BEAUTY AND THE BEAST: GLAMOROUS MONACO CAN CONFOUND DRIVERS INDIANAPOLIS, May 13, 1999 -- Some people watch the Monaco Grand Prix from the decks of exotic yachts. They sip champagne as Formula One cars scream by just a few feet away. Others...
BEAUTY AND THE BEAST: GLAMOROUS MONACO CAN CONFOUND DRIVERS
INDIANAPOLIS, May 13, 1999 -- Some people watch the Monaco Grand Prix from the decks of exotic yachts. They sip champagne as Formula One cars scream by just a few feet away.
Others view the race from the balconies of the hotels and apartments that surround the twisting street circuit or from grandstand seats. Some fans chose to perch on the hillside that leads up to Prince Rainier's palace that overlooks the circuit and the sparkling Mediterranean Sea.
No matter where they watch from, they've all come to see and be part of the most glamorous, famous and prestigious Grand Prix on the F1 tour -- Monaco. "Winning at Monte Carlo is the dream of most Grand Prix drivers, and now it's happened to me," Mika Hakkinen said after scoring a victory last year. "It's so special that it's hard to believe that it's happened to me."
This year marks the 57th running of the Monaco Grand Prix. The first race through the streets was staged in 1929; William Charles Frederick Grover, using the name "Williams," won driving a Bugatti 35B. "Williams" was a mysterious Englishman who worked as a secret agent for the Allies behind enemy lines in World War II and was executed by the Gestapo in 1945.
This year also marks the golden jubilee of Prince Rainier of the Grimaldi family -- he came to power in 1949 and married actress Grace Kelly in 1956. The family has ruled for more than 700 years. In 1297, Francois Grimaldi, disguised as a monk and hiding a sword under his robes, sneaked into the Monaco fortress, let in his men and established the Grimaldi dynasty over what would eventually become Monaco ... the tiny principality on the French Riviera.
Today, along with the Indianapolis 500 and the Le Mans 24 Hours, the Monaco Grand Prix is one of the three most famous races in the world. Only one driver has ever won racing's unofficial triple crown: Graham Hill won the Indy 500 in 1966, Le Mans in 1972 and scored a stunning total of five victories at Monaco during the 1960s.
Ayrton Senna, who would win at Monaco six times, is the only driver to surpass Hill's record in the principality.
Other multiple winners include 1966 Indy Rookie of the Year Jackie Stewart, who has won Monaco three times; four-time World Champion Alain Prost, who won it four times; and Stirling Moss, who was victorious three times.
This year, Hill's son, Damon, is racing in his seventh Monaco Grand Prix. Damon Hill has never won in Monaco although he won the pole and finished second in 1995 and dominated the 1996 race until his car suffered a mechanical failure.
"My first recollection of the Monaco Grand Prix," Hill said, "was watching it on TV in 1969. I was 8 years old, the same age as my second son is now, and I was playing in the garden when my mum called out to me, 'Come and watch daddy winning the Monaco Grand Prix.' That was in fact his fifth victory, but it's the first that I can remember."
Besides the glamour, it's the sheer difficulty and challenge of Monaco that makes it such a satisfying and prestigious race to conquer.
"Monaco is a very demanding circuit," said 1995 Indy 500 winner Jacques Villeneuve, whose father, Gilles, won the 1981 Monaco Grand Prix. "It's very mentally demanding because you are always busy and you have the guardrail very close to you ... you are not allowed to make an error. It's physically demanding because you don't have time to rest."
The narrow, winding, bumpy streets are lined with guardrails and walls through which the drivers must try and thread an 800-horsepower F1 car at speeds varying from 25 mph (40 km/h) at the hairpins to 180 mph (288 km/h) as they come blasting out of the tunnel. Three-time world champ Nelson Piquet likened the Monaco experience to riding a motorcycle in your living room.
"From the mental standpoint Monaco is probably the toughest there is," said three-time winner Michael Schumacher. "There is hardly any straights on which to relax, and you have to remain totally concentrated for the entire time. With hardly any run-off areas, even the smallest mistake usually ends in disaster."
Among Monaco's daunting and demanding corners are Casino (the stretch of track that twists by the famous Casino), Loews Hairpin, the tunnel and the swimming pool turns.
"There are two special corners in Monaco," Villeneuve said. "One is the Casino area. You get over a hill very, very fast and you have to hit the brakes over a hump, and there are two high-speed blind corners that are very demanding. The other part is the swimming pool area for the same reasons."
The cars blast down the hill from Casino at 130 mph (210 km/h), slither around the Mirabeau turn and head for the Loews Hairpin. "It's full steering lock and taken in second gear at about 20 mph (32 km/h)," Stewart Ford standout Rubens Barrichello said of the hairpin. Shortly after the hairpin the cars plunge into the tunnel.
"The tunnel is a long sweep, taken in fifth gear at over 170 mph (272 km/h), and it's a very tricky part of the circuit," Barrichello said. "If the weather is not so good the waves can throw spray and water onto the track. One year I could actually see the waves on my left because the sea was so rough."
Bursting from the tunnel, the cars hit 180 mph (288 km/h) before the drivers slam on the brakes for the chicane and then negotiate the tricky turns that wind by the swimming pool on the right and the dazzling luxury yachts in the harbor on the left.
