History of the Monaco Gand Prix

Introduction to the Monaco Grand Prix

downtown Monte Carlo
Downtown Monte Carlo 

The Monaco Grand Prix is part of the Triple Crown of Motor Racing that also includes the Indianapolis 500 and the 24 Hours of Le Mans. The race is held in the streets of Monte Carlo where even the most well-to-do can feel like a street urchin. Monte Carlo is a city in the Principality of Monaco, where the average income is $188,000 per year. They also have probably the highest concentrations of F1 drivers per capita anywhere in the world. A list of just some of the F1 drivers who live there include Charles Leclerc, Lewis Hamilton, Max Verstappen, Nico Rosberg, and Daniel Ricciardo just to name a few. Monaco is one of the oldest tracks on the F1 circuit right alongside Silverstone, Spa, and Monza. Of those, only Monza has held more Grand Prix races.

Monaco is the shortest track on the F1 calendar coming in well under the FIA minimum 305 km total race length. That’s partly due to the short race track that clocks in at just barely 2 miles in length. The FIA would never remove Monaco from the calendar. Nelson Piquet once said that a win at Monaco was like two anywhere else. I’ve never been to Monaco but I’ve raced at Monaco in Gran Turismo for decades and it’s up there with Laguna Seca as my two favorite tracks. I can picture every turn, every straight. Some fans complain that Monaco is boring but I think they’re crazy. It requires incredible skill to win and even more skill and bravery to pass. The streets are narrow and there’s almost no runoff area.

Monaco Track Layout

Monaco Grand Prix Track Layout (Current)
Monaco Grand Prix Track Layout (Current)

The Monaco Grand Prix is the tightest, shortest circuit on the calendar. The track layout has changed very little since 1929 and features many elevation changes along the streets of Monte Carlo. It’s hands down the most beautiful track in the world. From the start/finish, it’s a short rundown to Saint Devote. Next is the bumpy, uphill portion of Beau Rivage followed by the start of the downhill section of Massenet and Casino corner. The tightest portion of the track is Maribeau and the Grand Hotel Hairpin featuring downhill tight corners. Drivers start the rundown to the bay coming out of Portier into the Tunnel and face the changing light conditions. This is probably one of the only passing points on the track.

Coming out of the tunnel, drivers must break hard to enter the Nouvelle Chicane. There used to be a wall here but now they just leave it open for safety reasons. If they wanted to increase excitement, I would get rid of the chicane. To the left of the drivers is the beautiful bay at Port Hercule filled with mega yachts. At least two drivers have ended up in the bay including Alberto Ascari who we profiled earlier. After the Nouvelle Chicane, drivers come up to the left hander of Tabac followed by Louis Chiron and the Pool. After the Pool, drivers start their retreat from the bay enter the famed Rascasse. Maybe brave drivers will try to pass here including LeClerc who tried it twice this year. Following Rascasse, drivers enter the last turn, Anthony Noghes before charging to the finish.

Changes to the Circuit

photos from the 1937 Monaco Grand Prix
1937 Monaco Grand Prix

Monaco is one of the least changed circuits on the F1 calendar. The track was completely unchanged from 1929-1972 and was run exactly as one would drive it. There were no safety barriers and drivers could hit lamp posts or whatever else is on the normal streets. Jackie Stewart pushed hard for driver safety and got many changes implemented across the calendar. For Monaco, he got them to add Armco barriers along the entire track in 1973. They also extended the tunnel and added the Pool section. In 1976 they extended the Noghes section after Rascasse. In 1986 they replaced the Port Chicane with the more prevalent Nouvelle Chicane. I think getting rid of the Nouvelle Chicane could really add some excitement to the race. Unfortunately this is unlikely to happen which continues to make this the most challenging course in Formula 1.

