.

The Monaco circuit is such a test of drivers’ skills that safety concerns would prohibit it from being added to the Formula One schedule if it were not already an established Grand Prix.

The Monaco Grand Prix Circuit

The dangerous circuit adds to the allure of the race, as do the spectacular seaside setting and opulent festivities surrounding it.

Three days before the starting flag waves, celebrities begin checking into their luxurious Monaco accommodations—Hotel de Paris, the Columbus and the Grand.

Many stay in nearby Nice, while others moor their yachts in Port Hercule where a giant video screen displays all the action live.

For participants, spectators, and bettors alike, the Monaco Grand Prix is racing at its finest. Its history is full of drama, personality, and innovation, and its future is certain to prove just as intriguing.

Despite its fame as the oldest of the currently used circuits, Monaco was not the site of the first Grand Prix race in Europe. That honor goes to the town of Le Mans, France. In 1906, it hosted the Grand Prix de l’Automobile Club de France—the world’s first big circuit race.

Over the next two decades, America, Italy, Spain, Belgian, and Great Britain would join the schedule, leading up to the very first European Grand Prix race in Lasarte, France in 1926. Germany was added to the calendar the very next year, making Monaco something of a latecomer to the motor racing scene.

Until the turn of the century, racing in Monaco had fallen under the purview of the local bicycle sports club. Formed in 1890, they organised events on two wheels, not four.

But as motor vehicles became more important and popular, the group changed its name in 1907 to the Sport Automobile Velocipedique Monegasque (SAVM), or Monaco Bicycle and Automobile Sports Club.

In 1925, 55 members of the SAVM held a General Assembly to establish a new group—the Automobile Club de Monaco (ACM). They selected as their Commissioner General a man named Anthony Noghés, whose family was a fixture in the local community.

Noghés’ father, Alexandre, was a wealthy cigarette manufacturer. He had been elected as president of the SAVM in 1909 and launched an international car rally in 1911. The rally was more of a glamour event than a true competition, but it did succeed in putting the Noghés family on the map of European racing.

As the new commissioner, Anthony Noghés was immediately charged with applying for ACM membership in the Association of Certified Automobile Clubs in Paris, also known as FIA, the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile.

The ACM application was rejected, however, because the centuries old Principality of Monaco at that time had no organized motor sports other than a hill climb up 1,148-metre Mont Agel. If they wanted to join FIA, they needed a real race.

The idea of staging a major European motor event in the world’s smallest state other than the Vatican was unthinkable to many. But Noghés took on the “crazy project.”

He realized right away that setting up a proper circuit was largely a matter of gathering the right resources, and he knew where to start—with the House of Grimaldi, the monarchy who had ruled the Principality since 1297.

The Noghés family were well-connected with the Grimaldis. First, the Commissioner enlisted the support of Prince Louis II of Monaco by making him the ACM’s Honorary President.

Then, with the help of Club members, Noghés set about making preparations for a race through the streets of Monte Carlo, securing sponsorships, obtaining permits, and making necessary road improvements.

He also gained the assistance of a young racing star whose life would become legend—Louis Chiron.

Monaco Grand Prix – A Truly “Grand” Grand Prix

Born in Monte Carlo in 1899, Louis Chiron was the son of the maitre d’hotel at the Hotel de Paris and claimed French citizenship as a dual national. He allegedly got his start driving during World War I as a chauffer to French Marshal Ferdinand Foch and General Philippe Pétain.

After the war, he made his living by working at a car dealership in Nice and taxi dancing at nightclubs.

In 1925, Chiron got a break as a racer when a wealthy American woman sponsored him to take part in some minor events. It was not the first time a woman had assisted the handsome young man in his career.

In fact, a Russian noblewoman had financed not only his post-war private school education, but also music lessons and courses in etiquette—all of the training required to become an irresistible lady’s man.

