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We’re just six races into the 2021 season, and what a rollercoaster of emotions I’ve been through! Despite having a couple of less than exciting races, there was enough action just in Azerbaijan to make up for that, let alone the rest of them. We’ve seen wet racing, tyres destroyed, and the closest championship battle we’ve seen for many years, and there are still so many races to come. Here are some of my favourite moments from the last 6 races, although it was impossible to choose.

Bahrain:

The season opened where it all but closed last year, in Sakhir, and it did not disappoint. We saw the first of what would be many Max Verstappen vs Lewis Hamilton battles, this one going Hamilton’s way. Max tried desperately hard to overtake Hamilton when pitting onto fresh tyres, and he succeeded. It became clear very quickly, however, that Max got through off the track and, therefore, the place would have to be given back. This was the last opportunity for the young Dutchman, and he ended the race in P2 but would have won had he waited to pass on a less windy part of the track. This gave us the first glimpse of the biggest title fights in years, and we immediately knew the 2021 season would be different.

Italy:

The Emilia Romagna Grand Prix came next and got us excited for different reasons entirely. A wet race! Within seconds of the race start, we could see it would be a dramatic one as none of the drivers could be seen through all the spray. If we couldn’t see them at home, it must have been impossible to see from inside the Formula 1 cars. Within a few laps, cars were beginning to spin and slide all over the track and while it, unfortunately, ended the race for Latifi, and we saw a horrific crash between Bottas and Russell, it also spun Hamilton off the track and almost into the wall, almost costing him a race finish. He came back from P9 to finish an impressive P2, much to everyone’s surprise. This race also brought one of my favourite driver/engineer moments in recent times. Mick also spun into the wall during the race, and the calm and collected nature of his engineer Gary saved him from panicking, and the F1 rookie’s race continued after a front wing change. We’re very used to hearing very technical and heated conversations between drivers and engineers during a race, and it was lovely to experience the supportive role these engineers also play.

Portugal:

The race in Portugal was far from the most thrilling but did have one moment, which was nice to see, again involving Mick Schumacher. The young German driver was able to overtake Latifi during the race, and therefore, his Haas car did not finish with only his teammate behind him. While, of course, the battle for the bottom places is rarely important or even noticed during the race, but it was nice to see. Knowing how underpowered the Haas car is compared to even their nearest rivals and the constant press attention the team has been subjected to, none of which is his fault, it was nice to see him take a place on the track. I’m sure that improved his confidence as a rookie F1 driver hugely, given he’d spun in the two races before this.

Spain:

Barcelona was yet another race showcased a Hamilton vs Verstappen showdown, as every race seemed to have at this stage. What made this race special was that the role of strategy became so much more obvious compared to most races. With the front running teams often going for almost identical strategies during a race, it is rare to see a strategic win as we saw in Spain. Hamilton pitted late onto fresh tyres to take Max Verstappen close to the end of the race, and that he did. It surprised everyone both in the paddock and at home as the pit crew appeared in the pitlane at the very last moment. This caught Red Bull completely by surprise, and they immediately knew they’d been outwitted on this occasion, and Mercedes were likely to take the win. Even if this was another race with the two drivers taking all of the glory, this one showed a different side to the sport.

Monaco:

The race in Monaco was surprisingly underwhelming, with very little surprise apart from the pace of Ferrari and the lack thereof at Mercedes. After weeks of Red Bull vs Mercedes rhetoric, it was interesting to see a different team on top. My favourite moment in Monaco was seeing Charles Leclerc on pole, even if it ultimately went disastrously wrong on Sunday. Seeing the Monegasque driver on top at his home GP was really exciting and knowing that Ferrari was on the path to fighting back was lovely to hear.

