We should have been enjoying the Formula 1 world championship’s 67th visit to Monaco this weekend. Instead, 2020 will be the first F1 season since 1954 not to feature this challenging and polarising event
Once considered a thoroughly dissolute and degenerate destination compared with more genteel neighbours such as Nice – Queen Victoria notably declined to visit while touring the area – Monaco has reinvented itself several times over the past two centuries.
First with the construction of the casinos, later as a tax-sheltered bolthole for the rich and famous. For much of that time the Monaco Grand Prix has been central to the Principality’s assertion of its identity.
When the forerunner of the modern FIA said non to the Automobile Club de Monaco’s request to be officially recognised as a national sporting authority – there was the small technicality of the Monte Carlo Rally not actually taking place on Monegasque soil – club grandee Antony Noghes hit back by proving he could organise an international motor race on the streets.
In the early years of the world championship, the restoration of the Monaco Grand Prix was a foundation of the newly ascended Prince Rainier’s strategy to rebuild the economy and rinse a national reputation tainted by ties to Nazi Germany.
And while its inscrutably tight confines might seem unsuitable for modern motor racing, they’ve been like that since William Grover-Williams fended off Rudolf Caracciola for victory in 1929, when the course’s hazards included tram rails, cliffs, brick walls and lamp posts.
Sometimes processional, often dicey, the Monaco Grand Prix will be missed this year – here are the 10 editions Autosport rates as the best…
10. 1992: Puncture puts pin in Mansell’s winning streak
On any track, on any weekend, Williams and Nigel Mansell were a virtually unbeatable combination in 1992. The FW14B’s active suspension was less of a factor in Monaco than elsewhere, perhaps, but ‘Our Nige’ had a history of frustration at this venue and wouldn’t be denied. Or would he?
On pole by almost a second from team-mate Riccardo Patrese, Mansell rocketed into an early lead as Ayrton Senna mugged Patrese for second place. But Senna’s McLaren simply wasn’t in the same league as the Williams, and by lap 60 Mansell had over 30s in hand.
Senna’s cause hadn’t been helped by Michele Alboreto spinning the unwieldy Footwork in his path. Neither did Ivan Capelli’s bizarre accident at Rascasse in which the Ferrari came to a halt on its side with one rear wheel perched on the barriers – what might have been dealt with by a safety car deployment in later years was covered by waved yellow flags.
Senna would later liken these final laps to driving on ice, but he was utterly resolute – and the huge Dayglo-and-white rear wing of his MP4/7 remained an implacable barrier in Mansell’s path
But with just over eight laps to run, Mansell felt a disconcerting sensation in the seat of his pants, as if a tyre were deflating. He pitted for replacements and emerged seven seconds behind Senna.
In those days one set of Goodyears was resilient enough for a race distance but Senna’s had long since given of their best in the chase, and Mansell charged back onto his tail within a lap and a half. What had been a run-of-the-mill Monaco runaround became a thriller as Mansell darted around, scrabbling to find a gap or create some opportunity.
Senna would later liken these final laps to driving on ice, but he was utterly resolute – and the huge Dayglo-and-white rear wing of his MP4/7 remained an implacable barrier in Mansell’s path. There would be no passing the three-time champion on this day.
9. 1982: Patrese transcends late rain and chaos
“We’re sitting by the start/finish line waiting for a winner to come past,” harrumphed James Hunt on the BBC feed, “and we don’t seem to be getting one.”
The denouement of the 1982 Monaco Grand Prix played out to the general bafflement of all concerned, not least a TV director who might have been excused for having fallen into a mid-afternoon torpor. From the moment Alain Prost’s polesitting Renault team-mate Rene Arnoux spun out of the lead at the Swimming Pool on the 15th lap, Prost had at least one hand on the winner’s trophy.
So serene was Prost’s progress, so wide and inelastic the gaps to second-placed Riccardo Patrese’s Brabham and the sole Ferrari of Didier Pironi in third, that attention naturally turned elsewhere in search of action. Keke Rosberg’s attempts to relieve a recalcitrant Andrea de Cesaris of fourth place was the only show in town as the laps ticked by and oppressive-looking clouds gathered overhead.
The first drops of rain fell on lap 52 of the 76, but still Prost led with imperious hauteur, and off went the director to sleep, missing Rosberg crashing out of the race. By lap 73 the rain had intensified enough to make the tyres glisten but Prost still had a good eight seconds in hand over Patrese – until his Renault’s rear end snapped out of line after exiting the chicane, slamming into the barriers.
