The Principal of Monaco
Set amongst the winding streets of the world’s second smallest and most densely populated principality, the Monaco Grand Prix has, since its inception in 1929, grown to become the most glamorous an high-profile date on the Formula audience of millions, the prestigious race sees cars roar their way around a city-centre circuit at four times the speed it was originally designed for. The Monaco crown is still the most sought-after in motor-racing circles, though today’s event is as much a showcase for the richest men and women on the planet as it is for the world’s most talented racing drivers. From the hotel-sized yachts in the harbour to the celebrity-filled Casino, this is more than a motor race – it’s a three-day playboy’s paradise.
Monaco’s first Grand Prix-style race took place on April 14, 1929, organized by local resident and founder of the Automobile Club de Monaco, Anthony Noges. The circuit’s reputation for speed over safety was established from the word go – the inaugural race was won by William Grover-Williams in a Bugatti 35B, averaging a comparatively impressive 50mph over 100 laps, with hugely inadequate brakes. The winning car’s designer, Ettore Bugatti, said at the time, “I build my cars to go, not stop.”
Over the many years and races that followed only minor amendments were made to the course, most notably the addition of various chicanes and a slight redirection of the circuit around the port in 1973. Today, the circuit measures 2.08 miles (3.37km) and is blessed with some of the most historic and memorable corners in motor racing: St Devote, Mirabeau, La Rascasse, Casino and, of course, the Tunnel to name a few.
Part of Monaco’s appeal is its renowned difficulty. Three-times Formula 1 World Champion, Nelson Piquet, once described tackling the circuit as like, ‘‘riding a bicycle around your living room.” The late, great Ayrton Senna boasts the most wins – six in all, five in consecutive years from 1989 to 1993 – although in the last six years the Grand Prix has been won by six different drivers, with Spain’s Fernando Alonso topping the podium in 2006.
Watching the race
Although Monaco is patently pjite, its grand prix caters for all budgets, whether you’ve arrived by yacht, helicopter or train or have shuffled into town on foot. Clearly, your Monaco experience will largely depend on your view of the circuit – which, in turn, depends on the depth of your pockets or the time you can get here to claim your spot.
Grandstands are erected around the circuit for the duration of the event, and these vary enormously in cost and quality of view. At the top end of the scale, race-day tickets for the grandstand at Virage St Devote – the first comer on the circuit – cost around €420, while a seat in the Piscine stand on the edge of the harbour, or at Place du Casino, will set you back a similar amount. A cheaper alternative, which offer equally dramatic views, are the stands at Virage du Portier, for which tickets cost around €250. Here, spectators can follow the cars round Portier – one of the few possible, but unlikely, overtaking points on the course – before they disappear into the Tunnel.
The best bargains to be had, however, are the general-admission tickets to the Secteur Rocher, a grassy area on a hill above the penultimate corner – Virage de la Rascasse – at the circuit’s western end. Race-day tickets to this section cost just €60 (tickets for qualifying Saturday cost €30) and, as well as offering finer views than the €400 stand below, place you amongst more passionate F1 supporters, arguably giving you a much better racing experience. There’s no seating in Secteur Rocher, so you’ll need to get there as early as possible to stake your claim; for one of the best spots – directly overlooking La Rascasse – hop over the wall to your left at the first opportunity as you walk up the Rocher road.