The following year, Chiron caught the eye of another motor racing fan, Alice “Baby” Hoffmann né Trobeck, the wife of Alfred Hoffmann, heir to the pharmaceutical fortunes of Hoffmann-La Roche. The Hoffmans got a Type 35 Bugatti for the Monegasque native, who drove it to victory for them in the 1926 Grand Prix du Comminges.

Car designer Ettore Bugatti and his own race team were so impressed by Chiron that they put him on their payroll in 1927. That set in motion a series of victories that vaulted Chiron to the top of the racing world.

In 1928, he won three Grand Prix races, followed by two more wins in 1929. Baby Hoffman often accompanied Chiron as his “timekeeper.”

While ACM Commissioner Noghés sweated out the details of creating Monaco’s own race, Chiron’s growing celebrity added credibility to the cause. Four long years after creating the initial concept, the Automobile Club of Monaco was ready to implement their event.

On 14 April, 1929, Prince Pierre Grimaldi, Duke of Valentinois, took a lap of honour through the streets of Monte Carlo to inaugurate the circuit of the 1st Grand Prix of Monaco.

He waved to the excited crowd that thronged the streets, while seated in a Torpedo Voisin car driven by Charles Faroux, the appointed director of the circuit.

Serving as Honorary President of the organising body, Prince Louis II was on hand for the opening festivities, as were sixteen of Europe’s finest racecar drivers. Ironically, Louis Chiron would not be participating in the race that day. He had a prior commitment to represent Bugatti in the Indianapolis 500.

As it turned out, a Bugatti vehicle would claim the day anyway. The racers sped off at 1:30pm and completed the course nearly four hours later. The winner was a privately-owned, British racing green Bugatti T35B driven by a mysterious Anglo-French racer known by his pseudonym “Williams.”

His winning time was 3 hours 56’11” and his fastest lap was 2’15”, setting the initial speed records at 80.194 kph for the race and 84.800 kph for a single circuit.

Again adding to the irony of that first event, “Williams” later turned out to be William Charles Grover, who had been Chiron’s partner in the auto business back in Nice before they started racing.

“Williams” had also won his first Grand Prix at St. Gaudens just the year before at Chiron’s expense. This would be only the first of many intrigues and rivalries marking the event that would go on to become the “the jewel of the Formula One crown.”

Monaco Grand Prix Makes History at Monte Carlo

The initial success of the Monaco Grand Prix was followed up in 1930 with the race’s second running, won again in a Bugatti T35B, but this time piloted by France’s René Dreyfus. He set new lap and race speed records in doing so at 90.141 kph and 86.137 kph, respectively.

By way of comparison, the 1930 Indianapolis 500 was won by America’s Billy Arnold in a Miller-Hartz Special at an average speed of 161.6 kph. If films of the two races were shown side by side, it might have appeared that the cars in Monte Carlo were standing still.

But it was always clear to the organisers that the Monaco Grand Prix would not be a speed race. It would focus instead upon racing skill.

The Indianapolis “brickyard” was designed as an oval track with banked turns, made specifically for fast driving. From the very start, Monte Carlo’s circuit featured short straight-aways, S-curves, and several turns angled at greater than 90 degrees. Speed here could kill.

What’s more, Monaco had a component that no other Grand Prix circuit featured: The Tunnel.

Driving into and out of a dark tunnel at high speeds presents drivers with a special set of challenges. The contrast of light and dark upon entering and exiting forces drivers to adjust their vision.

The cars are in a low gear as they come out the sharp turn known as the Virage du Portier and approach the tunnel. Acceleration through the darkness brings the vehicles to the fastest point of the track, and then the drivers must brake for a chicane soon after reaching daylight.

A single pass through the tunnel would be difficult enough, but the full course is comprised of 78 laps. To maintain an average speed of 90 kph or more requires absolute concentration and the use of all six gears as well as headlamps. There is no other Grand Prix circuit like it.

So when Dreyfus upped both the initial speed records by 6 kph, it was no small feat. Indeed, despite improvements to engines, tires, fuels, and vehicle design, no one would break the 100 kph barrier at the Monaco Grand Prix until 1937, proving that this, more than any other motor racing event, was a test of drivers not cars.

