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Why the Monaco GP still packs a punch

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Sarah Holt | 17:07 UK time, Friday, 27 May 2011

Once a year Formula 1 absolutely lives up to its billing as the most glamorous sport in the world and that time comes at the Monaco Grand Prix.

On Friday morning, I had to gingerly step aboard a tender and then climb a rope ladder dangling from the side of a yacht to interview Renault's Nick Heidfeld on deck. Yes, this really could only happen in Monaco.

Without a doubt, the glamour and prestige of the tiny principality, where residents are required to have a significant sum in the bank, inflates F1's wow factor.

"I love it here, it is fantastic," crooned Lewis Hamilton, a Monaco race-winner in 2008 for McLaren. "Wow, this is such a beautiful place to be."

A panoramic view of the course

Monaco's street circuit provides a unique thrill for spectators (Getty)

After a muted showing in recent years, the harbour is once again crammed with multi-million pound yachts. Force India owner Vijay Mallya held a Bollywood-themed party on the Indian Empress while the imposing Force Blue made its return with flamboyant owner and former Renault boss Flavio Briatore on board.

Red Bull and Toro Rosso have also taken to water in their floating motorhome - complete with its own swimming pool - while Ferrari have gone one better by putting up their personnel on a yacht.

With such exotic playthings at hand it's hardly surprising the guest list includes Hollywood A-listers Scarlett Johansson and Leonardo di Caprio.

But for all the privilege and status on show, the Monaco Grand Prix also provides unrivalled access for fans.

The more affluent spectator can fork out up to £3,800 for Sunday's race but the cheapest seat is £65 and offers amazing trackside views and a party atmosphere from the Rochers hill along the side of the royal palace.

It's also the only paddock where fans can walk along the waterfront and peer into the teams' inner sanctums before posing for photos with their heroes as they emerge from the motorhomes.

And when the racing is over and dusk falls, the party begins on the track as fans sip a biere or two at the Rascasse bar.

Girls at a promotional event

Glitzy promotional events are par for the course in Monaco (Getty)

When Stirling Moss raced here during the Sixties he developed a habit of waving at female fans sunning themselves along the harbour.

Moss said he even used it as a ploy in the 1961 grand prix when he was under pressure from Richie Ginther's chasing Ferrari. Moss took his hand off the wheel to salute a girl and prove he wasn't feeling under pressure.

But can McLaren driver Jenson Button, a Monaco playboy turned triathlete, still have a sneaky glimpse at an average speed of 100mph? "No," he answered sternly.

Whatever you think of Monaco's champagne and celebrity, the yachts and those who pose upon them, Button is spot on - none of it detracts from the racing through the streets.

The miniature land, stacked on a rocky lip of land between France's Mont Angel mountain and the Mediterranean, is just made for the fastest cars in the world to hurtle around.

First comes the noise, the hum hidden among the biscuit-coloured buildings that gathers to a roar as the cars flash past.

Watching the cars fly by the grand Casino, weave nose-to-tail round the hairpin, thunder through the tunnel and then out again in a blink of light past the water and back round to Rascasse is mesmerising, and often nail-biting.

The late Ayrton Senna, who won in Monaco a record six times, spoke of an out of body experience as he glided between the barriers and round the twisting curves.

Driving precision is everything here and there is virtually no let-up, no straights to clear the head over 78 laps.

Two-time Monaco winner turned BBC pundit David Coulthard commented: "For me there's no better challenge for the driver than Monte Carlo and no more glamorous grand prix. For me it's still a thrill."


  • Comment number 1.

    every year this is the race i look forward to the most. can't wait for qualifying and the race

  • Comment number 2.

    Bets on the number of times competing drivers overtake each other on the race track? zero maybe once?
    An exhilarating spectacle for those that are there maybe, but little more than a dreary procession for those that are not. As for me, I'm heading to the beach on Sunday, but will watch the real race on Saturday.

  • Comment number 3.

    "Bets on the number of times competing drivers overtake each other on the race track? zero maybe once?"

    It's not much better for the other courses. Why anyone is still watching F1 is beyond me. It's surpassed only by darts in the list of boring sports to watch. I'll be glad when Sky get it, ruin it and then it's off the 'proper' TV for good.

  • Comment number 4.

