The Monaco Grand Prix is one of the oldest races on the Formula 1 calendar. In fact, it was the second race on the calendar in the first-ever F1 World Championship season, coming after the British Grand Prix at Silverstone.
That year, there were only seven races, but even back then, Monaco stood out as a unique and somewhat strange circuit. It was run over 100 laps, nearly 30% more than the 2021 Grand Prix and lasted three hours and 13 minutes, longer than any other race that year. This was despite it being the shortest track by a long way at just 2 miles, compared to Silverstone’s 2.9 miles and Spa-Franchorchamps’ 8.825 miles.
Of the 21 cars entered into the race, just seven finished. Juan Manuel Fangio won from pole in his Alfa Romeo, with the other six drivers finishing between one and six laps behind the Argentinian.
Three cars broke down, and the remaining 11 were involved in crashes, evidencing the unforgiving nature of the Monte Carlo street circuit.
Today, Monaco remains unforgiving and has one of the highest attrition rates amongst normal races. 2018 saw three cars retire due to accidents, 2017 had five accident-related DNFs, and 2016 had seven drivers fail to finish.
This is all due to Monaco’s tight and twisty nature, lack of runoff areas, and lack of overtaking opportunities.
So given all of these qualities that make Monaco entirely unsuitable for Grand Prix racing, why is it still on the Formula 1 calendar?
Glamour and Prestige
Formula 1 positions itself as a glamorous sport and has made a big deal about attracting the rich and famous to its races. At many venues, you’ll find movie stars, musicians, royalty, and athletes from other sports, but no more so than at Monaco.
Eddie Jordan, the former team owner and F1 pundit, once told the BBC that they always received way more requests for hospitality at Monaco than any other race. Monte Carlo’s marina is filled with superyachts during a Grand Prix weekend as their wealthy owners entertain guests and enjoy the best view of the circuit.
This glamour and prestige is also why other sports host events in Monaco. This includes a round of the EPT, the ATP Tour’s Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters, and the WRC Rallye Monte-Carlo. Like Formula 1, these sports are attracted to the principality because of its heritage and prestige far more so than the facilities on offer.
For a sport that is at the cutting edge of technology, Formula 1 leans heavily on its history. Races and drivers are always compared to those of the past, and there is uproar whenever a classic track is removed from the calendar.
The sport’s new owners have made a point of ensuring that many of F1’s most historic circuits remain on the calendar.
While some Monaco Grands Prix can be somewhat precessional, others are incredibly exciting. The 1992 race is a prime example of this, with Ayrton Senna fending off Nigel Mansell during the close laps of the race, despite having the slower car.
The fine margins for error that the circuit provides has meant that the outcome of the race can be changed at any moment.
Monaco has a much higher proportion of safety cars and red flags than other circuits, though these interruptions don’t typically last long due to the exceptional marshalling that goes on at the track. This means restarts are frequent, creating opportunities for wheel-to-wheel action.
Additionally, qualifying sessions are incredibly tense at Monaco. Watching the drivers at the absolute limit as they slide their cars between the barriers and change direction around the swimming pool complex is mesmerising.
Because the cars are so close to the barriers the entire way around the circuit, Monaco creates a sense of speed that isn’t seen at other tracks. Not even other street races like Singapore and Azerbaijan can match Monte Carlo because they have bigger run-off areas.
Overall, Monaco is objectively not the best race circuit. However, its history, glamour and prestige are what keep it on the calendar and will ensure it remains there for many years to come.