The year 1931 was special because the Indianapolis 500 pulled out of the Grand Prix schedule, freeing hometown hero, Louis Chiron, to enter Monaco’s race. He won it in a Bugatti T51, bettering the race record with a speed of 87.062 kph, and tying Dreyfus’s best lap of the previous year.

The Bugatti stranglehold on Monaco was broken in 1932 when an Alfa Romeo 8C driven by Italy’s Tazio Nuvolari took the checkered flag. But in 1933, the Italian driver had his hands full as countryman Achille Varzi outdueled him to victory in a Bugatti T51.

Then, in 1934, Algerian Frenchman Guy Moll reached the finish line first driving an Alfa Romeo Tipo B P3, when his new teammate, the indefatigable Chiron, spun into the sandbags and lost the lead with two laps to go.

From 1935 to 1937, Mercedes automobiles dominated the streets of Monte Carlo, with Italy’s Luigi Fagioli and Germany’s Rudolf Caracciola and Manfred von Brauchitsch taking turns stepping into the winner’s circle, each setting records on the way.

The win in 1936 was especially sweet for Caracciola, who had almost died in an accident at Monaco three years earlier, when teamed up in a partnership with Louis Chiron—a relationship that bears some added attention.

Chiron and Caracciola

Back in 1932, Mr. Hoffman and Bugatti replaced Chiron with René Dreyfus, and Mrs. Hoffman replaced her aging husband with the dashing Monegasque driver. Tired of “timekeeping,” the two took up romancing fulltime.

They were the talk of Europe’s racing crowd, and the pair found kindred spirits in three-time Grand Prix winner Rudolf Caracciola and his beautiful wife Charly. The foursome became the glitterati of their day, often seen partying together.

When Mercedes temporarily withdrew from racing in 1933, Caracciola was out of a job. Coincidentally, Chiron had just been fired by Bugatti’s team manager, Meo Constantini, who decried him as racing’s “prima donna” and “out of control.”

Together, the unemployed drivers founded their own team, Scuderia CC, which led to their racing at Monaco and that terrible crash at Tabac curve. Then, while Caracciola was recovering, his wife Charly died in a tragic skiing accident.

Filled with grief, the widower went into a deep depression. He refused to see anyone. Chiron feared for his partner’s mental health. He traveled with his girlfriend to be by their friend’s side. Whatever they said or did apparently snapped Caracciola out of his anguish.

The German returned to racing with Mercedes after a 14-month pause. He had difficulty walking, but seemed fine once he was in the driver’s seat.

In the latter part of the 1934 season, Caracciola rediscovered his racing form and tied with Luigi Fagioli at Monza for the Italian Grand Prix title.

Then he won four of the seven Grand Prix races in 1935, leading up to his triumphant return to Monaco the next year. Chiron, in the meantime, joined Team Ferrari and chalked up two more victories of his own.

Many suspected that it was Hoffman and not Chiron who had revived Caracciola’s spirits. They speculated that she had offered the injured driver much more than simple consoling.

By 1936, the gossip mongers said she was leaving Chiron, who had never shown any interest in marrying her. On June 19, 1937, she proved the rumours true by becoming Mrs. Caracciola.

Her new husband went on to win five more Grand Prix races, including the European Championship of drivers in 1937 and 1938, although never another at Monaco. The couple eventually retired to Lugano, Switzerland.

As for Chiron, he had crashed and overturned his car in the 1936 German Grand Prix. While in the hospital, recuperating from wounds to his head and shoulders, he announced his decision to retire from Grand Prix racing.

In a crafty move, Anthony Lago saw an opportunity and convinced Chiron to race one more time, but in a sportscar, the Talbot T150C.

That move brought Chiron his eleventh major victory at the 1937 ACF Grand Prix in Montlhéry. It would be his penultimate race and last win for a decade. The hero of Monaco retired to Monte Carlo. Those who knew him best said he was “furious that his friend would steal ‘his’ woman.” His heart was no longer in racing.

