Gearing up for glamorous Monaco

Gearing up for glamorous Monaco

The Monaco Grand Prix is the highlight of the Formula One calendar in the way of glitter and glamour. With its casinos, easy tax laws and connections of wealth and fame, Monaco is the event that is more about cachet than cars, money than motors.

The Monaco Grand Prix is the highlight of the Formula One calendar in the way of glitter and glamour. With its casinos, easy tax laws and connections of wealth and fame, Monaco is the event that is more about cachet than cars, money than motors. People go there to see and be seen, to bask in the limelight of the most glamorous of sports in the most glamorous location.

The port of Monaco.
Photo by Brousseau Photo.
Monaco is the smallest independent sovereign state in the world and consists of three small villages that grew into one. Monaco, the location of Grimaldi Castle, and Monte Carlo are situated on opposite cliff tops with the small port of La Condamine separating the two.

In 1909, Alexandre Noghes became president of the local car club and proposed a rally that would take in all of Europe and converge on Monaco. The first rally was in 1911 and consisted of 23 cars starting from 11 European locations. It was not exactly a 'proper' race but nonetheless a glamorous event.

In 1925 the Automobile Club de Monaco came into being and Noghes' son Anthony suggested Monaco should hold a Grand Prix. The event duly happened in 1929 and more followed until the Second World War. After the war, racing recommenced in 1948. In 1950 a ten car pile up happened on the first lap and in 1955 Alberto Ascari crashed into the harbour.

There have been some tragedies -- in 1972 Lorenzo Bandini died after his car crashed at the chicane and in 1994 Karl Wendlinger crashed at the same place, ending his F1 career. However, Monaco has seen comparatively few accidents in light of its rather unsuitable conditions.

Ayrton Senna won the Monaco GP six times, Graham Hill five, Alain Prost four and Stirling Moss and Jackie Stewart won three times each. In recent years, Michael Schumacher has five victories, David Coulthard two, including last year, and Olivier Panis had his maiden victory at Monaco in 1996.

The street circuit has changed over the years but remains mostly on its original course of 1929. The names of various sections hold an air of history and glamour: La Rascasse, Tabac, Ste Devote, Beau Rivage, Casino and Mirabeau. It's an up and down track, a hill climb to Casino Square and then down to Mirabeau and the Monaco tunnel is unique -- entering the seeming pitch black flat out after brightness outside requires a lot of commitment on the driver's part.

The track has been shortened slightly this year due to restructuring of the approach to Rascasse and the swimming pool turn. Monaco requires good aerodynamics and maximum downforce with the tightness of the circuit and the track is very bumpy in places. Technically the layout is not the most demanding but requires mental concentration as well as strength -- heavy use of the steering wheel means it's hard on drivers' arms. It's the circuit where driver skill is more to the forefront than a powerful car.

The track surface tends to be less abrasive than others, and speeds are lower, so tyre compounds will be on the soft side. Rear tyres suffer more due to the heavy acceleration out of corners. Overtaking is near enough impossible so a good grid position in qualifying is essential, which should make for some interesting strategies as the regulation changes are taken into consideration.

David Coulthard leading Juan Pablo Montoya.
Photo by Brousseau Photo.
Last year David Coulthard gained the advantage over pole man Juan Pablo Montoya by beating him to the first corner, then led the race all the way home. The barriers claimed their victims, as always: Takuma Sato came out of the tunnel sideways, Felipe Massa went in headfirst at Ste. Devote, Alex Yoong came to grief in Casino Square and both Toyotas finished in the armco.

Kimi Raikkonen was sent out of the race by a careless Rubens Barrichello while Montoya's engine exploded to finish his day. Coulthard won from Michael and Ralf Schumacher respectively.

Raikkonen leads the Driver's championship going into Monaco but whether he still will afterwards is debatable. The Finn is giving some remarkable performances but Ferrari, inevitably, is fighting back. Michael is just two points adrift of Raikkonen and Ferrari has taken the lead of the Constructors' standings by one point.

Renault's Fernando Alonso is proving to be a stumbling block to the usual front runners, the Spaniard just one point behind Rubens Barrichello. Monaco should be suited to Renault, the R23 is proving very good aerodynamically. Williams is still struggling and will have to find a vast improvement somewhere to make the sluggish FW25 triumph at the street circuit. In qualifying it should be a challenger but race-day has yet to be a success.

The smallest of mistakes even from an experienced driver can abruptly end their race at Monaco. This year's rookies will be interesting to watch; da Matta has street experience from his CART days, which may help. Antonio Pizzonia could be a liability, as could Ralph Firman, both having a little more over-eagerness than is generally helpful at Monaco. Justin Wilson should cope all right but whether his Minardi can is another matter.

Whoever gets round the first corner in the lead has to be the favourite to win but pit-stop strategy could change things. Monaco is traditionally a one-stopper but the regulation changes have seen many races with completely new ideas where pit stops are concerned. And don't forget: first day's practice and qualifying is Thursday at Monaco!

Monaco GP: Wednesday press conference

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About this article
Series Formula 1
Drivers Juan Pablo Montoya
Teams Ferrari , Williams , Minardi