Bucket List Entry #6: Monaco Grand Prix

Today sees the Formula 1 Grand Prix at Monaco, and while I’ve seen a couple of Grands Prix before (at the old Kyalami track in South Africa, back when SA was still on the F1 calendar), this one is #6 on Ye Olde Buckette Lyste.

So why Monaco, you ask?

For pretty much the same reasons as to why I would want to watch cricket at Lord’s: because Monaco is one of the oldest racing venues — hell, they were racing at Monaco (1929) before there was Formula 1 — and unlike most of the other F1 venues, it takes place inside a city, on city streets. It is one of the crown jewels of motor racing (Le Mans and the Indy 500 being the other two), and it’s one of the few times I can be swayed by that awful word “prestige” when applied to an event.

Besides, it’s Monaco, FFS, itself the crown jewel of of the Midi.

But enough about the place. The race itself is impossibly difficult: winding through narrow city streets, there are no gravel runoffs, very few cushioned buffers (mostly, they’re stern, unforgiving Armco barriers), and if it starts to rain… oy.

Pole position in qualifying the day before almost guarantees victory the next day, so difficult it is to overtake someone. Here’s the famous Fairmont Hotel hairpin (taken at 30mph):

But let there be a slip-up in the pits, a bad tire decision or even a millisecond’s inattention by a driver during the race, and everything can change in a heartbeat.

Fortunately, I can get in to watch the race from a decent location (at time of writing, good Lord willing and the creeks don’t rise) because Longtime Friend and Bandmate “Knob” lives in Monaco, and I have a standing invitation to visit and stay with him for the occasion. For obvious reasons, I couldn’t make it to Monaco this year — e.g. poverty, bad timing etc. — but next year, Rodders [obscure British TV show reference]

12 comments

  1. Monaco is the only course worth a damn to watch, to be sure. Shame the cars are so boring these days.

    I quite fondly recall watching Senna do entirely silly things at Monaco when I was a kid– that was racing.

    1. Is Formula 1 another organization that has decreed all cars must use the same engine? I recall hearing even the NHRA did that now. How the hell do you have drag racing with uniform engines?

      1. The “formula” in Formula 1 is a list of basic specs — what you can do and what you can’t do — in building your race car. How you build that is up to your engineers. The governing FIA then checks the cars (constantly) to make sure the laws are being followed to the letter. Some engineers are better than others, which is why some cars are more powerful or handle better than others. Ferrari and Mercedes engines, for example, are better than Renault or Honda engines… today. Tomorrow may be a different story.
        But as long as the formula itself is unbroken, it’s fine.

        1. The problem with F1 today is that there’s far too much meddling in the specification of the car, and far too much reliance on technology. Hence any noteworthy developments are almost immediately banned, and there’s much less focus on driving skill than there was in years past. Sprinkle with the usual Johnny Polar Bear crap restricting fuel load and the like, and you end up with cars that are just boring to watch.

          Stick someone like Kimi on an interesting track, and something fun might happen. But the days of Senna, Prost, even Schumi– gone.

          There was much ballyhoo about the return to the “turbo era”– take it from someone who has driven a Lotus 98T, the current cars have exactly jack to do with the lunacy of the real turbo cars.

          1. Yeah, I feel the same about Le Mans. I find myself less interested in the LMP1 and -2 classes, and a lot more interested in the lower classes like Group 5, where cars one finds on the road — Porsche 911s, Ferraris, Corvettes and Aston Martins — have epic battles against each other.

  2. I saw a F1 race at Kyalami in 1972, mostly watched from the outside of a downhill right turn with a hump in it, very close to the cars, and marveled how the drivers slammed the cars through. I swear a couple wheels on the car left the ground every time they came through.
    Although I’d seen a number of sports car and Trans Am races before then, sitting in grandstands or a long way away up on some hillside, that was my first up close look at really fast cars and world class drivers, and I was stunned at the speed and violence of it.
    Kim, I hope you get a balcony seat next year.

  3. I’ve got an old paperback in my collection called “Cars At Speed”. It was written in 1961 by Robert Daley and tells the story of the famous (mostly European) races, drivers and cars going back to the pre WW1 days. Its a great read and you’ll learn about the Bentley team that ran at LeMans, the great Mercedes vs Auto Union battles in the late 30s, the classic British sports cars of the postwar era like Jaguar and Aston Martin, and even the forgotten names like Vanwall. Daley listed the names that some of us still remember – Stirling Moss, Jimmy Clark, Bruce McLaren, Jackie Stewart, and looked forward to a roster of American drivers who just needed some “decent cars” to be successful. Back then the cars were painted in national colors – British racing green, Italian red, French blue, American white with blue stripes (still my favorite paint scheme for a Mustang or a Cobra), the cars all looked and sounded different, and most of the drivers seemed to have personalities. Speed is great and the technology of the modern cars is incredible but I would have given almost anything to see Juan Fangio throw a car around Nurburgring or a Ford pass a Ferrari at over 200mph on the back straight at LeMans.

    I see that Cars At Speed is still available from Amazon as an e-book. Spend a few bucks and look back at the old days. If you’re really quiet, you might hear that Vanwall off in the distance.

  4. Kim, here’s something you might like from 3 years ago.(If you haven’t seen it already) Pro Alex Buncombe racing Juan Manuel Fangio’s Jag C-type around the course at Monaco. https://youtu.be/dGVDkrVXoz4

    Speed, harsh noise, vibration. I’m with you Kim on the new top racing series cars. There’s too much homogenization between the different types of manufacturers. They all look and drive the same. I get more enjoyment out of watching racing films from 30-40 years ago.

  5. I spent too many years driving formula cars to like a track like Monaco. Granted, I was a poor-boy racing deal, so I far and away preferred tracks where a minor bobble wasn’t a big hickey on my billfold.

    When the start of a race plays a large role in determining the winner, it ain’t much of a race. As Quentin said, just a procession.

    Monaco was tight enough when the cars were smaller and the tires were skinnier. Now? It’s coasting on its past and it’s way over-hyped because of who’s spectating.

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