But time heals all wounds. After World War II, Chiron overcame his resentment to make a comeback. He returned to Grand Prix racing with Lago-Talbot and won the French Grand Prix in 1947.

When the Formula One World Championships got underway in 1950, Chiron made the switch to the new cars and was a serious contender for five years. In 1954, he won his last event, the Monte Carlo Rally.

He then took one more shot at the race he helped establish over a quarter century earlier. In 1955, he drove a Lancia D50 in the Monaco Grand Prix and finished sixth amid thunderous applause.

After officially retiring again from racing in 1956, Chiron became the Clerk of the Course for the Monaco Grand Prix. He retained that title until the late 1960s and continued to be an inspiration to the event.

The icon appeared as a guest starter for the 1971 Monaco Grand Prix in celebration of the 40th anniversary of his biggest victory.

Chiron passed away in June of 1979, just weeks ahead of his 80th birthday. In his honour, the head of the first “S” curve in the section of the Monaco circuit known as the “swimming pool” was renamed in 1997 as the “Louis Chiron Turn.”

To fans, he will always be known as Le Vieux Renard (The Old Fox).

A New Formula for Racing

Racing was suspended in Monaco for nearly a decade, beginning in 1938 and ending in 1947. One notable exception was on 5 August, 1945.

As the war was winding down and the Japanese were about to surrender, members of the 36th American Infantry Division held a little “Grand Prix” of their own on the streets of Monte Carlo—a regularity trial using jeeps and GMC lorries.

From 1924 to 1937, some 19 to 37 Grand Prix races for open-wheeled vehicles had been conducted in Europe every year, including major events as well as lesser club races. These were held under rules put forth by the FIA, a set of regulations known as “Formula Libre.”

This formula designated car weights, engine sizes, fuels that could be used, and even the number of mechanics allowed trackside.

One concern often expressed over the years was that “Today’s racing cars are too fast and too dangerous.” The FIA was constantly under pressure to increase the safety and curb the speed of Grand Prix cars.

But fans wanted more speed and more power, and drivers and manufacturers wanted more freedom and more control. The rules under which the last pre-war Monaco Grand Prix were conducted differed significantly from those that applied in 1929.

For example, minimum car weights were reduced from 900 kg to 750 kg, monoposto (single seat) bodies were allowed instead of the original two-seater requirement, and body widths shrank from a minimum 100 cm to 85 cm.

Over time, manufacturers were given a free choice of fuels and engine capacities up to 3.0 litres were allowed for supercharged models or 4.5 litres for those without compressors. The minimum length of Grand Prix events was also shortened by 100 km.

After the war, considerable deliberation took place within the FIA regarding the rules under which Grand Prix races should be conducted, resulting in a set of modifications known as “Formula A.” Still, debate continued, especially over the ratio of engine displacement to car weight.

One decision, however, was made rather easily—to bar Germany from participation. That ban would stand until 1950, the year when Formula A became Formula One.

Under Formula One, manufacturers were released from constraints linking engine size to car weight, thus allowing for new, lighter alloys and non-metal materials to be used in vehicle fabrication.

Supercharged engines were allowed up to 1.5 litres and those without superchargers could go as high as 4.5 litres. Teams still had a free choice of fuels.

Also newly established by FIA in 1950 was the Formula One World Championship of drivers. Until this time, Grand Prix racing had emphasized machines, not men.

With a nod to Monaco’s unusually difficult race venue, the length of qualifying events would no longer be defined only by distance traveled.

The minimum requirement for a major Grand Prix was set at 300 km or duration of at least three hours, allowing the short Monte Carlo circuit to be included as one of only six races counted towards the World Championship.

Racing resumed in Monaco under Formula A on 16 May, 1948. Italian Giuseppe Farina was the winner of the Principality’s 10th Grand Prix in his Maserati 4CLT, completing his fastest lap of the day with a blistering average speed of 100.863 kph.

Farina would go on to become the first World Champion of Formula One racing two years later.

