Monaco Grand Prix Preview: Monte Carlo or bust!


MONTE-CARLO, MONACO. Credit: Lars Baron/Getty Images/Red Bull Content Pool

The Monaco Grand Prix has now been part of the Formula 1 calendar since its inception in 1950. It has hosted more races than any other venue, although Monza runs it close, and the glitz, glamour and unique history of this circuit, make it one of the most magical on the calendar, a fact that has seen it named as Formula 1’s jewel in the crown.

That first ever race back in 1950, when Monaco then staged the second round of the F1 calendar, was won by Juan Manuel Fangio for Alfa Romeo. There was a four-year gap before the next race in 1955, but from then on in there has been a race held in the principality every year.

The circuit is a true test of a driver’s ability, with its narrow, twisty track that leaves no room for error as the drivers tour the iconic sections of the Monte Carlo street circuit. The layout is completely unique, and is the only track to include a long tunnel as part of the lap, which forces the driver to adjust their eyes to the glaring sunlight as they exit from it.

From the swimming pool complex, to La Rascasse, to Tabac and Anthony Noghes, these world-renowned sections make the circuit stand out from the crowd, and it is one of a kind features like this, that make Monaco so special and loved across the globe.

Another personal feature to the Monaco Grand Prix is that it is the only race weekend to hold FP1 and FP2 on a Thursday, instead of Friday. This is primarily so that the roads can be open to the public and residents again on the Friday, so as not to disrupt their lives more than is necessary, but it also makes for a change from the norm, and is another nuance that makes it so very special.

The McLaren F1 Team is by far the most successful team in Monaco, having taken 15 victories there, helped by the supremacy of drivers Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost, who scored nine wins for the Woking based squad, throughout the eighties and nineties.

Between them Senna and long-time rival Prost, won every race contested at the Monaco Grand Prix between 1984 and 1993. The Brazilian holds the record for most wins at Monaco, having taken victory on no less than six occasions, five of them consecutively between 1989 and 1993, whilst Prost bagged four – both men were simply untouchable on those mean streets!

Monaco is also the venue of McLaren’s first ever Grand Prix, when founder Bruce McLaren took to the wheel of his namesake team in 1966, so the squad has a unique bond and heritage with the principality.

This year may be a tough ask for them to rekindle that kind of display, but they will no doubt give it a damn good try, with big updates expected this weekend, and former driver Jenson Button back behind the wheel, as Fernando Alonso heads off to compete in the Indy 500.

When mentioning Monaco victors, you cannot pass by without a nod to Graham Hill. The Brit was also a past master on the streets of Monte Carlo picking up the name tag ‘Mr Monaco’ for his efforts. The Brit recorded five victories throughout the 1960’s, a record that was not beaten until Senna came along in 1987.

Michael Schumacher was another driver that felt at one on the Monaco streets, equalling Hill’s efforts, and achieving the record for the most laps led in the Principality – a total of 435.

The next team to rival McLaren’s record at the Monaco track is Scuderia Ferrari with nine victories, but the red team have not won a race there since Michael Schumacher took the honours in 2001 – could 2017 be the year we see the prancing horse back on that top step?

TCF takes a look at a few of those magic moments at Monaco…

1996 Monaco Grand Prix

One of the craziest results ever seen in Formula 1 history, let alone Monaco, was that of the 1996 Monaco Grand Prix, when just three finishers remained to take the chequered flag.

Rain had started to come down during the morning practice session, which left a wet but drying track for the drivers to contend with by the start of the race, and that saw incidents a plenty, as the race got underway.

From the very first lap, the errors and technical failures began. First Jos Verstappen was forced into the barrier when Jacques Villeneuve attempted a pass on Mika Hakkinen at Ste. Devote, whilst the Minardi of Giancarlo Fisichella was taken out by his own team-mate Pedro Lamy.

Even Michael Schumacher, master of the Monaco track, found himself in the barrier coming out of the Loews hairpin after getting on a wet kerb, whilst Rubens Barrichello also found the wall as he span his Ferrari at La Rascasse. After just two laps, the grid was down to just sixteen runners, from the initial twenty-two, and the race had turned into mayhem.

The retirements continued, with the field reduced to thirteen drivers by lap four. Race leader Damon Hill had carved out a four-second lead over second placed man Jean Alesi, who was ahead of team-mate Gerhard Berger, Eddie Irvine and Heinz-Harold Frentzen. But that all quickly changed when Berger had to retire to the pits with faulty gearbox electrics, and the dropout rate of drivers only increased further.