Azerbaijan:

Asking me to choose a favourite moment from the Grand Prix in Baku is totally impossible! I loved every second of the drama we saw during that race. Of course, I’m most happy that both Stroll and Verstappen were okay after such scary crashes, but the action was intense. We went from thinking the title would stay in Verstappen’s hands to thinking Lewis would take over after Max’s DNF to realising neither of them got points. From this, we got the most random but by far most exciting podium of 2021 so far. Sergio finally getting the Red Bull to work in his favour was thrilling, even if it was due to Max’s misfortune. What made it so crazy was seeing Vettel in P2, however. Aston Martin struggled throughout the season and seemed so off the pace, but the 4-time world champion pulled through. Hopefully, he has found some new confidence that will ensure he continues to fight at the front of the grid, as we know he’s capable of doing. I can’t ignore Pierre Gasly either, as he was strong all weekend and totally deserved that podium. Seeing Gasly succeed after all of the dramas of recent years will never stop making me very happy. He is such a talented driver and deserves to be a front runner in years to come.

Monaco. A Principality, City State, Micro State even. With over 38,000 residents, only 9000 of them being born in and from Monaco, and measuring only 2.1 km2, you would not expect such a small area to be host to one of the richest countries in the world. Monaco is a magical place with casinos, tax dodgers, and opulence that skirts the line to almost being decadent. And it is in Monaco that one of the most prestigious, well known, and oldest Grand Prix races is held. Join Grid Talk as we discuss The History of the Monaco Grand Prix.

Pre-Formula One

The Monaco Grand Prix predates Formula One itself, in fact. Sponsored by Prince Louis II of Monaco, the first Grand Prix was held in 1929. Its existence was originally a means of upgrading the status of the Monaco Automobile Club. In its then-current form, it was classified as a small, regional club. The ACM wanted national status. In order to qualify for such a thing, it needed to be host to a major motoring event. Before 1929, the precursor to the Monaco Grand Prix was ‘The Rally of Monte Carlo’. When the ACM applied to the French authorities for national status in 1928, they were refused because the rally used other countries’ roads. And so, in 1929, they developed the street circuit we all know and love.

That first race was won by William Grover-Williams (no relation to the carmaker of the same name) in a Bugatti Type 35-B. As an invitation-only event, the inaugural Grand Prix had cars from Mercedes, Bugatti (as mentioned), Alfa Romeo, and Maserati, to name a few of them. The race gained Grand Prix status in 1933, and over the years, it grew in stature, becoming a part of the European championship in 1936. Early drivers would become famous, or infamous, in these pre-F1 days, including Rudolf Caracciola, Luigi Fagioli, and Manfred von Brauchitsch. All three of these men competing in the European Championship.

Post War and the Early Days of F1

The first Monaco Grand Prix to be held after World War Two was not until 1948; due to financial constraints. By then, the FIA was formed and had redefined the definition of Grand Prix racing itself. That 1948 race was won by the first Formula One Champion, one Nino Farina. And in 1950, the first year that the modern-day Formula One championship was held, Monaco hosted the first win of Argentine racing driver, and future five-time Formula One World Champion, Juan Manuel Fangio.

By the 1960s, Monaco was a fixture of the F1 calendar. It was also during the ’60s that saw the coronation of the man they called ‘The King of Monaco’. Graham Hill won 5 of the races in that decade, with his 1969 win being the last of his Formula One World Championship wins. Other notable winners that decade were fellow F1 champions Jackie Stewart and Denny Hulme.

During the 1970s, cars were becoming more powerful, and small tracks were becoming more dangerous. Thanks to the crusade by Jackie Stewart, track safety started becoming more important during the 1970s. Some races were even cancelled due to safety concerns. Monaco, however, survived. The addition of Armco barriers in 1969 ended an era where Grand Prix races in the city-state were only held without additional safety. In a time where cars would often crash, burst into flames, or go into crowds of spectators, or even all three, the crusade for safety was something that needed to happen, Changes to the track in 1972 and 1973, the first in Monaco’s history, were also crucial in increasing driver and spectator safety.