The first official Formula One race in Monaco took place on 21 May, 1950. It was won by Argentine Juan Manuel Fangio in an Alfa-Romeo. He would later become Formula One’s first five-time World Champion.

Rough Start to the Monaco Grand Prix 

The revival of the Monaco Grand Prix and its ascension to the throne of Formula One racing was by no means a certainty. In fact, for a full decade after the war, the Principality’s motor sports future was in serious doubt.

The death of Prince Louis II forced the 1949 Grand Prix event to be cancelled. Then, the race was called off again in 1951, as the Automobile Club de Monaco struggled to define its identity.

All over Europe, racing was changing. Apart from FIA’s new Formula One, which saw 21 races held around the world in 1950, sports car racing and road rallies had gained audiences.

Motorcycle side-car racing had become widely popular, too, especially after World Championships were inaugurated in 1949.

In 1952, FIA began experimenting with Formula Two races using smaller, less powerful cars. Instead of following their lead, the ACM introduced a Formula Sport Grand Prix designed especially for sports cars with engines of over 2,000 cc.

The winner on 2 June was Count Marzotto driving a Ferrari, but the day resulted in grief as Luigi Fagioli was involved in a life-ending crash—Monaco’s first racing fatality.

The organizers’ dysphoria continued, and Monaco hosted no Grand Prix events in 1953 or 1954.

Then, a monumental decision was taken. The ACM would reintroduce Formula One (F1) racing to Monaco. A Grand Prix would be held on 1 May, 1955 with bigger, faster 2.5-litre supercharged engines permitted.

That day will be remembered for several reasons, not the least of which being the record 110.568 kph lap run by Juan Manuel Fangio and the incredibly fast pace of 105.914 kph posted by the ultimate winner, Maurice Trintignant, as he broke the three-hour barrier, finishing in 2 hours 58’09”.

But even more memorable than these accomplishments was a spectacular incident that took place during the race. The 1951 World Champion, Alberto Ascari, missed the chicane after coming out of Monte Carlo’s infamous tunnel.

His Lancia shot right out into the harbour. Although Ascari escaped the plunge with only a broken nose, it turned out to be his last race. Just four days later, he died in France while test driving a Ferrari 750 Monza sports car.

For better or worse, high speeds and spectacular crashes are what make motor racing exciting. The ACM had a winner in the 2.5-litre F1 Grand Prix, and they kept the format for the next five years.

New manufacturers like Cooper with its innovative rear-engine designs and Lotus with its aluminium sheet monocoque chassis would join Maserati and Ferrari in the high speed chase.

And new drivers would make their names here, too, including Sir Stirling Craufurd Moss, OBE, winner of Monaco’s Grand Prix in 1956, 1960 and 1961.

In 1961~66, the format was changed to 1.5-litre cars, which were lighter in weight and more manoeuvrable on Monte Carlo’s streets. Average speeds continued to increase year by year, surpassing 120 kph in 1963~65 when Britain’s Norman Graham Hill turned in a hat trick of wins.

He would go to win twice more in 1968~69, after a new 3.0-litre format was introduced, earning him the nickname “Mr. Monaco.” Hill also became the world’s only driver to complete racing’s Triple Crown, winning the Indianapolis 500, the 24 hours of Le Mans, and the F1 Drivers World Championship.

Indeed, the list of Monaco’s Grand Prix winners in the 1960s reads like a Who’s Who of the Commonwealth’s racing elite, including not only Moss and Hill but also triple World Champion Sir Jackie Stewart from Scotland who won in 1966, then again in 1971 and 1973.

New Zealander Bruce McLaren grabbed a victory in 1962, as did his countryman Denis Clive Hulme, OBE in 1967.

And preceding them all was Australia’s Sir John Arthur “Jack” Brabham, AO, OBE, who won the Monaco Grand Prix in 1959 and reigned as World Champion in 1959, 1960 and 1966.

Brabham would have won in Monte Carlo again in 1970 if his brakes hadn’t locked up in the very last turn of the last lap, allowing Germany’s Karl Jochen Rindt to end the Commonwealth’s “rule” over Monaco.