New leader Patrese also asked too much of his rear tyres, slithering around on the run down to the Loews hairpin and coming to rest as Pironi – his Ferrari missing its nose box – and a wing-less Derek Daly came by. But even before Pironi came past the start-finish line to begin his final lap, his engine began to stutter and he ground to a halt in the tunnel.
Daly then stopped on the run to the Rascasse as his transmission gave up. Where was de Cesaris? Unseen in the excitement, he’d halted earlier in the lap, also out of fuel.
Amid the torrent of surprises, Patrese – also unrecorded by the cameras – had been pushed by the marshals, away from what was a dangerous position. Offering a silent prayer, he bump-started his Brabham on the slope down towards Portier… and delivered Hunt the closure he desired.
8. 2016: Hamilton capitalises on Ricciardo’s tyre turmoil
A case study in how even in this data-driven, micromanaged age of Formula 1 the unique environment of Monaco can flummox the most well-drilled of teams. Heavy rain around lunchtime set the stage for a tense race which began behind the safety car on a soaked but gradually drying track, as polesitter Daniel Ricciardo’s Red Bull led from the Mercedes pairing of Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton.
Wet asphalt on a circuit that ruthlessly punishes the tiniest of errors added to the sense of imminent peril, as did the fact that both Mercedes drivers were under caution from team boss Toto Wolff after colliding with each other in Spain two weeks earlier. Once the safety car released the field Ricciardo pulled away as Rosberg slithered and dithered in his wake, having let the temperature seep out of his tyres. Would he now obey a team order to let Hamilton past?
There was chaos in the Red Bull garage as mechanics fumbled for the right tyres, and Hamilton swept by as Ricciardo reached the end of the pitlane
Remarkably he did, but by then Ricciardo was 13s up the road and mulling a switch to intermediate tyres as the track dried. Both Ricciardo and Rosberg duly stopped for fresh rubber but Hamilton, in consultation with the Mercedes pitwall, nursed his tyres for another seven laps, by which time it was dry enough for slicks.
When Ricciardo followed suit there was chaos in the Red Bull garage as mechanics fumbled for the right tyres, and Hamilton swept by as Ricciardo reached the end of the pitlane. For the following 45 laps Hamilton had to defend from a rival whose frustration was matched only by his determination to reclaim the lead.
It was a masterclass of defensive driving – and even when it looked as though Hamilton had the race in the bag, rain in the closing laps threw the outcome into doubt once more. But he clung on to secure what was only his second Monaco Grand Prix win.
7. 1970: “Taxi driver” Rindt dispatches Brabham
Jack Brabham is said to have seen something of himself in Jochen Rindt, and indeed both of them were outwardly quiet and undemonstrative but mechanically gifted and entrepreneurial – and fiercely competitive behind the wheel. Rindt drove for Brabham in F1 in 1968 but the Repco engine was no longer competitive and he reluctantly took the risk of moving to Lotus, where the cars were always fast… if fragile.
Come 1970 and Brabham, now aged 44 and already considering an offer from Bernie Ecclestone to buy his team, was looking to cash out on a high. The new monocoque BT33 chassis, allied to Cosworth power, was fast enough for Brabham to have claimed the opening round of the championship in South Africa. In Monaco, though, he’d need to do something about the three cars ahead of him on the grid: Jackie Stewart and Chris Amon in Marches, and his old team-mate Denny Hulme in the new McLaren M14.
Four places further back was Rindt, a man deeply troubled. He’d sat out the previous year’s Monaco Grand Prix with a broken nose and fractured jaw, the legacy of a shunt in Spain caused by aerofoil failure. From his hospital bed he’d begun a letter-writing campaign which helped cause those ghastly high-mounted wings to be banned – but not without cost.
For a while he and Lotus boss Colin Chapman hadn’t been on speaking terms. Eventually they’d agreed to renew their partnership for 1970 on the promise of a fast and radical new car, plus the freedom for Rindt to run an F2 team in his own name with Ecclestone, his manager. Rindt was indeed following a similar trajectory to Brabham, who had struck out on his own years earlier.
PLUS: Formula 1’s great Lotus landmarks – Lotus 49
But in its early form the new Lotus 72 wasn’t working and, after a huge accident in Spain, Rindt refused to race it in Monaco, reverting to the venerable 49C. That he was not a man in harmony with the world was made obvious in the run-up to the race when, during a disagreement with an overly zealous policeman over the visibility of his credentials, Rindt kicked the man in the face and only narrowly escaped arrest.