    I love the picture :o) They seem to be a very talented bunch of ladies.

  • Comment number 5.

    I don't post regularly on these but made the account for times that I feel need to. This post relates to 3. If you don't like Formula 1, don't bother commenting on the's a little childish. Instead let the comment section be used by those who want to talk about the sport because they enjoy it and care about it. I, for one, cannot wait for the qualifying or the race. Nor can the hundreds of thousands of F1 fans who are appreciative that the Beeb have the rights to the coverage and not the Elzebub...Murdoch.

  • Comment number 6.

    #3 has clearly not watched anything of this year.

  • Comment number 7.

    Yottskry - have you even watched any of this season? Either you've not or you're simply looking to stir a reaction - trolling even.

    I do enjoy the glitz and glamour of Monaco, but sadly I do wonder about the spectacle of the race - will there be much overtaking? I expect I'll do what I usually do with Monaco which is pop the iplayer on, watch the start, then if little looks to be happening pootle on with something else and then turn to watch if some action is being announced: then watch the closing laps. Hopefully kers and drs should have some kind of impact, though what I do not know!

  • Comment number 8.

    I hate monaco as a race, but love it as an event. I'm more of a Spa man, but I do enjoy it when Monaco comes around.

    @ #3 - clearly a wum. Calls a circuit a "course" and is not aware that not only is he/she wrong about the rest of the "courses" having no overtaking like Monaco, but that people have actually complained that there is TOO MUCH overtaking. To be honest this person comes across as a bit of an attention seeker as they clearly know nothing about F1. Just wanted a grumble I suppose. So congrats, the whole world thinks your a grumpy bizarre person who complains about things they dont watch and know nothing about.

  • Comment number 9.

    Sarah, its nice to read your blog again after you've bene absent for a couple of races. Intersting about Stirling Moss, do you think Jenosn was telling the truth about not looking or did you interivew him infront of his girlfriend. I can't wait to see how the new rules effect the racing - the one good thing about Monaco is that it always throws up a suprise!

  • Comment number 10.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 11.

    At other tracks you may watch out for the overtakes, but Monaco you watch out for the crashes. It really does keep you on the edge of your seat because it is so different from anywhere else, it is so difficult to drive. even Senna blew it here. I will be watching every minute of quali and the race. By the way, what is that photo about?

  • Comment number 12.

    It's hard to explain the draw of Monaco sometimes isn't it... but I think I'm addicted.

    I love watching the action from the streets and I wish I was there every year.

    Sarah, do you have a 'plus one' for next year?

  • Comment number 13.

    I agree with 3, usually dull race because no overtaking although I think oliver panis won in rain once which was mildly interesting. Maybe new gizmos will liven this years race up?

  • Comment number 14.


    Olivier Panis won in 1996. Although I would like to point out that although the drivers were using wet tyres for the first third of the race to describe the race as such is misuse of the word 'wet'. Especially when you compare it with '97

  • Comment number 15.

    I think it may turn out to be hasty to say that F1 lacks excitement. Sure the first few races may not have been action packed but there are several new things that all teams have had to take into consideration. Most notably KERS,DRS and new tyres. These three things alone have made F1 surely more exciting and it goes without saying that it will take time for teams to adjust. Just take a look at the Spanish GP again on the iplayer and give F1 a chance......

  • Comment number 16.

    and as for Monaco.....check out how hyped Lewis is!! The place is amazing, just hope the extra marbles these tyres are throwing out dont affect the overtakes. On narrow street circuits it surely must be an issue?

  • Comment number 17.

    #3, surely F1 isn't as boring as watching 22 prima-donnas kicking a bag of air around a field for 90 minutes????? ;-)

  • Comment number 18.

    I heard a story that Stirling Moss picked up a girl's phone number while driving round Monaco one year, is that true? Quite impressive if so

  • Comment number 19.

    I think Monaco has the potential to be a belter this year. Already this year we've seen the effect of cars in completely different phases of tyre degradation overtaking each other all around the track, not just in the DRS zone. Add to that the fact that this track is all about mechanical grip and not aerodynamics, making the tyre performance even more key. Add to that the amount of clutter there will be offline with 78 laps of soft and super-soft tyres. I reckon just a couple of plucky midfielders going out of sequence with pit stops and we will see some great action. Finger's crossed!!