Monaco Grand Prix Winners – An Era of New Stars

The switch to 3.0-litre engines, beginning with the Monaco Grand Prix in 1967, helped Britain’s Piers Courage crack the 130 kph/lap barrier in 1969 and propelled Austrian Andreas Nikolaus “Niki” Lauda to back-to-back victories in 1975-76.

Other winner big winners of the 1970s included “Super Swede” Ronnie Peterson in 1974 and South Africa’s Jody David Scheckter in 1977 and 1979, the year he finished the Grand Prix tour as the F1 Drivers World Champion.

From 1968 to 1972, the Monaco Grand Prix ran an 80-lap event, before switching to the 78 laps used currently. Another big change in the early 1970s was the addition of tobacco advertising to vehicle bodies, as cigarette manufacturers joined oil companies and car makers as the primary sponsors of Grand Prix racing.

The 1972 Monaco Grand Prix was won by Jean-Pierre Beltoise in a Marlboro BRM, while 1973’s fastest lap was run by Brazil’s Emerson Fittipaldi at 133.947 kph in a John Player Special Lotus.

By the 1980s, the “old” names in Grand Prix driving were the “new” names of constructors, such as Brabham and McLaren. Although Jack Brabham retired from F1 racing in 1970, he continued to build engines and one of them powered Ricardo Patrese to victory in Monaco in 1982.

Similarly, Bruce McLaren’s partnership with Marlboro and Porsche paid off with a winner in the tiny sovereign nation two years later, but it did not come without controversy.

The forecast was for rain in Monte Carlo on 3 June, 1984, and the weatherman knew his business. The skies opened up, causing the start of the Monaco Grand Prix to be delayed 45 minutes.

When the drivers finally did get away, the pole-setting Marlboro McLaren held the lead for nine laps before coming upon Corrado Fabi’s Brabham, which had stalled just ahead of the tunnel.

The Porsche-powered McLaren braked, allowing Nigel Mansell’s car to pass and take the front position for the first time in a major Grand Prix. But six laps later, Mansell skidded on water-slick paint lines ahead of Casino Square. He crashed and was forced to retire, returning the lead to the Marlboro McLaren.

Following now in second was a Toleman car piloted by a Formula One rookie. Toleman Racing ranked ninth in the constructors’ championship standings and were considered uncompetitive, but the first-season driver was pushing the car for all it was worth and gaining on the McLaren lap by lap.

At lap 30, the gap had narrowed to mere seconds and a third vehicle, an underpowered Tyrrell-Cosworth, was closing in on them both.

That particular day, a 39-year-old retired Belgian racer named Jacques Bernard “Jacky” Ickx was Clerk of the Course for the Monaco Grand Prix. Ickx had been factory driver for Porsche and their new turbocharged race cars before accepting a position as their team leader in 1983.

That year, under his tutelage, a young Porsche driver, German Stefan Bellof, had broken Niki Lauda’s long-standing lap record at the soon-to-be-replaced Nürburgring Grand Prix circuit.

On lap 31 of the 1984 Monaco Grand Prix, Jacky Ickx exercised his power and called a halt to the race. He claimed the torrential rain made the circuit too dangerous to continue racing, giving the Porsche-powered Marlboro McLaren the win and leaving the fast-closing Toleman in second with the Tyrrell-Cosworth in third.

Both fans and critics of Grand Prix racing were quick to cry foul. They said Ickx had handed victory to the McLaren team because of the Porsche connection. They also claimed Ickx stopped the race to deprive the third-place driver, Stefan Bellof, of any chance of winning. It was payback, they said, for the German’s leaving Team Porsche.

Ickx was exonerated of any wrong-doing and the results of the truncated race were allowed to stand, albeit with only half as many World Championship points awarded to the top drivers as usual.

That was the first of four Monaco wins for France’s Alain Prost, who was destined to be a four-time World Champion and the most successful Grand Prix racer ever.

