The Grand Prix de Monaco is perhaps the most glamorous and famous automobile race in the world. It is one of three comprising the Triple Crown of Motorsport; the other two are the 24 Hours of Le Mans, also in France and the Indianapolis 500 in the United States. When no race is on, you can walk above the track, with excellent views of much of the circuit. It’s easy to imagine an F1 racing car with its high-pitched growling engine and its body painted in vibrant team colors zooming along!
Usually held on the last weekend in May, the race speeds through the city streets of Monte Carlo and beside la Condamine, the location of Monaco’s harbor. The circuit includes raised sections, tight corners, and a narrow track, making it one of the most demanding circuits in Formula One racing. Drivers have been known to crash and drop into the harbor. This is a race that really is an ultimate test of driving skills.
The course also includes a tunnel. The intense sunlight in the drivers’ eyes, when exiting and facing the fastest section of the track – then immediately braking into a tight series of turns – requires incredible driving skills to avoid disaster. The spectators love it, the drivers not so much! There are also hairpin turns and a straight stretch along the water.
The first Monaco Grand Prix took place on 14 April 1929; it was won by William Grover-Williams, driving a works Bugatti Type 35B. Through the following decades, many drivers became popular heroes, such as the British Graham Hill. With five Monaco wins in the 1960s -and movie-star looks, he became known as “Mr. Monaco.”
Among other legendary drivers in Monaco are the five-times world champion Juan Manuel Fangio, the 51-year-old Louis Chiron, Niki Lauda, Stirling Moss, Jim Clark, Jackie Stewart, and Lewis Hamilton.
In 1970, safety became a major issue for drivers. As a result, barriers were placed at points to prevent drivers from going into the Mediterranean Sea, personal cars near the track were no longer permitted, and the pits were relocated – as were nearby buildings, trees, lamp posts, glass windows, and even a train station which sat too close to the raceway.
During each Grand Prix weekend, temporary grandstands are erected around the circuit – especially along the harbor. Rich and famous spectators enjoy the race from their boats and yachts. Many hotels are booked a year in advance, while residents rent out their homes for birds’ eyes views of the race.
And when the race is over, there’s plenty to see in Monaco…
By John Pekich producer, director, actor and writer, especially of original Sherlock Holmes and Victorian Mysteries in Cape May, New Jersey, USA