Race Weekend Central

F1 Midweek: It’s Time to Be Done With Monaco

On May 28, the most notable racing day of the year, Max Verstappen won the 2023 running of Formula 1’s Monaco Grand Prix by 27.921 seconds over second-place finisher Fernando Alonso.

Verstappen is now a two-time winner on the streets of Monaco, having previously conquered the principality in 2021, while Red Bull Racing now has a three-win streak put together owing to Sergio Perez‘s win in 2022.

That’s all well and good. But Red Bullʻs success aside, what isn’t well and good? The racing at Monaco.

Dead serious. This isn’t it.

It was no secret by the end of Sunday’s broadcast that passes for position at Monaco are rare. We all knew that coming in. What the commentary team brought to light for many viewers around the world is more shocking. The last on-track (read, not during pit stops or owing to an incident) genuine pass for the lead at Monaco was in 1996.

Thatʻs right, 1996! Clinton was in the White House. The DVD format had not yet been released to the public. You could still smoke in Pizza Hut. It’s been 27 years.

The overtake in question happened to come in the same race where only three cars of a 22-car field reached the end of the race. I won’t hold that fact over Monaco’s head, but I could if I had to. Rather, I implore you to ask yourself an existential question: why do we do this?

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This isn’t new, either. Much of the discussion surrounding Monaco and its lack of a racing product centers around the ever-increasing size of today’s F1 cars. While passing in the midfield may have been a more realistic feat 10, 20, or 30 years ago, passing for the lead was an issue long before the halo-bearing beasts we see in this era were even pencil marks on a blueprint.

The second-most recent pass for the lead at Monaco came in 1987 when Ayrton Senna hustled his Lotus around Nigel Mansell‘s Williams at the exit of the Nouvelle Chicane. Consider that for a moment. Thirty-six years without an organic pass for the lead! Imagine what we’d be saying were that to be the case at Silverstone. At Monza? God forbid that we have to confront this matter at a Tilke track. Imagine the Marina Bay Circuit saw zero passes for the lead in five years, let alone 36. Singapore’s days would have been numbered without question.

But Monaco, ah, the history!

Yes, and?

I know Monaco has been on the calendar since 1929, only being interrupted in 1939-1944 owing to World War II and 1938, 1945, 1946 and 1947 for financial concerns. Tack on its absence in 1951, 1953 and 1954 due to regulatory indecision – and in 1949 due to the death of Prince Louis II – for good measure. You then have a race that has consistently been on the calendar since 1955. That’s worth something; it really is.

I’m as big a fan of the sights of Monaco as anybody else. There is something to be said for the experience of watching cars fly through the swimming pool chicane, their weight swinging left to right with an almost unearthly sophistication. No other track on the F1 calendar features a proper tunnel. With the potential exception of the upcoming Las Vegas Grand Prix, no race features a more aesthetically pleasing backdrop. That said, the vast majority of us don’t get to take in a beautiful backdrop on TV. The vast majority of us don’t pay the price of admission to gaze at the landscape, and none, absolutely none, of us have seen an overtake for the lead in the past 27 years.

There are plenty of tracks that have been crusaded against over their racing product. Hungary tends to be a bit of a mess. Albert Park in Melbourne was heading on a similar path prior to its 2022 renovations. One thing these circuits have over Monaco is they have a racing product. The Hungaroring and Albert Park circuits both have the courtesy of hosting multiple fully functional DRS zones. Monaco hosts one, which follows a very slow set of final corners and produces overtakes at a fraction of the rate of the other DRS zones on the calendar.

Has Monaco really not had its feet held to the fire simply because it’s the oldest kid in daycare?

I would hope not. But fortunately, someone much more recognizable than myself recently weighed in on the matter as well. Speaking to the media during the Monaco Grand Prix weekend, Christian Horner offered both criticism and praise for the event.

“I think that if Monaco was a new circuit coming onto the calendar now … it would never be accepted onto the calendar,” Horner said.

“So we accommodate Monaco because of its heritage and because of its history. That’s it. I think that you’ve got to evolve. If you stand still, then you’re going backwards, and I think that applies to all aspects of this sport.”

Accommodate. That’s the question. Does Monaco accommodate F1, or does F1 accommodate Monaco? Either way, it’s certainly not an arrangement based on proper racing.

However, evolve? I can live with that term. And Frontstretch might have the answer. Jack Swansey and I recently dissected the question of whether or not Monaco deserves to live on The Pit Straight. Jack’s proposal to save Monaco?

Reprofile the track.

Okay, maybe…

Were Jack in charge, the Nouvelle Chicane would be no more. Blasphemy. The run from the tunnel, with some barrier molding along the way, would become a straight shot to Tabac, maybe with DRS along the way. Tabac would become a wider turn, suitable for overtaking. The Principality can certainly afford it.

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I proposed taking out the second chicane of the swimming pool section and like that, our negotiations ground to a halt. But never fear, I’ve one more proposal for those of you who just can’t lose Monaco.

Make it an All-Star Race.

This may be self-defeating, as there’s not much racing, but why not turn Monaco into an exhibition race? Set up a handsome purse, say $1 million for argument’s sake, with no points on offer. Go the NASCAR route and use the event to test out new scoring, new tires, and new regulations. Do something, anything.

Take a page from NASCAR’s book, much as it may hurt our open-wheeled pride, and have positions drawn from a selection of beer bottles, maybe champagne, actually? Let them line up in their selected positions, no requirement for using multiple tire compounds, and allow refueling. Turn up the engines. This race needs saving, and the possibilities are endless, barring the bureaucratic red tape that inevitably comes along with organizing an event the caliber of a Grand Prix.

Senna was right when he remarked that driving the Monaco Circuit could be similar to driving unconsciously. The mental fortitude and commitment required of those looking to survive this race are beyond question. There’s zero room for error, there’s zero run-off space. It’s no joke. The sad fact remains that one of F1’s crown jewel races features little to no racing.

This has to be fixed.

About the author

Alex is the IndyCar Content Director at Frontstretch, having initially joined as an entry-level contributor in 2021. He also serves as Managing Director of The Asia Cable, a publication focused on the international affairs and politics of the Asia-Pacific region which he co-founded in 2023. With previous experience in China, Japan and Poland, Alex is particularly passionate about the international realm of motorsport and the politics that make the wheels turn - literally - behind the scenes.

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WJW Motorsports

The sad fact remains that one all of F1’s crown jewel races features little to no racing.

Bill B

The only F1 race I regularly watch every year. I am sure I’m not alone. Now part of that is the fact that it’s the greatest day of motorsports during the year, but part is also the visuals from Monaco itself. Would I still watch the F1 race that day, probably but not as much of it.
From what I’ve seen of F1, most of the races are single-file with limited passing affairs. To single out Monaco seems foolish.

DoninAjax

Why pick on Monaco? It’s been a follow-the-leader series at all the tracks for years!

Mike

Most races in formula one are won on the first lap coming out of the first turn. But the cars are quick and fast and the drivers have excellent reflex skills. There is no room for error.

Christopher

A ridiculous position. F1 battles for the lead have been virtually nonexistent for over a decade. And this years Monaco GP was actually very interesting from 4th on back in terms of cars racing each other. Monaco is a fantastic venue that captures everything that is perceived as the exotic aspect of F1: the ultra wealthy watching the most exotic, advanced race series on Earth fly around the streets of a tiny country ruled by an actual Prince, son of a glamorous and beautiful American movie star-Princess, while billion dollar yachts with helicopters and Ferraris parked on their decks moor in the harbor. No other venue has this cachet and no other venue ever will.

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