It was also the first podium finish for the rookie in the Toleman, a boy from Brazil whose name would soon replace Graham Hill’s as the all-time winningest driver of the Monaco Grand Prix—Ayrton Senna.

Monaco Grand Prix with a Capital “S” – Senna

Aryton Senna won the Monaco Grand Prix six times between 1987 and 1993, losing only once—to Alain Prost—in 1988. His string of five consecutive victories is unmatched. The Brazilian had been driving since he was ten years old, when his father gave him a full-size 100cc kart as a birthday gift.

At the age of 17, Senna won the South American Kart Championship. He finished sixth at Europe’s 1977 World Karting Championships at Le Mans, and then came in second in both 1979 and 1980 before making the leap to Formula Ford 1600, the Formula Three, and finally the Grand Prix of Monaco. He was just 24 years old.

When he got his first Monaco win in 1987, Senna drove for Lotus Camel Honda, but he jumped at the opportunity to team up with his rival Prost in 1988 when Marlboro McLaren Tag offered him one of their cars.

Together the two dominated the streets of Monte Carlo, with Prost breaking the 140 kph barrier in 1989, Senna topping him at 141 kph in 1990, and Prost grabbing the lap record back at 142.006 kph after moving his allegiance to Ferrari in 1991.

On the day that Nigel Mansell, driving for the Canon Williams Team, sped round the Monte Carlo circuit at 146.827 kph in 1992, Senna set a new 78-lap speed record of 140.329 kph in a Marlboro Honda McLaren.

Prost switched over to Canon Williams in 1993 and ran the year’s fastest lap, just over 143 kph, but Senna again took the checkered flag, punctuating their final duel at Monaco. Senna died the next season in an accident at the San Marino Grand Prix. Prost retired to create his own race team, still active today.

Observers of F1 racing frequently argued about who was Monaco’s better driver, Prost or Senna, but one man knew it didn’t matter, because he was out to replace their legacy on Monte Carlo’s streets with his own.

Behind the wheel of a Benetton-branded Ford, German Michael Schumacher cruised to victory in 1994, setting new records for fastest lap at 147.772 kph and fastest race, averaging 141.690 kph over 78 laps.

Like Senna, Schumacher grew up karting. In fact, at age eleven, he had travelled to Nivelles, Belgium for the World Karting Championship and seen Senna take second, a feat that inspired the young German to win the European championship for himself at the age of 18.

Schumacher then moved up through Formula Ford racing to Formula Three.

Once he reached the Formula One level, Schumacher proved unstoppable. He beat Damon Hill for the World Championship in 1994 and again won the Monaco Grand Prix in 1995 en route to his second world title, the youngest driver ever to repeat.

He moved to the Ferrari Team in 1996 and won Monaco in 1997, 1999 and 2001, en route to an incredible seven World Championships and 91 career Grand Prix victories.

McLaren didn’t roll over when Schumacher stormed Monte Carlo. Teaming up with Mercedes, they fielded their own pair of winners in Mika Hakkinen (1998) and David Coulthard (2000, 2002).

In 2001, Coulthard was the first racer to turn a lap faster than 150 kph, although Schumacher erased the record in 2004 by completing the circuit at a previously inconceivable speed of 161.528 kph—a milestone that still stands today.

In 2006, his presumed “final” Formula One season, Schumacher claimed seven Grand Prix victories. He didn’t win Monaco that year, but he did finish in 5th place, just 53.8 seconds off the winning pace, and once more ran the race’s fastest lap at 150.708 kph.

To those who think the only “S” in Monaco’s race is its harbour-side curve, the German might offer an alternative. While Senna put his mark on the circuit, Schumacher capitalized on it.

And between now and 2012, he has the opportunity to win again, having come out of retirement under a three-year contract to race for Mercedes GP. He began the 2010 season with two top-ten finishes, looking forward to a comeback in Monte Carlo in mid-May.

Is the Monaco Grand Prix the Toughest Circuit?

Grand Prix races may come and go, but Monaco’s came and stayed. Some have likened driving there to “riding a bicycle in your living room.” Time magazine once called it “a cheerful interlude” in “a sport that is obsessed with speed and dogged with death.”

