Monaco: The Majesty of Formula 1
Written by Caitlin Carroll, Edited by Leah Brown
Since 1929, the 3.337-kilometre Circuit de Monaco in Monte Carlo has seen many Formula 1 legends take victory and make history. The track is considered to be the pinnacle of motorsport racing and one of the most prestigious automobile circuits in the world. It has been described as “an exceptional location of glamour and prestige” due to its narrow course with multiple tight corners, elevation changes, its infamous hairpin turn and the tunnel.
The track is one of the most demanding in the Formula 1 calendar despite its low average speeds. The Grand Prix often is accompanied by a Federation Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) Safety Car, due to on-course incidents, and is the only race to not follow the FIA-mandated, 305-kilometre minimum distance for Formula 1 races.
Monaco cannot be mentioned without taking a look at the extremely talented drivers who have created such memorable moments here. The F1 Grand Prix Street Circuit is seen to have the same level of significance as the Indianapolis 500 and the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Together, these three form the Triple Crown of Motorsport, in which British driver Graham Hill currently holds the record as the only racer to win all three events.
On 14 April 1929, British driver William Grover-Williams piloted a Bugatti to take the first victory at the invitation-only event, winning a total of 100,000 French francs. Over time, its importance grew with the more races that took place. In 1946, the FIA standardised racing rules, forming the basis of Formula 1 racing. The inaugural Formula 1 World Drivers' Championship was then held four years later in 1950, making the Monaco Grand Prix a core part of F1 history.
Around four months after World War II ended, the Grand Prix resumed in Paris on 9 September 1945. Two years later, Monaco did not hold events due to financial problems and again in 1949, the event was cancelled after the passing of Monaco’s Prince Louis II. The competition was later renamed and rebranded as Formula 1 and it was Italian driver Giuseppe Farina who became the first-ever F1 World Champion, driving for the Italian-formed team Alfa Romeo.
Formula 1 Greats
To win a race at Monaco, along with winning a world championship, is what every Formula 1 driver dreams of. Many have walked the hall of fame and carved their names into history, with three-time World Champion Nelson Piquet stating that a win in Monaco was worth two anywhere else.
Let’s take a look at some of the most memorable Formula 1 Monaco moments.
In the year Formula 1 was rebranded, Juan Manuel Fangio’s Monaco victory did not come without drama. A wave from the harbour splashed up onto the circuit, flooding the Tabac corner and causing a pile-up of drivers, which the Argentinian driver managed to avoid before taking the chequered flag.
Five years later, Alberto Ascari, who was the first driver to become a two-time world champion and the first for Ferrari, was leading the race when he misjudged the chicane on lap 80 and found himself in the harbour. The Italian driver managed to swim back to land but tragically died four days later when testing a Ferrari sports car in Monza.
Along with his impressive Triple Crown title, Graham Hill earned himself the nickname “Mr. Monaco” after an incident in 1965 meant he lost the Grand Prix lead but later managed to fight his way back to the front to claim victory and win the race. During the event, Australian Paul Hawkins became the second driver to crash into the harbour on lap 79 after also misjudging the chicane, sending him flying into the water. He was able to escape uninjured but, like Ascari, was killed when his race car caught fire in 1969. Hawkins passed away 14 years to the day after Ascari.
It was in 1970 that Jack Brabham had the most dramatic ending to the Monaco race. The Australian lost the lead when crashing into the barriers on the last corner, which then allowed German-born Jochen Rindt to pass him and take the win.
Twelve years later, around the narrow lanes and tight corners, the race lead changed six times during the final four laps. The heavens opened creating a slippery track, which Italian driver Ricardo Patrese took full advantage of and passed through taking the victory in the Principality of Monaco.
Now-famous Brazilian driver Ayrton Senna led the Monaco Grand Prix during his debut Formula 1 season, however, another downpour meant the Grand Prix was brought to a premature end and the Frenchman Alain Prost was given the 1984 Monaco crown after a 45-minute delayed race start.
Another memorable race came a year later when Prost took victory for a second-consecutive year when Senna, unfortunately, had to retire due to an engine problem. It was ruled that this incident was caused by the Brazilian racer revving too much at the beginning of the race.
The Monaco track is known for its tricky overtakes through 19 corners, meaning the driver who bags pole position takes great advantage over the rest of the field. In 1992, Senna and Williams Renault driver Nigel Mansell battled it out throughout the final laps of the race. Despite Mansell having the quicker car, he could not squeeze around Senna, meaning the Brazilian driver won with just two-tenths of a second between them. Senna had begun to dominate the circuit, taking many race wins and scoring vital championship points. From 1989-1993, Senna’s dominance saw him take six trophies, resulting in a new record formerly held by Graham Hill.
Tragically, in 1994 Ayrton Senna passed away during the Imola Grand Prix after a fatal accident. That year, seven-time World Champion Michael Schumacher crossed the chequered flag first to take victory at the Grand Prix.
After Schumacher took pole position, only three out of the 22 drivers crossed the line in 1996, making it the smallest field to finish a Grand Prix in F1 history. France’s Olivier Panis took the win in yet another wet and slippery Monaco race, with British drivers David Coulthard and Johnny Herbert claiming second and third.
Racing legend Schumacher was famously excluded from qualifying after claiming pole position with a lap time of 1:13:898. In the final part of the session, the German driver brought out a yellow flag as he blocked the last corner of the circuit, meaning that no other driver was able to set a faster race time. This exclusion sent him straight to the back of the field.
British driver Jenson Button started the 2009 Monaco Grand Prix from pole position and sailed comfortably to win. A victorious Button parked in the pits and ran the full length of the main straight to take the first step of the podium, an infamous moment in Monaco Grand Prix history.
In 2018, current Formula 1 fan favourite Daniel Ricciardo took his first-ever Monaco Grand Prix victory with Red Bull Racing. This same race saw Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc become the first Monegasque driver to compete in Monaco since Olivier Beretta in 1994.
After the 2020 race was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, 2021 witnessed Leclerc take pole position at his home race. Unfortunately, he could not start on Sunday due to a left driveshaft issue which left the front spot open. This worked in Max Verstappen’s favour as the Dutchman went on to win the race, marking the first-ever Monaco triumph of his career.
It was another rainy Monaco race, with a delay of 45 minutes and a rolling start for the field. This delayed start meant that laps were reduced and many tyre changes occurred. It was Red Bull Racing’s Sergio Pérez who held off pressure from Mexico’s Carlos Sainz, giving the Spaniard his third-ever Grand Prix win and his first in the Principality.
British team McLaren Racing hold the record for the most wins with 15 victories, despite their last being in 2008.
Current Formula 1 driver Lewis Hamilton holds three Monaco wins, taking victory in 2008, 2016 and 2019, with two other drivers reaching victory twice each: Spain’s Fernando Alonso in 2006 and 2007, and Germany’s Sebastian Vettel in 2011 and 2017.
Winning in Monaco takes intense levels of concentration and pushes drivers and their cars to the limit. Some Formula 1 drivers to achieve a World Drivers’ Championship title did not seize the opportunity to win at the spectacular circuit. Jim Clark, Emerson Fittipaldi, Nelson Piquet, James Hunt and Nigel Mansell never stood on the top step of the Monaco podium during their Formula 1 racing careers.