The Monaco Grand Prix is an intoxicating mix of ingredients that, individually, shouldn’t work and yet somehow all blend together into a seductive cocktail. F1 journalist Matt Youson tries to figure out the recipe for F1’s answer to Sex on the Beach…
Some F1 venues are fabulous, some are terrible. Monaco manages to be both at the same time.
The Monaco Grand Prix is often referred to as the jewel in F1’s crown – and if by that people mean it’s hard, expensive, shiny and of little actual value, than I’d have to agree. Looking around the town and the tribunes and the harbour, it seems like it’s full of spectators having a marvellous time – but as a work place, it can be a bit of a slog.
That’s generally the way at street races: shoehorning a track into a place that doesn’t usually have a track is difficult. But Monaco has had 70 years’ practice at getting it right – and everything here is pretty slick – but it’s still a case of making the most of a bad situation. So when you jump on the plane to come here, you’re not necessarily jumping for joy.
But somehow, every year Monaco works its magic. As you ride the shuttle bus from Nice Airport, as it sweeps past impossibly pristine beaches, terracotta villas and the turquoise Mediterranean of the French Riviera, and arrive in a town that completely gives itself over to motor racing, you can’t help but start to enjoy it.
Monaco is a hopeless anachronism as a racing circuit but there’s value in that too. It is unchanging: the circuit raced on this week by Vettel and Hamilton is (more or less) the same one raced on by Prost and Senna, Fittipaldi and Stewart, Hill and Clarke, Fangio and Moss.
Not that you’ll hear any of the truckies singing the virtues of unchanged Monaco. For them it’s a grind, a town of narrow streets, high kerbs and low-hanging branches – three things you really don’t want to contemplate when driving a pristine 44-tonne truck. Then there’s the quayside paddock. Limited access means setting up one motorhome at a time – which means a lot of waiting around followed by furious activity compressed into a short space of time.
Like a travelling funfair, the bright lights are there to dazzle so no one sees what’s going on behind the rides.
And there are those who love it. Photographers, for example, adore Monaco. They stand closer to the cars here than anywhere else – there are a couple of places around the track where they could reach out to high five the drivers. And then there are those interesting backdrops. If you don’t like the cobalt blue waters of the harbour, walk 50 metres and shoot against completely different scenery.
There’s so many good spots, the photographers are divided as to which is the best: some like the swimming pool, others like Mirabeau, still others say shooting from way up high on the Rocher de Monaco and frame the cars as they go around Rascasse in between the renaissance buildings. It’s the antithesis of Silverstone or, in the modern era, Yeongyam, where you’re kept back and get to photograph a car with the long lens against a backdrop of grey sky.
For the press, it’s somewhere in the middle and I guess your opinion of Monaco is ultimately coloured by the quality of the race. 2011 was fascinating, until a red flag robbed it of a grandstand finish. Before that it’s difficult to remember a thrilling dry running of the Monaco Grand Prix. Passing is next to impossible so the race can be a procession. Seven times in the last decade, the man on pole has gone on to win, usually without drama.
Hopefully that’s not the way this year, and there’s every chance it won’t be. If anything, 2012 is proving to be a more unpredictable season than 2011. Hopefully we’ll have different strategies, heavy tyre degradation and cars slithering and sliding their way around this most slippery of circuits.
If that happens then this could be a classic.