Monaco is a true street circuit, and each evening the track is reopened to the public. Fans can walk or drive most of the course. And an exotic array of cars such as Ferraris, Rolls Royces, Aston Martins, Lamborghinis, Porsches, Mercedes-Benzes and Bentleys parade through the streets each evening.
Monaco is divided into three parts. On top of the hill are the palace and the old village that overlook the harbor. Besides the palace, there are five museums on top of the hill, including Jacques Cousteau's oceanographic museum, and the quaint, narrow streets are dotted with superb restaurants. On one side of the hill is the old part of Monaco, where the race takes place, and on the other is the modern part of the town called Fontvieille.
It's not only on the Grand Prix weekend that you see F1 drivers in Monaco. For tax and logistical reasons, twelve of the 22 regular drivers in this year's lineup have residences in Monaco: Mika Hakkinen, David Coulthard, Alex Zanardi, Ralf Schumacher, Heinz-Harald Frentzen, Giancarlo Fisichella, Pedro Diniz, Rubens Barrichello, Johnny Herbert, Luca Badoer, Jacques Villeneuve and Ricardo Zonta.
Canada's Villeneuve spent much of his life in Monaco after moving here with his family when his father was an F1 star driving for Ferrari.
"I've been living here for 18 years," Villeneuve said. "I grew up here. I went to school here. Anywhere where you grew up you enjoy. It's good when you can cut off. You can be in a town and do your things and enjoy life and then just go home and cut off from the rest of the world."
Unlike other Grand Prix weekends, which stage practice and qualifying on Friday and Saturday, the first day of practice at Monaco is Thursday, then the F1 teams take Friday off and qualify on Saturday. Villeneuve's apartment is right above the racetrack, and even though the F1 cars don't run on Friday, the Formula 3000 cars do. Thus Villeneuve gets an early wake-up call.
"They start at 7 in the morning, so you can't really sleep in," Villeneuve said.
Sleeping in your own bed on a race weekend does have its drawbacks. "The thing is when you get to a hotel you know it is a race weekend," Villeneuve said, "and you are used to going to bed early and having everything ready. When you are at home, it is a little more difficult. "It's a great weekend when you are not working," Villeneuve said of the upcoming race. "It's a great weekend to come and watch and party and enjoy. When you are working, it becomes hectic because it is so confined. The driving, though, is fun."
Fun and challenging.
"You need a huge amount of concentration to race in Monaco," Jordan standout Heinz-Harald Frentzen said. "It's a very demanding circuit. It's risky, but that's what makes it so enjoyable. Monaco is definitely the highlight of the F1 calendar."
FORMULA ONE NOTEBOOK
Where to watch: Television viewers in the U.S. can watch the Monaco Grand Prix live on SpeedVision at 7:30 a.m. (EDT) May 16. Fox Sports Net will air the race tape-delayed at 10 a.m. May 16 in all time zones. SpeedVision will show qualifying live at 7 a.m. (EDT) on May 15.
*** Salo's BAR: Mika Salo will drive for British American Racing in Monaco. BAR regular driver, rookie Ricardo Zonta, who suffered foot injuries in a crash during practice for last month's Brazilian Grand Prix, has been advised by medical specialists to allow the damaged tendon in his left foot a little more time to heal.
Salo has finished in the top six three times at Monaco driving uncompetitive cars -- fifth in a Tyrrell in 1996 and 1997m and fourth in an Arrows in 1998.
"I don't know why I've tended to go well at Monaco in recent years," Salo said. "I love the atmosphere there during Grand Prix week, and I really enjoy the driving precision and concentration that is required by such a demanding street circuit, so maybe it's just because I have been able to go into the event feeling relaxed and with a 'nothing-to-lose' kind of attitude."
*** Easy rider: Michael Schumacher gets through Monaco's traffic jams on his Harley-Davidson Heritage Softail motorcycle. "I have kept it (in Monaco) for many years," he said, "and it is stored in the garage at the apartment of (my brother) Ralf, who lives there. Ralf has a Harley of his own, too, and sometimes we go out riding together."
*** Testing: Every team except Arrows tested last week and this week as they prepared for the upcoming Monaco Grand Prix. Ferrari and Minardi tested at Fiorano last week, but rain hampered some of its development programs. Ferrari plans to have a major revision of its car ready for the Spanish Grand Prix at the end of May. Williams, BAR, Stewart and Sauber tested at the twisting Nogaro circuit in the southwest of France. Benetton went to Barcelona, where it tested alone and used rows of tires to simulate a street circuit. Prost was at Magny-Cours before handing over the circuit to McLaren for a private test, and Jordan headed for the French Lurcy-Levis circuit.
Monaco Grand Prix Fast Facts
Date: Sunday, May 16 Race: Fourth of 16 on the 1999 schedule Venue: Monte Carlo Circuit length: 2.092 miles, 3.367 km Race length: 78 laps On TV: Race (live) - 7:30 a.m. (EDT) May 16, SpeedVision. (Tape-delayed) - 10 a.m. in all time zones May 16, FOX Sports Net. Qualifying (live) - 7 a.m. (EDT) May 15, SpeedVision Points leader: Michael Schumacher, Ferrari 1998 race winner: Mika Hakkinen, McLaren-Mercedes 1998 pole winner: Mika Hakkinen, McLaren-Mercedes Previous winners: 1997 -- Michael Schumacher; 1996 -- Olivier Panis; 1995 --Michael Schumacher; 1994 -- Michael Schumacher; 1993 -- Ayrton Senna