  • Comment number 20.

    Interesting blog - I particularly enjoy the insight into what the fans actually get to see without paying hundreds or thousands - but is this the BBC or Page 3!? I thought Monaco was sophisticated, not a place of casual arse-grabbing.

  • Comment number 21.

    It's not a patch on it's older brother - The Rallye Automobile Monte-Carlo. Less of the 'hangers on' and 'beautiful people' and more of enthusiasts!! As it should be
    Saying that, Monaco should always be on the F1 calendar - tradition is an important part of sport - even F1.

  • Comment number 22.

    Despite all the glitz and glamour the Monaco GP is usually a dull procession. Whether or not the Pirelli tyres disintegrating will liven things up or make drivers even more cautious remains to be seen. Hopefully it's a corker this year but sadly I think the hype won't be justified. I'd love to be proved wrong!

  • Comment number 23.

    @22 I disagree, Monaco sometimes throws up the most exciting race of the year. There was one in the 80's I remember ('82 I think) when the lead changed about 3 or 4 times on the last lap as people crashed or run out of fuel. The thing with Monaco is that you can never be sure what's going to happen :)

  • Comment number 24.

    Monaco is a classic circuit and I can't imagine the season without it.

    It requires a very different type of setup for the car and skill from the driver. It's incredibly enjoyable to watch if for no other reason than the contrast to any other circuit in F1.

  • Comment number 25.

    It is a bizarre occasion when I defend Monaco, but I feel 2 points need to be highlighted . First context,yes its a bit processional ,but its one of those times when racing gives a little to atmosphere and big event . In a 20 race calendar(possibly)that doesnt seem over excessive. Secondly and I stress its not my cup of tea,Monaco is the tight,slow precise, mechanical grip, driver weighted end of the circuit spectrum.As opposed to say Spa /Hockenheim style foot on floor tracks.Together they make the series a all round test of man and car. So enjoy Monaco for what it is and watch its quality presented show on the Beeb ,for free,without adverts and pray that Rupert /Voldermort is not allowed to steal my weekend viewing

  • Comment number 26.

    The new tyre rule has made qualifying a joke. Competitors are better off not taking part and saving tyres for the race. How is that an improvement ?
    Yes, the races are slightly more entertaining that the last few seasons, if you can fool yourself into thinking the Red Bulls are not 1 second a lap faster than any car on the grid. Lewis Hamilton in that car would clean up.

  • Comment number 27.

    If Silverstone provided such poor racing facilities, we would not have a British GP. It's just an ego trip for the elite but has never been a race.

  • Comment number 28.

    I love watching the cars go round Monaco. So close to the walls, sliding everywhere. Looking forward.

  • Comment number 29.

    Just a few points to make here:

    - As has been said, people complaining F1 is boring obviously haven't been watching. Go away, watch the Spanish GP (which is usualy one of the most processional races of the year), or even better, watch China!

    - The tyres issue is an interesting one; in some races, the level of tyre wear has caused qualifying position to become less important. For the top teams, it still is, but anyone in the midfield could arguably not bother. I think they'll need to try and find a slightly better balance and aim for 2-3 stops per race, rather than 4. Which, as I understand it, is what they're going for this weekend.

    - lol @ the Stirling Moss comment

  • Comment number 30.

    Skullcrush... first few races lacking excitement? Seriously? Did you watch China? or even read about it? Watching Hamilton's final stint surge is quite literally the only time watching sport I have actually been "on the edge of my seat". And the last race out in Barcelona wasn't bad, I don't think you can criticise a race for not being exciting when it is won by merely half a second. Sure we didn't get the wheel to wheel finale but it was still pretty thrilling.

    I agree with Alan visa vie tyres, effectively necessitating 4 stops and so 5 sets of tires is too much tyre wear and a bit silly. I don't mind the number of stops par se but if the tyre wear is going to be that bad then maybe teams should get 4 sets of each type of tyre (but one set only becomes available for the race and not quali?) That way there is still some benefit to trying to get through quali 1 on the harder tyre but there is still a point in the midfield teams who get to q3 actually bothering with it.