History of the Monaco Grand Prix

Early History to 1950s

pictures of the start of the 1937 Monaco GP
The start of the 1937 Monaco GP 

Some of the most famous and talented drivers have won at Monaco. A Bugatti won the 4 of the first 5 races with Louis Chiron taking the 1931 race finishing 4 minutes ahead of second place. Chiron was yet another F1 driver that lived in Monaco and wound up with a corner named after him. Juan Manuel Fangio won here twice in 1950 and 1957. The 1950 race had a pretty stout podium with Fangio in 1st, Ascari in 2nd, and Louis Chiron in 3rd. Stirling Moss won three times, including two in a row in 1960 and 1961. In 1961 Moss finished ahead of a trio of Ferrari’s despite being down 150 horsepower.

Monaco GP – 1960s to 1970s

The Nouvelle Chicane
The Nouvelle Chicane – photo by Nick

Graham Hill absolutely dominated the 1960’s winning 5 times at Monaco with both BRM and Lotus-Ford. Jackie Stewart won in Monaco three times including one in the 1960’s. He’s also responsible for numerous safety changes including adding barriers to Monaco. Stewart won the 1973 Monaco Grand Prix after his move to increase safety led to a revised track. He won from pole position in what was James Hunt’s first race. Niki Lauda won twice in 1975 and 1976. The 1975 race was a wet race and Lauda experienced a drop in oil pressure but was saved by the two hour time limit. He won again in 1976 beating the wild six-wheeled car piloted by Jody Schekter by 11 seconds. Sheckter would pilot the six-wheel to a win in Monaco in 1977. He would win again in 1979, this time in a Ferrari.

Monaco GP – 1980s

The Marina at Monaco
The Marina

Alain Prost won here four times with his most exciting win coming on his first in 1984 Monaco Grand Prix. This race saw torrential rain and was actually delayed 45 minutes. Nigel Mansell and Alain Prost got into a good battle with Mansell taking the lead on lap 9. Mansell would spin out after his tire hit a white line and Prost would retake the lead. Niki Lauda and rookie Ayrton Senna who started 13th begin putting the pressure on Prost. Lauda would also spin after making contact with the white lines at Casino square. Finally, Prost asked the stewards to end the race which they did on lap 32. The rookie Senna passed Prost for first but the rules stated that the standings applied to the last full lap ran. On Senna’s first ever F1 road race he finished 2nd while also setting fastest lap in the rain.

Prost would win another wild race in 1985. This time Senna would start from pole position sharing the front row with Mansell. A crash on the pit straight ended up collection Piquet and Luada and Senna succumbed to engine failure. Alboreto and Prost would battle back and forth for 1st place with Prost maintaining the lead and taking the victory. Prost won again in 1986 and was joined by Kiko Rosbert and Senna on the podium. Prost’s final win came in 1988 where Senna took pole position by a staggering 1.5 seconds over Prost. Senna led for much of the race with Prost in 3rd and Mansell in 4th. Prost moved up into second place on lap 54. Unfortunately he was still 50 seconds behind Senna. Senna would inexplicably crash from first handing the race to Prost.

Senna Dominates the Monaco Grand Prix

1988 Monaco GP
1988 Monaco GP – photo by Juan Pablo Donoso

From his first race at Monaco on, Senna absolutely dominated the streets of Monte Carlo. No one has won more times here than Ayrton Senna who has collected six victories. If you think about it, he should actually have maybe 8 or 9 wins. His first win came in the 1987 Monaco Grand Prix. There he lined up 2nd with Mansell in the front row. Behind him were Piquet and Prost trying to make it four wins in a row. Mansell led the first part of the race until a turbo failure led to retirement. Senna led the rest of the way beating Piquet by 33 seconds while Prost finished 9th with engine troubles.

After losing to Prost in 1988, Senna would go on an absolute tear winning every Monaco Grand Prix from 1989 to 1993. Qualifying for the 1990 Monaco Grand Prix contains probably the best qualifying video you are ever going to see. In 1989, Senna qualified over a second ahead of Alain Prost and easily won the Monaco Grand Prix.

Senna Continues to Dominate in the 1990s

More of the same in 1990 with Senna qualifying again ahead of Prost and again winning. Senna again took pole position in 1991 and won the race but Prost secured the fastest lap. Senna failed to secure pole position in 1992 qualifying third with Mansell on pole. Upstart Michael Schumacher qualified 6th. Mansell led a majority of the race until a loose lug nut forced him to pit on lap 70. He came out behind Senna but gained 2 seconds a lap but was unable to pass. Senna won by a scant 0.2 seconds.

