Monaco Grand Prix: F1's blinging blast from the past

Tunnel vision: Sebastian Vettel enters Monaco’s famous tunnel during the 2017 Monaco Grand Prix
Tunnel vision: Sebastian Vettel enters Monaco’s famous tunnel during the 2017 Monaco Grand Prix

The first time I went to Monaco, I stumbled on a pub where the Guinness was cheaper than in London.

My god, I took advantage of those prices, and almost got punched for spilling some of the black stuff on a rich dude’s loafers.

Later, full of Guinness and self-congratulation for having achieved an affordable night out in Monte Carlo, I went for one last drink in a club, where I was charged €154 for two G&Ts.

The moment you let your guard down in Monaco, it bites you.

Monaco: Oh yes, it bites

Smell the money: This is the Monaco Grand Prix, not the Monte Carlo Grand Prix – Monte Carlo is a district within Monaco, pepperd with flash hotels and casinos
Smell the money: This is the Monaco Grand Prix, not the Monte Carlo Grand Prix – Monte Carlo is a district within Monaco, pepperd with flash hotels and casinos

Those who complain that Monaco is a poor race because there’s little overtaking are missing the point of this circuit.

This place is all about precision, at F1 speeds. Mistakes are heavily punished – yes, the barriers can end your race but anything that drops you down the field, from a tardy pitstop to a broken wing, will hurt, because overtaking is so very difficult.

That doesn’t mean there’s no action – see below for some previous race highlights – and qualifying is supremely important. Monaco deserves its reputation for being the most exciting F1 venue on a Saturday, because grid and track position are more important here than anywhere else.

If you want to know what F1 cars look like when drivers are giving ten tenths, then qualifying at Monaco is the very thing.

Whether it’s accelerating up to 175mph through the curve of the tunnel, before being blinded as you burst into daylight, or negotiating one of the four first-gear corners in a car that’s a bit of a truck at low speeds; whether it’s coping with the rapid rise and fall of the circuit, or leaving a bit of sidewall on the barriers; whether it’s wallowing in the adrenaline-fuelled F1 romance of the place or, well, wallowing a little more in the adrenaline-fuelled F1 romance of the place, Monaco is, quite literally, a blast from the past.

Who said it was boring?

Cleared for take-off: Kamui Kobayashi pilots his Sauber – literally – in the 2012 Monaco race
Cleared for take-off: Kamui Kobayashi pilots his Sauber – literally – in the 2012 Monaco race

It’s not. Watching F1 cars kiss the barriers time and again isn’t exactly dull and there have been plenty of classic moments here over the years.

There have been the crashes, of course – Derek Daly and Jean-Pierre Jarier managed to get both their Tyrrells airborne at St Devote in 1980.

More recently, Jenson Button sat in for Fernando Alonso last year – was it really only last year? – and managed to flip Pascal Wehrlein’s Sauber on to two wheels, leaving it resting on its side against a barrier. Having joked with Alonso that he was going to pee in the car, that accident might have provoked an appropriate catastrophe in Button’s pants department (and an even bigger catastrophe in Wehrlein’s undercrackers).


And there was Alberto Ascari’s particularly impressive crash in 1955, when his Lancia D50 went from the lead to the bottom of the Monaco harbour, via some haybales and sandbags. Sploosh.

Qualifying has provided many F1 memories: Senna in ’88, Schumi in ’96 and, a personal favourite, Kubica’s gob-smacking Saturday in 2010, when he almost put the Lotus on pole.

There have been plenty of race memories too – Senna and Mansell duking it out in ’92, the 1996 event which had just enough finishers – three – for a proper trophy ceremony.

Then there was 2016, when Daniel Ricciardo looked set for victory until he pitted for new tyres – only to find his Red Bull mechanics hadn’t fetched any. That was the day F1 fans found what it takes to wipe the grin off Ricciardo’s face…

Talking of Red Bull…

Thank you, up there: Lewis Hamilton celebrates after snatching victory from a dejected Daniel Ricciardo (left), thanks to a poor Red Bull pitstop in the 2016 Monaco Grand Prix
Thank you, up there: Lewis Hamilton celebrates after snatching victory from a dejected Daniel Ricciardo (left), thanks to a poor Red Bull pitstop in the 2016 Monaco Grand Prix

Mercedes are, as ever, downplaying their chances but if they can nail qualifying, they’ll be all but impossible to pass.

Ferrari’s 2018 car has a slightly longer wheelbase than in 2017 and, while that’s good for aero purposes, it means the beast will be marginally less nimble around Monaco’s tight little curves.

Red Bull should be in with a shout as well – engine power is less of an issue here and their car is a sprightly piece of kit.

The Red Bulls are being talked up by their rivals and they themselves are oozing confidence. The raft of upgrades they brought to the last grand prix – including changes to the wings, sidepods and airboxes – have eaten into the gap between them and the Mercedes-Ferrari lads.

Max Verstappen reckons they’re within 0.2 seconds of Mercedes and, with the rub of the green, they could be challenging for glory at the pointy end of the race.

Watch out for Ricciardo – he really knows how to own this circuit and he’s keen to avenge the disappointment of Red Bull’s 2016 own-goal.

Dear F1, about the tyres…

In the pink: Pirelli’s hypersoft tyres, all ready to be bolted on to a Mercedes in the Monaco pits
In the pink: Pirelli’s hypersoft tyres, all ready to be bolted on to a Mercedes in the Monaco pits

This weekend, it’s all about the hypersofts. Actually, it’s not, really, because Pirelli reckon even these incredibly soft, pink-walled tyres would last the full 72 laps if they had to, thus tyre choice isn’t an issue for the teams.

So it’s a one-stop race, with everyone using ultrasofts and hypersofts.

The hardest tyre available to the teams this weekend (unless it rains) is the supersoft. That’s right, the hardest tyre is called the supersoft.

Next year, expect tyres to range from Walter the Softy, Spongebob Squaretyre and Microsoft at the soft end, to Vinnie Jones, Popeye and Nails at the hard end.

Monaco is easy on tyres, so even those teams who have struggled with their rubber should have no need to sweat about tyre management issues.

Just as long as they remember to bring the things out in time for pitstops…

The grid girls are back

Quick quiz: How did Lewis Hamilton react to the return of grid girls? a) They’re hard-working individuals doing a tiring job b) Women are the most beautiful thing in the world c) Yay, brolly-dollies are back
Quick quiz: How did Lewis Hamilton react to the return of grid girls? a) They’re hard-working individuals doing a tiring job b) Women are the most beautiful thing in the world c) Yay, brolly-dollies are back

That ban didn’t last long … except now they’re not being called grid girls; there will be grid boys too, presumably not being called grid boys.

And they’ll be there to take pictures of the drivers for publicity purposes for watchmaker TAG Heuer, so that’s ok then.

There’s no point in re-hashing the arguments around grid girls here but Lewis Hamilton gets a barfing emoji for his reaction to the news: ‘Women are the most beautiful thing in the world. Monaco is a very elegant grand prix and, when we pull up to the grid and there’s beautiful women on the grid, that’s the Monaco Grand Prix and that’s a lovely thing.’

Bigly, Lewis. At first I thought it was the Trump speaking.

Anyway, get the champagne on ice and the Gucci sunglasses polished, so you look the part too come qualifying on Saturday.

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