In 2009, Autosport Magazine’s survey of British sports fans rated the Monaco Formula One circuit as the greatest of the “Seven Sporting Wonders of the World.”

That year, Jenson Button won in a Brawn Mercedes, succeeding 2008 winner Lewis Hamilton, who triumphed in a McLaren Mercedes. Coincidentally, both are British.

The 3.34-km course through Monte Carlo and the neighboring district of La Condamine is not much different today from the one Anthony Noghés laid out more than 80 years ago.

For example, the 90-degree right-hand bend at Sainte Devote that starts each lap still requires passage in first or second gear, as does the final sharp right known as Virage Anthony Noghés.

Between the two turns, drivers must negotiate more than a dozen challenges.

They can take the rising Ascent Beau-Rivage in highest gear, brake for long lefts at Massenet and Casino Square, speed up Avenue Albert Ier, and then make a tight right at Virage Mirabeau before hitting the Fairmont Hairpin, previously known as the Station Hairpin and Loews Hairpin after former owners of the facing hotel.

No passing is possible in the narrow hairpin, which leads to a downhill slope into the double right turns of Virage du Portier ahead of the tunnel.

Out of the tunnel, cars can reach speeds of up to 260 kph along Boulevard Louis II before coming upon the deadly Nouvelle Chicane.

This is where Italian driver Lorenzo Bandini had a fiery crash that ended his life on 10 May 1967, the race’s second and only fatality after Fagioli’s accident in 1952. In 1968, an extended guard-rail was installed at the chicane, replacing the straw bales used previously.

Once drivers have safely exited the chicane—one of the few sections of the course where passing is possible and common—they go left at Bureau de Tabac (Tobacco Dealer’s Bend), accelerate, and take a fast left-right at Virage Louis Chiron.

This is followed by a slower right-left at the conclusion of Piscine, the “swimming pool.” Out of Piscine’s final S-curve, they are greeted by a tight 180-degree turn called La Rascasse, also dubbed “the scorpion.”

From there, it is a race around Virage Anthony Noghés, up the last straight-away, and across the start/finish line, before going on to Sainte Devote to do it all again, 78 times without error.

So challenging is the circuit and so difficult is passing that qualifying high on the starting grid often determines who will have an opportunity to win and which cars will finish with points. A maximum of 20 qualifiers make up the field.

The only break in the action for a few heartbeats is on pit row near Piscine at the Quai des Etats. The “Pit on the Quay” was installed in the 1970s and widened a decade later. In 2003~2004, it was greatly expanded once again by the addition of 5,000 square meters of reclaimed land.

Apart from the Formula One event held on a Sunday each May, the days leading up to the Monaco Grand Prix feature several warm-up races over the circuit, such as a GP2 race of 45 laps, a Formula Renault 3.5 race of 25 laps, and the 16-lap Porsche Mobil 1 SuperCup.

Another associated event is the Historic Grand Prix of Monaco. Held annually two weeks before the F1 Grand Prix since 1997, it provides eight races with pre-1947 Voiturettes and Grand Prix cars, front-engine autos from 1947~1960, vintage sports cars, and 1000 cc Formula 3 models in addition to early rear-engine Formula One racers.

The Best way to experience The Monaco Grand Prix

Some of the best places for watching the Monaco Grand Prix in person are Grandstands K and M to the right of the start/finish line, the Caravelles Terrace at Sainte Devote, Grandstand B next to the casino, Grandstand E ahead of the chicane, and Grandstand T between Piscine and La Rascasse.

Good views can also be had from the surrounding hotels as well as aboard private boats moored in the harbour.

A multi-day holiday package for the Monaco Grand Prix typically includes hotel accommodations, complimentary continental breakfasts, and passes for practice runs, qualifying heats and the race.

Formula One “Paddock Club” tickets are also available, offering a prime viewing location, access to the pit area, deluxe meals (foie gras, lobster, etc.), an open bar, and complimentary ear plugs.

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