Held up twice by backmarkers, Brabham became painfully aware his lead was now in single figures as Rindt closed in. Even so, he was 4.4s up as he began the penultimate lap
For almost the first half of the race Rindt drove, in his own words, “like a taxi driver”. He passed just one other car, Henri Pescarolo’s Matra, by which point Brabham had passed Amon for the lead, Stewart having stopped with a broken engine. Transmission failures on Jacky Ickx’s Ferrari and Jean-Pierre Beltoise’s Matra meant Rindt was now fourth.
Showing more fire now, Rindt caught and passed Hulme, then inherited second when Amon’s suspension broke with 19 laps to go. Brabham was 15 seconds up the road, though, which was surely enough margin.
Held up twice by unhelpful backmarkers, Brabham became painfully aware his lead was now in single figures as Rindt closed in. Even so, he was 4.4s up as he began the penultimate lap.
That’s when Rindt punched in his fastest of the race. At the final corner, having been baulked once more by backmarkers, Brabham went off-line to lap Piers Courage and slithered off into the barrier, leaving a hugely surprised Rindt to take the chequered flag.
6. 1933: Pre-war thriller features 21 lead changes
Today, fans and purists angrily declaim any proposal to tinker with the natural and meritocratic process of determining the starting order for a motor race via times set during a qualifying session.
In the early days of motor racing, though, grids were generally determined by a lottery system in which names were drawn from a hat, and the idea of having the fastest driver starting at the front was stubbornly resisted by race promoters on account of it potentially having a deleterious effect on the spectacle.
In 1933 the Automobile Club de Monaco broke the mould by announcing that drivers starting its grand prix would line up according to the lap times they set during practice. This was also the first significant event of the year to feature a large number of the factory-backed teams which had begun to return to the competitive field after years of economic turmoil.
Among their number was Scuderia CC, a partnership between fan favourites Louis Chiron and Rudolf Caracciola. Sadly, during practice Caracciola lost the service of the brakes on his Alfa Romeo and he went straight into the wall at Tabac, breaking a leg.
Bugatti’s Achille Varzi duly took the honour of becoming the first driver to start from pole position entirely on merit, with Chiron and Baconin Borzacchini (in a Scuderia Ferrari-run Alfa) alongside on the three-car front row. Behind him was Tazio Nuvolari, also in one of Enzo’s cars.
With Borzacchini, Philippe Etancelin and Marcel Lehoux in close attendance for much of the race, Varzi and Nuvolari duelled throughout. And for all that Monaco’s tight layout militates against overtaking, in this race the lead changed 21 times and the outcome was only determined by Nuvolari buzzing his engine on the run up to Massanet on the final lap.
5. 1965: “Mr Monaco” completes Monte-Carlo hat-trick
Graham Hill was already a two-time winner of the Monaco Grand Prix by 1965, and that total might even have been three had his BRM V8 engine not failed with seven laps to go while he was leading in 1962. And while Jim Clark, his chief adversary in the Principality for four seasons now, was absent at the Indy 500, Hill had to contend with the challenge from his new BRM team-mate, the young Jackie Stewart.
Still, this looked to be evolving into a relatively formulaic 1960s Monaco Grand Prix – Hill took pole and shot off into the lead – until lap 25, when the Brit misjudged a move on backmarker Bob Anderson at the chicane and spun up the escape road. Stewart, followed by the Ferraris of Lorenzo Bandini and John Surtees, then Brabham in his eponymous entry, all sailed past as Hill climbed out and pushed his car back onto the course.
As Ferrari team manager Eugenio Dragoni frantically signalled his drivers to work together and speed up, Hill caught them and parlayed a faster exit from Casino Square into an opportunity at Mirabeau
It took 40 laps for Hill to claw back the 30-second deficit to the leading group and pass them one by one. Stewart had spun at Ste Devote after four laps in the lead and quickly deferred to his team leader. Brabham was out of contention, having passed the Ferraris but then stopped because of an oil leak; that left just Surtees and Bandini to pass, and they were aiding Hill’s cause by fighting each other.
As Ferrari team manager Eugenio Dragoni frantically signalled his drivers to work together and speed up, Hill caught them and parlayed a faster exit from Casino Square into an opportunity at Mirabeau, where he claimed the inside line and nosed ahead. Bandini, despite a tenacious defence, fell for the same tactic.