Senna again qualified third at the 1993 Monaco Grand Prix behind pole-sitter Alain Prost and Michael Schumacher. Prost jumped the start and received a stop-go penalty but stalled putting him a lap down. Schumacher suffered a hydraulic issue and Senna cruised to victory by 52 seconds. This would be his sixth and final victory at Monaco as he would die tragically the next year. His domination and Monaco would soon be replaced by another.

Schumacher’s Domination

Schumacher at Monaco 2004
Schumacher at Monaco 2004 – photo by Cord Rodefeld from Ulm, Germany

Michael Schumacher came on the scene towards the end of Senna’s dominance and out qualified him at Monaco. Schumacher picked right up where Senna left off dominating the 1994 Monaco Grand Prix by netting pole position, fastest lap, leading every lap, and winning the race. This was the first Grand Slam of Schumacher’s young career. In 1995 Schumacher qualified all the way back in second while Damon Hill took pole position. After some red flags and some nasty wrecks, Hill led Schumacher but lost the lead after going into the pits.

Schumacher would collect his second win at Monaco with Benetton but no Grand Slam. Schumacher would win again in the 1997 Monaco Grand Prix after qualifying back in 2nd this time with Ferrari. The 1999 Monaco Grand Prix saw another Schumacher victory again from a second place qualifying position. His fifth and final win at Monaco came in 2001 where he tied the great Graham Hill again from second place. Schumacher took the lead on the first lap and continue on to victory.

The 2000s

Lewis Hamilton in the wet at Monaco
Lewis Hamilton at Monaco in the wet – photo by Andrew Locking

The 2000’s didn’t really see any one driver dominate. Fernando Alonso won two in a row in 2006 and 2007 beating teammate Lewis Hamilton by four seconds in 2007. Hamilton picked up his first win at Monaco in 2008 showing the importance of strategy. In the 2008 Monaco Grand Prix, Lewis showed his superior car management skills by better manager fuel and tires. In a wet race, Lewis took the lead and started opening up a gap. He also chose the perfect time to switch to slicks and cruised to victory taking the lead in the championship which he wound win that year.

The 2010s

Exiting the tunnel at Monaco
Exiting the tunnel at Monaco – photo by Alastair Staley/LAT Photographic

A mix of drivers won in the 2010s with Vettel securing a victory with Red Bull in 2011 and Ferrari in 2017. Mark Webber won twice for Red Bull in 2010 and 2012. The only real dominance from this era comes from hometown hero Nico Rosberg who won here three times in a row from 2013 to 2015. Nico’s dad Keke also won here in 1983. Few of the races were notable with Rosberg securing pole and taking the win. In the 2014 Monaco Grand Prix, Lewis Hamilton felt he should have pitted earlier and he felt the decision to leave him out cost him the race.

In 2015, Mercedes would pit Hamilton from first but miscalculated the gap leading to Rosberg taking the lead and Hamilton coming out in 3rd behind Vettel. Hamilton would finally best teammate Rosbeg in the wet 2016 Monaco Grand Prix. Rosberg suffered brake failure while Hamilton again showed his mastery in the wet to take his second victory at Monaco. Hamilton would win his third Monaco Grand Prix this year.

Conclusion

Ayrton Senna at Monaco
The king of Monaco Ayrton Senna – photo by pher38

Monaco is one of the most historic races on the calendar joining Monza and Spa. It is easily the most beautiful place to ever host a motor race. The tight challenging circuits tests both driver skill and team strategy. With few places to pass drivers must be bold in they want to move up the field If you’re too bold though, the track will bite back. Just ask Charle Leclerc who attempted to claw back places after starting 15th. He gained 3 places in 8 laps and attempted a bold move in Casino square only to be snatched up by the wall. I included Monaco as one of my Five Greatest Races of All-Time and it is definitely on my bucket list. Right now the rack is only locked up until 2020 but Formula 1 would be crazy to let this race drop off the calendar.

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