Monaco Grand Prix: Old-school F1 thrills and spills return, credit cards accepted
It is motorsport’s biggest weekend of the year. On one side of the Atlantic, the snaking streets of Monaco host the most ostentatious event in sport while, on the other side, a 2.5-mile oval circuit is home to the self-styled ‘Greatest spectacle in racing’.
Monaco or the Indy 500, take your pick. Rascasse, Casino Square, Sainte-Devoté, or The Brickyard. The claustrophobic confines of Monte Carlo, or the vastness of the Indianapolis arena, with its four huge 90-degree bends.
This year, there is something for F1 fans in both races: the titanic battle brewing between Vettel and Hamilton (pictured) will add spice to the Monaco F1 menu while, in the US, Fernando Alonso’s one-race sabbatical from Formula 1 has already sparked huge interest – especially as Alonso has qualified a remarkable fifth, despite turbo problems.
Mind the walls
Monaco is a race that shouldn’t take place. F1 cars have no place on the sinewy street circuit, with its impossibly narrow race space and barriers (pictured) that cars must kiss if they are to eke out the fastest laps.
And these laps will be fast. Based on what we’ve seen already this year, you can expect records to tumble.
Monaco demands precision like no other circuit and that, of course, is the attraction. This year, the challenge will be greater than ever.
That’s because 2017’s F1 cars are wide, extremely wide – 2metres, compared with a relatively svelte 1.8metres last season.
That means anyone trying an overtake – or being overtaken – has 40cm less track to play with.
To put it in old money, that’s 16inches less road space, on a circuit where every inch is precious.
For the likes of Lance Stroll or Jolyon Palmer, simply completing the race will be an achievement.
For others, it means more kissing of those barriers… there’s some great Sky footage of Kimi squeezing an Armco til it wobbles. That’s how tight this circuit is.
Let’s hope the teams have brought extra touch-up paint: they’re going to need it.
Clash of the F1 titans
Lewis Hamilton has won at Monaco twice, Sebastian Vettel (pictured) just the once, so neither can really claim to be a master of Monte Carlo.
Nico Rosberg – remember him, the World Champion? – won in 2013, 14 and 15.
Alain Prost won four years out of five in 1984-88 and, as for Ayrton Senna, he took the big trophy a remarkable six years out of seven in 1987-93.
Other big winners here include the likes of Michael Schumacher, Graham Hill, Jackie Stewart, Stirling Moss.
So Hamilton and Vettel still both have something to prove at mighty Monaco. But that’s not why victory for either of the main title contenders would be sweet this year.
Vettel goes into this grand prix with a slender six-point lead over Hamilton, the sort of advantage that can vanish in the blink of a pitstop or the frustration of a poorly-judged hairpin … one called Loews or Rascasse, say.
Mercedes’ power advantage – they still have a power advantage, don’t they? – should count for far less on Monaco’s streets. But, if we’ve learned anything this season, it’s that Merc and Ferrari can both pull it out of the bag when the pressure is on.
And any power advantage the Mercs do have could be offset by their long-wheelbase chassis, which will be less nimble around the bendy bits than the Ferraris.
Much as it would be nice to think Red Bull could repeat their 2016 performance and grab pole, then lead the race, they’d have to better both the on-form Ferraris and both the on-form Mercs too.
One consolation for Red Bull is that, if they don’t lead the race, they won’t be able to chuck it away like they did last year when they somewhat carelessly told Daniel Ricciardo to pit for new tyres but forgot to get the new tyres ready. Oopsies.
Hit the rewind, Button
He’s back, for one race only. Well, unless Alonso decides that driving in a circle is better than driving in a McLaren, and refuses to return to F1.
Jenson Button has won at Monaco but, and it’s a big but, arrived in the Principality with exactly no time logged in a 2017-spec F1 car.
That’s no time with the extra width and no time with the extra cornering forces; however, he does have plenty of experience of the frustrations of trying to extract performance from a recalcitrant McLaren Honda. Poor Jenson.
Button expects to have a sore neck after practice and his physio, Mikey ‘Muscles’ Collier (pictured), has been flown in to lend a strong hand or two in that department.
On the one hand, it’s fair to say Button won’t be under too much pressure this weekend, though he’ll be keen to get one over on team-mate Stoffell Vandoorne.
On the other hand, it’s also fair to say this weekend is as good a chance as McLaren will get to score points in 2017, if they can get their cars to the finish.
Sadly, it’s more than likely that Button’s 2017 Monaco adventure will end early enough to allow him to watch Alonso’s Big Indy Adventure on the telly.
Monaco’s brilliant, brutal history
This circuit has produced some of F1’s most memorable moments – amazing drives, appalling tragedies, all within a popping champagne cork of Monaco’s OTT wealth.
Think back to 1996, when only three cars finished the race. Panis, Coulthard and Herbert all got their 1996 trophies for being the last men standing after a long day of crashes and collisions in the wet.
Talking of wet drivers, in 1955 double World Champion Alberto Ascari crashed his Lancia D50 out of the lead into the harbour, and had to swim to safety. Having survived that scare with just a broken nose, he died four days later while test driving a Ferrari at Monza.
The only other driver to stick his car in the water was Australian Paul Hawkins, who escaped unhurt as his Lotus sank to the harbour floor during the 1965 race.
And then there is Senna’s (pictured) arrival on the scene in 1984, surfing his Toleman to second and being denied a win in the wet only because the race was stopped early.
If Monaco floats your (large, expensive) boat, a new book by sports writer Malcolm Folley – Monaco, Inside F1’s Greatest Race – will make great bedtime reading, looking at F1 down the decades through the prism of Monaco. And Monaco is one hell of a prism.
Will history be made this year? It will certainly be the fastest Monaco GP we’ve seen but, whatever happens, Monaco will be a masterclass in precision driving. It always is.