It was also during the 1970s that collective bargaining in Formula One became prevalent. With Monaco by now being a key race in the championship, men such as Bernie Ecclestone and Max Mosely (then only acting as team owners) would often come to the FIA and threaten to boycott the Grand Prix if demands were not met. They would also canvas the ACM, who still organised the Monaco Grand Prix (and do so to this day). Specific demands included increasing the number of cars that could compete in Monaco from 18 to 26. Had the ACM not agreed, the 1972 Monaco Grand Prix may have been cancelled.

The Prost vs. Senna era

Moving to the 1980s, Monaco was dominated by two racers. Aryton Senna and Alain Prost. That itself could be the slogan for Formula One during this time period, as both men would be consistently in the world championship picture for those 9 years. Between 1984 and 1993, these two men would win every Monaco Grand Prix, Prost winning his first in 1984, and Senna winning his first in 1987 (the first Monaco Grand Prix won by an automatic). And during this period, Senna would finally take the crown from Graham Hill and become the new King of Monaco. Senna’s dramatic 1993 win of the Monaco Grand Prix saw him win 6 races at that track, despite strong challenges from Alain Prost and the still relatively new but promising driver, Mr M. Schumacher. As of 2021, Senna still holds the most wins at Monaco and retains his rightful place as the King Emeritus of the Monaco Grand Prix.

However, about a year later, in 1994, The King of Monaco was dead. The 1994 Monaco Grand Prix took place two weeks after that tragic 1994 San Marino Grand Prix, which saw Roland Ratzenburger and Aryton Senna both pass away in circumstances that we all wish could have been avoided. The race was notable for another scary crash, though thankfully not one that would be fatal. Karl Wendlinger would crash his Sauber after exiting the tunnel, hitting the wall sideways with considerable force. Wendlinger’s head struck a water-filled barrier within the metal crash barrier. While he would survive, this was pretty much the end of his career.

Monaco: 1996 to now

The last 25 years of Formula One in Monaco have proven to be as dramatic and as noteworthy as the races of the 65 years I covered up to this point. 1996’s Monaco Grand Prix is notorious for finishing with only 3 cars out of the 22 that had qualified for the race (although 7 were classified due to completing 90% of the race or more). The last 25 years have also seen Mr Michael Schumacher win 5 races at Monaco, tying with Graham Hill’s record. A potential 6th victory would have been on the cards during 2006’s Monaco Grand Prix had Schumi not had his times deleted for stopping near the end of qualifying(ostensibly having car failure on the Rascasse Hairpin). Despite an appeal, the FIA ordered him to start from 22nd.

However, my favourite memory of Monaco? When Kimi Raikkonen retired his McLaren during the 2006 Monaco Grand Prix, what do you think he did? Did he walk back to the paddock, tail between his legs? No, he walked away from the track, got onto his yacht, and proceeded to party with his friends. Legendary.

During 2020, for the first time since 1954, we saw the Monaco Grand Prix not run as part of the F1 calendar, due to its COVID 19 related cancellation. We will be seeing our first race back at Monaco this Sunday

What about the Future?

Nelson Piquet once famously said that driving a Formula One car around the Monaco circuit was like riding a bicycle around your living room. However, a victory at Monaco was worth two victories anywhere else. And this rings true. Honestly, for today’s Formula One cars, with them being so fast, so powerful, so aggressive, a track like Monaco is not suited for them. However, that has been the case for many years now. Monaco’s status as a premier track is solely based on its history and heritage and being such an anachronism.

Its status as one of the premier races to be a part of makes it a part of the holy trinity that is ‘The Triple Crown of motor racing. Should you win the Monaco Grand Prix, Le Manns, and the Indy 500, you would achieve this feat. Only one racing driver has, and that was Graham Hill, with Juan Pablo Montoya and Fernando Alonso both tied at winning two of the three races in the crown, respectively. Not even Michael Schumacher attempted the Triple crown.

What will the future be for Monaco, however? Despite its quirks and anachronisms, I don’t want to see it go from Formula One. The sight of an F1 car racing through the normal roads of a principality, with spectators watching from boats and yachts, is special. It’s too big to go now.

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