Admittedly, the Grand Prix
itself is rarely very exciting as it is nearly impossible for cars to overtake on the narrow, twisty sections of Monte-Carlo’s streets.
There is a brief 15-minute period of excitement on Saturday however, when Qualifying is in its final stages and the battle for pole position is fought. Whoever starts from the best place on the grid has an extremely good chance of actually winning the race on Sunday, more so than on any other track on the F1 calendar.
But if the racing action is so bad, why does everyone like the Monaco GP so much — not least the drivers themselves? Well, drivers are always eager to prove they can drive the car better than anyone else including their team-mate. And because this street track is extremely unforgiving to the smallest error, it is generally accepted that the car matters a bit less than the driver here. And as all F1 drivers assume they are the best, or just as good as the best if only they had a good car, being fastest in Monaco carries a lot more weight than it does in the Abu Dhabi desert to take one example. Driving an F1 car through the streets of Monaco is a bit like unleashing a swordfish in your bathtub. It doesn’t quite get up to speed but it should be pretty hairy.
Why everyone else likes the Monaco GP probably has less to do with the racing and more with history. Formula One has been visiting Monaco since 1929 and it is difficult to think of a more glamorous star-studded event save for perhaps the Oscars. Before the race, when the cars are rolled onto the starting grid, you will actually struggle to see them due to the celebrity crowd swarming the place. It could be mistaken for a Botox convention, but the mechanics dressed in overalls tending to some colorfully sponsored driving machines are a strong clue that in fact a car race is about to break out.
Watching the race itself is a bit tricky, as there are so many buildings blocking the view of the track. You can only ever see a small part of the racetrack so if you like to follow what’s actually happening you’re best of having a TV nearby. Earplugs are a good idea as well, the sound reflects off the walls and is quite an assault on the senses. That said, the new engine regulations introduced this year have made the engines a lot quieter so it might be just about bearable this time around. One of, if not the best place to wath from is the iconic Hotel de Paris. The racetrack swoops around it in a left turn, allowing you the cars climbing up the hill as well as their entry into Casino square. The hotel also has what is probably the most exciting spot in the world to watch F1 cars from, a small corner of the garden looks straight downhill towards the harbour and the F1 cars effectively drive towards you at immense speed. You can quite literally look the drivers in the eyes, at least while the visor on their helmet isn’t closed. To occupy this spot though, you probably need to wake up very early indeed as there is only space for a few people.
In the Hotel de Paris itself the view might not be quite as spectacular, but you can still see and hear the action outside and have some lobster tails and caviar plus a large screen TV nearby. It’s certainly preferable to watching from a Yacht in the harbor as you can switch to different viewing positions in great comfort. And, of course, once the races finishes you are still in a Hotel full of beds and restaurants.
Who’s going to win the race? Well the odds are someone driving a Mercedes F1 car as they have won every race so far this season. Their superiority is such that even the unique demands of Monaco are unlikely to overturn the balance of power. Their closest competitor will be Red Bull, where Daniel Ricciardo has been outperforming 4-time champion Sebastian Vettel so far this year. So it’s either Hamilton, Rosberg or Ricciardo unless some rather strange things happen this weekend. Then again stranger things have certainly happened before in Monaco. One time less than 5 cars finished the race and the winner was Olivier Panis in a Ligier. The fact that you’ve probably never heard these names before should make my point obvious.
Formula One in Monaco is, and always will be, a victory of the heart over the mind. A few hours per year of undiluted inefficiency, inappropriate speed, sparkling stones and shameless glamour mixed into a cocktail you just don’t find anywhere else. And if you would, it probably wouldn’t be any good. You need a very special place to turn the abnormal into normal, and Monaco is precisely that.