When you think Formula One, you think Monaco. As high-powered and sophisticated as the cars that will compete in Round 6 of the FIA Formula One World Championship, so too are the people and their accoutrements which descend upon the smallest and most densely populated country in the world. Yachts line the harbour and exquisite luxury and sports cars line the roads.
You may not know but organised racing within the confines of Monaco began in 1929 when Anthony Noghes, son of a wealthy cigarette baron, proposed a grand prix through the streets of Monte Carlo. On 14 April, the inaugural Monaco Grand Prix was held and it was won by William Grover-Williams in a Bugatti. In the 74th Monaco Grand Prix that will take place on 29 May, the same basic layout crafted by Noghes will challenge today’s Formula One drivers.
And challenge is the key word, for there is no more challenging venue than Monaco. The 78-lap race around the 3.340-km (2.075-mile), 19-turn street circuit features many elevation changes and the tightest corners on the series’ 21-race calendar. It also lays claim to having the only tunnel in Formula One which forces drivers to adjust their eyes from glaring sun to shade every lap.
Monaco is the shortest circuit in Formula One and it’s home to the sport’s slowest corner – the hairpin turn six – which drivers navigate at a pedestrian 50 kph (31 mph) while in maximum steering lock. It’s why three-time Formula One champion Nelson Piquet said racing at Monaco was “like trying to cycle around your living room”.
Despite being the shortest track, Monaco is the longest Formula One race in terms of time and, if hampered by wet weather, it will certainly go to its full, two-hour time limit. As result, the glitz and glamour of Monaco is juxtaposed by the gumption it takes to navigate a street circuit that is nearly 90 years old and lined with menacing Armco barrier.
Haas F1’s Romain Grosjean describes a typical lap:
“So you start on the straight, where it’s very bumpy hitting the brakes into turn one at Sainte Devote. It’s easy to make a mistake here, but then you need to make a good exit for the run up to Casino Corner. Up the hill, blind corner, braking just after the bump, fourth gear, and then third gear for the next one. Going down then you want to avoid the bus stop, which is bumpy, then you head to turn five. There’s always a bit of front-locking, the front inside wheel is in the air. Then the hairpin is a very slow-speed corner. You turn the steering wheel with one hand.
“After that it’s the two Portier corners. The second one is important because it brings you to the tunnel which is a straight line on the track. The tunnel is flat out before you have to brake big for the chicane, where there’s another bump. Then you have Tabac which is quite a high-speed corner, followed by the swimming pool complex, also very high speed. The braking for La Rascasse is tricky, again easy to front-lock. Then there’s a tricky exit for the last corner – it’s not so easy as it’s up a small crest. When you then go down, you can get wheel-spin, and then you’re back on the start-finish straight.”