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Does Formula One Need Monaco?

Does Formula One Need Monaco?


Monaco.

Or to put it another way – has the Monaco Grand Prix had its day?

The aftermath of this year’ event saw much adverse comment regarding lack of action, no overtaking and a processional race. But with the aerodynamics of 2017-style cars and most of the current racetracks coming with a health warning regarding limited overtaking opportunities, what did people actually expect of Monaco?

Monaco has never been an overtaking circuit even in the days when cars were half the size they are now and needed twice the braking distance. You really need to see the track first hand to appreciate how narrow it is.

When I first started watching Formula One the Grands Prix were held on mighty circuits swooping around the forested hillsides of the Ardennes and Eiffel Mountains, or were flat-out blasts through the wheat fields of Reims and perimeter roads of Silverstone airfield. Tiny Monaco, with half the circuit winding through the narrow streets of the Principality and the other half running along the unprotected, exposed quayside beside the Mediterranean, was truly a unique exception both as a spectacle and a challenge.

By the time I made my first visit in 1979 the Monaco Grand Prix was still a special event even though by then the first of the copycat circuits, Long Beach, had arrived. My first ever view – the almost uninterrupted section of track between the tunnel exit and la Rascasse hairpin as seen from general admission on the Rocher – would have been worth the entry fee alone, had I not actually have been paid to be there.

Over the years the arrival of numerous street-style circuits incorporating a waterfront section be it a lake, river, the sea or marina, has diminished Monaco’s uniqueness and visual impact, even if the attendant yachts are not quite so opulent. Furthermore, the continuous development of the area in the vicinity of the Grand Prix circuit for real-estate or upgrading of the racing facilities has significantly altered Monaco’s appearance and character.

Now, the sea views are all but gone for the paying customer. The harbour-side panorama between the swimming pool and la Rascasse is hidden behind towering grandstands whilst the section between the tunnel exit and the chicane is flanked by the super luxurious yacht club. And bizarrely where the circuit swings on to the waterfront between the Portier Bend and the tunnel entrance the drivers are now met by a wall painted with a mural of the seascape view it has blocked out. Presumably this is to hide reclamation work going on behind which will ultimately block the view anyway. Plans for next year are to rebuild the pit-lane and paddock areas which whatever else they may do, are almost certain to restrict the views even further.

Despite all of this, Monaco still holds a special place both for those involved in the sport and the casual observer. A visit to the Monaco Grand Prix seems to be on most people’s bucket-list, race fan or not. The first thing people ask me on finding out about my F1 travels are ‘have you ever been to Monaco?’ The likes of Interlagos, Abu Dhabi or Indianapolis generate little interest.

It brings out all the clichés and superlatives from commentators and media such as ‘jewel in the crown’ or ‘iconic’. In fact Channel 4’s Grand Prix anchor-man used the word ‘iconic’ three times in his opening introduction.

The ‘specialness’ of Monaco is not the racing, nor sadly any longer the views (unless seen from above). It is all about the opportunity to witness from close quarters the skill required by the world’s best drivers to thread their cars between the barriers of narrow everyday public roads at the fastest possible speed.

Personally, although I love that part of the world I shall probably never go to another Monaco Grand Prix. But there is no doubt it is an event and destination that still captures the imagination more than any other Grand Prix on the calendar. And in a sport whose image needs all the help it can get there should always be room for a venue that attracts so much positive publicity and A-list celebrities.