That left twelve drivers still in the running, and a lull in retirements, saw the racing continue uninterrupted for a short while at least. Frentzen had been pestering Irvine all race trying to find a way through, but was unable to make a positive move to pass the Irishman. On lap seventeen, the German could hold back no longer and whilst attempting to make a pass on Irvine at Ste. Devote, careered into the back of the Ferrari, wiping off his own front wing, and forcing him into the pits, ruining any chance for victory.

On lap 26 race leader Hill pitted for slicks, after seeing Frentzen who had just been lapped, putting in fastest lap times having done the same. It was perfect timing, and Hill was comfortably able to take back the lead from Alesi, once the Frenchman had made his pit stop.

It looked like the Brit had the race in the bag, until a red warning light began to flash on the dashboard of the Williams-Renault. Unfortunately for Hill a bolt in his oil pump had come loose allowing fluid to drain away, and forcing the Brit to retire his car on track, signalling the end of his race.

Alesi took the lead, ahead of Olivier Panis, who had started from fourteenth on the grid, but the French-Sicilian was also to be plagued with technical woe, retiring on lap sixty when a rear spring on his suspension broke.

As more and more drivers were put out of the race, it was clear that the two hour race limit would be reached before all 78 laps had been completed. With just seven cars left in the fight, the rain started to fall once more. The race ended there and then for three of those remaining drivers when Irvine spun his car at Loews, at the very moment Mika Salo was coming around the corner, with Hakkinen right behind him. A three-way shunt was inevitable, and all were forced to retire from the action.

On the penultimate lap of the Grand Prix, the unlucky Frentzen had to retire to the pits, which left Panis to take the race victory ahead of David Coulthard and Johnny Herbert, the only drivers to finish the race at the end of the 75 laps (having reached the two hour limit, three laps prior to the usual 78).

To this day that is still the lowest ever number of drivers left running in a F1 race, and the same grand prix also has the record for the lowest winning start position, with Panis having taken victory from fourteenth on the grid.

1988 Monaco Grand Prix

Qualifying

Senna’s qualifying lap for the 1988 Monaco Grand Prix is now legendary, and is considered one of the greatest laps in F1 history. It was as if the Brazilian and his car were as one, as he wound around the streets to post a lap that was almost one and a half seconds quicker than team-mate Alain Prost. A huge margin in those days, the Brazilian was on another level that day.

Race

However, although he managed to complete 66 laps of pure perfection on race day, carving out a lead of over a minute to Prost, Senna pushed the limits just a minutia too far as he rounded the right-hander at Portier, clipping the barrier, damaging the suspension and handing victory to his team-mate.

The accident took place, shortly after the Brazilian received a radio message from then McLaren Team Principal Ron Dennis, asking him to ease his pace and cruise to the finish. Did that call break Senna’s almost subconscious concentration?

So enraged with himself after making such a simple mistake, the Brazilian immediately left the track for the confines of his apartment, unwilling to leave or answer any calls from the team until much later in the evening.

Others question whether the advancing Prost was the cause of his distraction, who having started to produce some blistering times, reduced Senna’s lead by six seconds in just one lap. Was Senna feeling the mounting pressure? Only he truly knows …

2017 Race weekend

Spanish GP 2017 – podium. Credit: Octane Photographic Ltd

Going into the 2017 Monaco Grand Prix this weekend, the Mercedes AMG Petronas Formula One Team have extended their lead over main rivals Ferrari in the constructors standings to eight points, following a close battle in Spain that saw Lewis Hamilton emerge triumphant.

Driver Sebastian Vettel still leads the way in the drivers’ championship, but his lead has been cut to just six points following the Brit’s win, and everything is very much to play for at the front.

Red Bull Racing remain third in the standings, despite having lost driver Max Verstappen on the first lap of the race in Spain, but although upgrades were introduced in Barcelona, the Milton Keynes based squad still have plenty to do, to catch the top two.

The Sahara Force India F1 Team added to their points tally in Spain, securing their best result of the season with a fourth and fifth place for drivers Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon, and seeing them strengthen their position in fourth place to thirty-two points.

Scuderia Toro Rosso have moved ahead of Williams Martini Racing, who have dropped to sixth following a disappointing race in Barcelona, and are now just four points ahead of the Renault Sport Formula 1 Team, who recorded a strong result in Spain with Nico Hulkenberg’s sixth place.

The Haas F1 Team drop to eighth in the standings, ahead of the Sauber F1 Team who bagged themselves four points through driver Pascal Wehrlein, who finished the Spanish Grand Prix in a career best eighth place.

The McLaren Honda Formula 1 Team are now the only team to have not scored any points so far this season, and will be looking to change that statistic in Monaco, a destination that is probably their best chance yet of scooping a good result.

As with all races so far in 2017, the scene looks set for another close battle between Mercedes and Ferrari, but could the magic of Monaco see their rivals come to the fore?