There was still a quarter of the race left to run, though, and Hill had to rebuff the resurgent Surtees over the course of 20 laps before the Ferrari began to run low on fuel. Hill would go on to win here again in 1968 and ’69, but it was here in ’65, after that redoubtable performance, that he earned the nickname ‘Mr Monaco’.
4. 1981: Villeneuve’s sole Monaco triumph
Given Gilles Villeneuve’s remarkable talents it’s unfortunate that he only claimed one win at Monaco, but his victory in 1981 was typically spectacular.
Ferrari’s first turbocharged engine was in the ballpark for grunt, but the chassis in which it was mounted lacked downforce and poise. Chief engineer Mauro Forghieri was a notable ‘ground-effect’ naysayer, believing the performance achieved by rivals – led by the likes of Lotus and Williams – to be rooted in some trickery with the differential. Out of Enzo Ferrari’s earshot, Villeneuve likened the ponderous handling of the 126CK to an elderly Cadillac.
At Monaco Villeneuve somehow contrived to qualify second, while team-mate Didier Pironi was 17th. After a long delay caused by a fire in the Loews hotel – water deployed to extinguish it leaked onto the track – the race got under way with polesitter Nelson Piquet’s Brabham stretching away into an early lead.
Hands – and feet – fully occupied managing the pendulous Ferrari’s nightmarish turbo lag, Villeneuve felt his prospects diminishing – even more so as he observed the Williams of Alan Jones approaching in his mirrors. Posterity frames Villeneuve as a rock ape of a driver, one who would never give an inch; and yet here he demonstrated immaculate racecraft, allowing Jones just enough space to pass.
With Jones in pursuit rather than Villeneuve and his cumbersome laughing stock, Piquet was under pressure – enough for him to blunder on lap 54 of the 76 while lapping Eddie Cheever’s Tyrrell. As Piquet rotated out of the race, Jones took the lead with 30s in hand over Villeneuve, only for his engine to begin to stutter.
A visit to the pits failed to cure the problem – there was air in the fuel line – and Jones rejoined, his Cosworth V8 still spluttering, now just six seconds in front of the hugely determined Canadian. With four laps to go, Villeneuve chanced it – his brakes, a problem throughout the race, felt on the verge of letting go – but he went by at Ste Devote, to the enormous delight of the crowd.
3. 2008: Intermediate gamble helps Hamilton win big
Small mistakes can have big consequences on the tight and unforgiving streets of the Principality. The 2008 Monaco Grand Prix was just six laps old – and it was not only already wet, but the rain was growing yet more persistent – when Lewis Hamilton fractionally misjudged his exit from Tabac and tapped his right-rear wheel against the barrier, popping the tyre off the rim.
Hamilton had made his way up from third on the grid to second place, passing Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen on the opening lap, but this was surely the end of his hopes for victory. The following 15 seconds or so would prove crucial.
Only the Swimming Pool section and Rascasse separated Hamilton from the pit entry. By the time he arrived, McLaren’s probability jugglers had placed their bets on the track drying out and communicated to the garage that he should be placed on intermediate tyres – and fuelled for a long second stint.
With almost 40s in hand over Massa he could stop and still be in the lead
Not having too far to go on three wheels mitigated Hamilton’s time loss, and his cause was aided by an off-track excursion for leader Felipe Massa and a penalty for Raikkonen. And, as predicted – or hoped – the rain ceased and a dry line emerged.
Having emerged from the pits in fifth place, Hamilton retook the lead on lap 33, after Massa pitted, and he stayed out for another 21 laps before making his second stop – just as conditions aligned perfectly for the transition to slicks. With almost 40s in hand over Massa he could stop and still be in the lead.
But there would be no easy cruise for home. Conditions remained tricky, especially off-line, and when Hamilton’s future team-mate Nico Rosberg shunted at the Swimming Pool, the ensuing safety car period enabled his pursuers – now led by BMW’s Robert Kubica – to close in.
Hamilton aced the restart and, when the race was flagged at the two-hour cut-off mark, two laps early, he’d pulled 3.064s clear of Kubica. This, truly, was the cool and collected drive of a champion.
2. 1996: Downpour and drama shape Olivier’s twist
After a misfire consigned Olivier Panis to 14th place on the grid at Monaco in 1996, he skipped dinner and returned to his Ligier garage, searching for words of encouragement.
“I went round the mechanics and said, ‘We can still finish on the podium,'” he recalls. “I saw the looks from them that said, ‘This guy is nice, but he’s fucking crazy.'”
