Monaco GP 2017 doesn't thrill but scale and value of the event still essential to F1
The Monaco Grand Prix failed to produce much in the way of racing action and some fans have complained that it's an anachronism in the modern F1 ca...
The Monaco Grand Prix failed to produce much in the way of racing action and some fans have complained that it's an anachronism in the modern F1 calendar.
Perhaps that is how it comes over on TV in some countries' coverage, in which case there is work to be done. Another factor, in these days of rising inequality, is that many fans living normal lives don't get excited by seeing rich people enjoying themselves any more.
But anyone who attended this year's sun-kissed Monaco GP weekend will tell you it was an amazing event, that it is about far more than just a processional 90 minute race and that it is about far more than conspicuous wealth - even though everything looks expensive and everything builds to that 90 minute burst of energy on a Sunday.
The event is the reason for being there, not purely the race. And the fans can get closer to the cars, the stars and the F1 teams than at any other venue.
In many ways, this is the essence of the challenge around F1 in general for Liberty Media; to create an event with a race at the heart of it.
The fans have to be given a way to appreciate how Monaco is in F1's DNA, its history, rather than being kept at arm's length and fed simply a dull TV race.
Because being there, you can be in no doubt that the scale of the event is critical to F1's appeal, to its image and what it needs to build on for the future.
Monaco still attracts the stars, embodies the glamour, speed and style which are F1's unique qualities. It embodies the "extreme" which used to be central to the appeal of F1, but which has been lost somewhat in the last decade.
The 2017 cars with their high downforce and grippier tyres were mind-blowingly fast through corners like Casino Square, Tabac and Swimming Pool, far more so than in recent years.
I was out on track on Thursday when the drivers were doing their qualifying simulations during Free Practice 2. Standing a few inches from the barriers as the cars came towards me at 130mph - keeping the left side wheels off the barriers before disappearing in a blur through the second chicane and off to Rascasse - it was extreme.
I was delighted to see Ross Brawn standing a few metres away, wearing the track side tabard that must be worn in higher risk areas of the track. He had a misty-eyed look, not having been able during his racing career to go out to such places to see what F1 cars do and to see what the fans and media can see.
"They really are quick, aren't they?" he said, like a man who has fallen in love with motor racing all over again.
I've been standing out there every year since 1990 when Senna, Prost and Mansell came blasting through and I've never seen one of F1's bosses out there, seeing up close what F1 is about. If you are going to talk the talk on bringing the sport alive and taking it to the fans, as the new bosses of F1 are doing at the moment, you also have to do your research, get close to your product and understand what your fans are seeing and how best to communicate that on TV and digital platforms.
Monaco still matters
Monaco still matters greatly to F1; it is one of only two Grand Prix venues that do more for F1 than F1 does for the venue (along with Singapore). The track layout may not make for great races in overtaking terms, but they have so much more to offer the sport.
I was thinking about this subject a lot over the weekend, partly thanks to a new book came out last week about the Monaco GP, written by one of the best sports journalists of the last 30 years, Malcolm Folley, who has covered the race as part of a wide ranging sports brief since 1981. It's called Monaco: Inside F1's greatest race.
It's a good read, as all Folley's works are - he did a terrific book on the Senna vs Prost rivalry a few years ago and another on Borg versus McEnroe.
He has spoken to many of the top drivers who have won there over the years as well as plenty of insiders, who characterise the event.
He's captured the spirit of the event of the Monaco Grand Prix, not just the race but more so the intrigues and deals that go on behind the scenes, such as the way that Ferrari used a luxurious yacht in Monaco harbour in 1995 to hold secret meetings with Michael Schumacher to tempt him to join them.
There are some great lines in the book, such as this one from Ross Brawn, from his days managing Benetton F1 team, when he used to brief the crew before the weekend in these terms,
" 'I promise you, a lot of the people [rivals] out there hate Monaco. So, if you love Monaco you will have an advantage. It is a race to be relished. Absorb the atmosphere. Absorb the fact that you are talking to the spectators because they are all around you. Absorb the fact that it will take you an hour to get across town.'
"If you relish all that, it is a very special place. Michael engendered that mental spirit where he understood that, as this is the most difficult track to race on, he was going to enjoy it and be the best. He thought that by saying how much fun he thought it was to drive at Monaco he would intimidate other drivers. When you flip the coin to believe it to be a wonderful opportunity, not a pain in the backside, Monaco really does become an addictive race."
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