    The other issue on tires for me is the speed differences. Now fine the harder tire needs to be some kind of time penalty against the slower but I think the two second a lap difference that we saw in Barcelona was a bit extreme, it just simply gives a driver on the hards no chance to defend against a driver on the softer compound and it seems a little too extreme in my mind.

  • Comment number 31.

    Monaco is more of an event than a race, but it can still be pretty interesting. As I recall, last year Robert Kubica pulled off an excellent third place in what should have been a midfielder Renault, because Monaco is much more about the ability of the driver to push the car to the edge of its potential than simply to put their foot down and power round.

    Hopefully the new tyres and other changes will make this a bit more exciting, and the massive marbles the Pirellis leave should make things very interesting in the later stages. Watch out for some serious action after the last round of pit stops from those running with fewer stops.

    P.S. #30 Carior: your French and Latin need a little revision. It's 'vis-à-vis' and 'per se'.

  • Comment number 32.

    i agree with poster no 5 i certainly love watching f1 so i wish people like poster no 3 would stop moaning.

  • Comment number 33.

    good luck to jenson and lewis for tomorrow`s race hope they can beat vettel

  • Comment number 34.

    Anyone posting on this who hates F1...why are you here in the first place?

    To the millions.....To the MILLIONSSSS of F1 fans out there...Monaco is the one of the jewels in the F1 calender. We all know this. I'm going to go for Hamilton on Pole. Who cares if there is no overtaking? I don't. Just to see the speed, how close they are to the edge, seeing how the tyres will pan out, it's all very fascinating. But if there is to be overtaking, surely it's going to be Kobayashi xD Enjoy the weekend fans!

  • Comment number 35.

    Its a real test of the drivers concentration and ability to control the corner around those tight streets.

    Ok not great for over-taking which some might want to see but its good to have tracks that provide different tests.

  • Comment number 36.

    hi there i saw the crash in practice and the perez one on saturday seems somethings wrong as they both had the same kind of accident at the same place. plus why dont they get rid of this stupid chicane, anyway its allways been a stupid place to make accidents happen in the past and the present.

  • Comment number 37.

    Well for me F1 sucks since greedy Bernie and his myriad of companies decided to turn it into some sort of Hollywood movie with no script and cheap thrills. I almost feel at times Red Bull are hiding their pace embarrassed that they are so much faster than everyone else when it matters. The kers has been welcome ish as before overtaking was virtually non existent but now it feels forced. I sit watching the mess that is the GP listening to commentators that barely know what’s going on track its so complicated as to who is where and doing what strategy. The only time you know what the proper order of things is at the start and at the end. Well Bernie congrats on the mess you made but at least you lined your pockets!!! Also good to see the new teams doing so well its not like they are getting in everyone’s way and finishing 10 minutes behind…

  • Comment number 38.

    Monaco is one of the best circuits because there is absolutely no margin for error. It's thrilling just watching how close those cars get to the barriers and knowing that if the drivers get it wrong, they're going to lose a wheel.
    Spa is my favourite circuit, though. I used to love Hockenheim before they turned it into a slow parade past the grandstands and cut out the long straights. Come on Bernie, get it sorted!

  • Comment number 39.

    I would love to believe that F-1 was a real sport as it could be much more exciting. But, alas, it is in the league with “Wrestle Mania” and in fact is just a big show like the singing competitions that are choreographed for maximum effect. The allowing of changing of tires and repairs at the stopping of the race in Monaco, just underlined the fact in a rather classless and blatant way. Obviously the race managers think we are all dopes. Their lack of respect towards us causes me to lose my own respect for them. Hamilton’s being black is an obvious handicap for him and as well is is all too clear. I certainly wish that wasn’t so, but it’s just so plain too see. If you had as many black racers as there are Germans and those of Germanic tribe origins, you’d see a very different kind of racing. But then the supremacists wouldn’t be too happy, now would they? We already notice how the babies in charge use women almost exclusively as “eye candy”, so why should anyone expect much from this type of people?

  • Comment number 40.

    Thanks Sarah, for some amusing perspectives on the F1 world, not to forget the puns.
    Something of a more serious nature from the BBC website today:
    Will the FIA really turn a blind eye to something as desperately undemocratic?
    I would feel obligated to no longer subscribe in any way to F1 if the Bahrain race goes ahead under such circumstances. It would be disgracefully venal of the administrators to allow it.


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