Come the next morning, a different mood prevailed. In the pre-race warm-up session – then a regular fixture on the timetable – Panis circulated fastest of all in his Mugen-engined JS43, the misfire banished. And yet still, as the rain clouds rolled in, this was still surely going to be a race all about the dominant Williams pairing of Damon Hill and Jacques Villeneuve wrestling with Michael Schumacher, who had annexed an unlikely pole position with his ungainly Ferrari F310.
Rain drenched the circuit, enough for the organisers to arrange another practice session, but all this accomplished was to cause more work for tired mechanics as several drivers – including Mika Hakkinen – crashed.
It was no less fraught when the race began, even though the rain clouds had moved on. Three cars spun at the start, Hill passed Schumacher – who then crashed out on the first lap – and a combination of attrition and bravura overtaking enabled Panis to elevate himself to eighth place by half distance.
Wary of being the first to call the crossover point, Panis instructed his pitwall to monitor the first driver to pit for slicks and to report on their progress. It was Hill, and he was instantly quick on the drying line that was just starting to form. Panis followed next time around, but others weren’t so quick on the uptake.
As the clocked ticked round to the two-hour cut-off, the engineers on the Ligier pitwall grew restless: their man was running low on fuel
Now fourth, Panis passed Ferrari’s Eddie Irvine, nudging him off in the process. Only Hill and Jean Alesi’s Benetton were now ahead. Hill’s engine blew on lap 40, and Alesi enjoyed 20 tours in the lead before his suspension collapsed.
Now Panis was in the lead, and the race was certain to be flagged before reaching the 78-lap mark, owing to the slow pace of those early laps. But when? As the clocked ticked round to the two-hour cut-off, the engineers on the Ligier pitwall grew restless: their man was running low on fuel and would have to stop for a splash-and-dash.
Realising that would mean giving up the win, Panis began to lift-and-coast for the corners, and short-shifting at the exits, as David Coulthard’s McLaren grew larger in his mirrors. As Panis passed the pit entry to begin his final lap, his engineer made one last entreaty for him to stop.
That final lap, Panis now concedes, felt like it lasted an age – but it ended with him as the deserving, if unlikely, winner.
1. 1961: Moss drags out-of-date Lotus to remarkable victory
The late Sir Stirling Moss performed many remarkable feats in a racing car, but his finest hour – and his greatest race – was surely the 1961 Monaco Grand Prix, in which he was called upon to superintend an obsolete Lotus powered by a Climax engine giving away at least 30bhp to Ferrari’s latest V6.
PLUS: Sir Stirling Moss’ 10 greatest drives
As Louis Chiron toured the course in an immaculate blue Citroën DS19 ahead of the race start, perhaps he might have recalled his own racing exploits against theoretically superior machinery thirty years previously. Moss had qualified his Rob Walker-prepared Lotus on pole, albeit three seconds off his 1960 time, such were the effects of the move to a 1.5-litre formula.
The British manufacturers, famously, had frittered away development time pushing back against the changes while Ferrari adapted quickly and reaped the benefits. As Richie Ginther’s 156 ‘Sharknose’ surged into the lead from second on the grid in Monaco, Maranello grunt was simply laying down what would be the predominant narrative of 1961.
But this was to reckon without the genius of Moss. After a failed fuel pump cleared Jim Clark (in a newer works Lotus) from his path, Moss dug deep and dispensed with Ginther on lap 14 of the planned 100.
The Ferraris weren’t done, though, and Ginther’s team-mate Phil Hill – who would go on to win the drivers’ title – led the chase. Lap after lap, Moss would glance upwards as he rounded the hairpin outside the station, see where the red cars were in relation to the lamp posts compared with the previous lap, and from there gauge how hard to push and what risks to take with backmarkers. Many were the laps he’d have to attack as if gunning for pole position again.
Ginther gave it his all, closing the gap from 10 seconds to four, but there his progress stalled. Moss would not be denied
Frustrated at seeing Moss continuously dancing out of reach, Ferrari team manager Romolo Tavoni ordered his drivers to swap places at mid-distance so that Ginther, the only one with the new 120-degree V6, could try again. Ginther gave it his all, closing the gap from 10 seconds to four, but there his progress stalled.
Moss would not be denied. And, having crossed the finishing line 3.6s to the good, Moss was credited with sharing the fastest lap of 1m36.3s with Ginther. That was the same as Moss’s pole time a year earlier – with a bigger engine…
PLUS: Race of my life – Sir Stirling Moss