Desperately Seeking the Monaco Grand Prix

I started off on this lockdown waking up at about 8 ish and now after 5 or 6 weeks of lockdown I’m waking up at 10, if I’m lucky. Of course I’m staying up much later than usual too, sometimes till 3 in the morning watching TV or listening to music on my new favourite app, Spotify.

One app I’ve found really annoying lately though is my calendar. Earlier in the year I downloaded the schedule for this year’s Formula One season to both my Outlook and Google calendars so that every other weekend my phone warbles away telling me that it’s time for qualifying or practice or for the actual race itself.

Last weekend should have been the weekend of the Monaco Grand Prix. It didn’t take place because of course the 2020 season has yet to start, affected like everything else by the Corona Virus pandemic. Pity, because I do love the Monte Carlo event even though it is essentially a race won during qualifying. It is so difficult to overtake around the narrow streets of this small but exclusive principality that make up the race track that pole position is essential.

The first Monaco race I ever watched was the 1970 event. Jack Brabham the 3 times world champion and the only person ever to win a world championship in a car of his own manufacture very nearly won the race. On one of the very last corners he made a mistake and slid into the barriers. Jochen Rindt driving an ancient Lotus 49 slipped past into the lead and won the race. Jochen didn’t even get the chequered flag because the race organisers were looking out for Brabham.

Try as I might, I couldn’t find a video clip on YouTube with a British commentary to show you. There are some available but none that show Jack sliding into the barriers. In those days the UK commentator wasn’t Murray Walker but Raymond Baxter who is perhaps more well known for presenting Tomorrow’s World on the BBC rather than F1. It would be so nice to hear Murray commentating once again but the clip below does show Jack miscalculating that last corner and the French commentator sounds suitably excited.

Later in the season Lotus sorted the game changing Lotus 72 and Rindt went on to amass an unbeatable points tally taking him to a championship he would tragically never live to savour. Rindt was killed in a practice accident at Monza, the home of the Italian Grand Prix.

Getting back to 2020 and even though there has been no actual racing there has been plenty of Formula 1 news. Sebastian Vettel has decided not to renew his contract with Ferrari next year so Ferrari have quickly signed up Carlos Sainz to partner Charles LeClerc. Daniel Ricciardo, once thought of as a contender for the Ferrari seat has announced he is moving to McLaren for 2021 so although not much is happening on the racetrack there has been plenty of F1 news.

Alonso is rumoured to be going to Renault for 2021 so perhaps his F1 career is not over after all. What then will Vettel do? Retire? Take a year off? Lewis Hamilton’s team mate Valtery Bottas is also out of contract at the end of this season so theoretically Mercedes could snap up Vettel and create a super team, Hamilton and Vettel, that could take on all comers. Of course 7 time world champion Hamilton might not be happy about that. He must be anxious to enter the record books as the winner of 8 titles so Vettel might have to sit out the 2021 season.

Alain Prost famously took a year off when he was sacked by Ferrari in 1991. They weren’t too keen about him being uncomplimentary about their car to the press so Ferrari being Ferrari he was quickly shown the door.

During his year off Prost must gave watched enviously as Nigel Mansell romped to the championship in his Williams and so, suitably impressed, Prost decided to begin negotiations to get himself behind the wheel of one of Frank Williams’ cars. Nigel Mansell wasn’t too impressed by this news at all so he promptly walked away and signed up for a season driving Indycars in the USA leaving Prost to head up the Williams team and win another championship.

A year later Frank decided to sign up Ayrton Senna. Then it was Prost’s turn to be unimpressed and he left Williams and retired from racing.

The other night on ITV2 there was a showing of the Senna movie which brought back all the excitement and rivalries of the late 80s F1 world. There was Ayrton looking very clean cut with a new short haircut signing up for McLaren. Ron Dennis the team boss looked happy and Alain Prost was all smiles too. By the end of the season those smiles were wearing a bit thin and a year later it was outright war between the two McLaren drivers.

The film Senna is interesting in a lot of ways. All the footage was taken from the official F1 TV feed and it is clear how Prost lost faith with McLaren and boss Ron Dennis and after two years he was off to Ferrari. When the two drivers came together in Suzuka for the Japanese Grand Prix and Senna was disqualified, Ron Dennis put in a protest even though the result had given the championship to Prost.

Of course the film takes Senna’s point of view and Prost is portrayed as the bad guy. Even the famous interview between Jackie Stewart and Senna is only shown in part although Ayrton is clearly not amused by Jackie’s questions. A year later after winning his third title Senna would admit to purposely pushing Prost off the track as he was fuming about his pole position spot being moved to the dirty side of the track. That may not have been right but neither was purposely crashing into Alain Prost. Senna went way down in my estimation that day and as much as I admire Senna, I’ve never really subscribed to the legend that he has become in the last few years. I remember being at Silverstone in the early 1990’s and being surprised to hear him soundly booed by the fans as he came past.

Senna was killed at the San Marino Grand Prix in 1994 in an accident at the Tamburello corner. His car skated off the circuit into the barriers and although the impact was high it was survivable. Both Berger and Piquet had survived bad accidents at that same corner in the preceding years and even now I remember watching Ayrton’s crash in disbelief. I was certain that he would be OK but sadly that wasn’t the case. In a freak twist of fate the suspension arm of the car flipped back, pierced Aryton’s helmet and dealt him a mortal blow.

When Jack Brabham won at Monaco in 1970, future McLaren boss Ron Dennis was Jack’s chief mechanic, which is a nice link to bring us back to the Monaco Grand Prix. The first race at Monaco was in 1929 and was won by the famous British driver who mysteriously used the pseudonym ‘Williams’. The race gradually became more and more important and became a round of the European Championship in 1936. The first post war event was held in 1948 and in 1950 the race became part of the new World Championship and was won by the great Juan Manuel Fangio.

Stirling Moss won in 1956, 1960 and 1961 and another famous winner at Monaco was Graham Hill who won the event 5 times, a record until Senna surpassed it in 1993. Here is Graham tackling the tight corners of the circuit.

Now compare that to Lewis Hamiton in 2019. Much faster but then again, Lewis was driving a semi automatic Mercedes and didn’t have to do all those manual gear changes that Hill had to deal with.

You might think that with limited overtaking the Monaco Grand Prix can be boring. Take a look at this clip from the 1982 event.

In a lot of ways it’s amazing that the Monaco race has continued up to the present. The F1 cars of today are faster than ever before and they hurtle round these tight and twisty public roads at incredible speeds. Somehow the track seems even narrower or is it just that these modern cars are wider, their wings and fins stretching out to take advantage of every available bit of the slipstream.

The F1 teams return because the glamour of Monte Carlo; the yachts, the casinos, and the famous movie stars and celebrities all make this event the perfect opportunity for the sponsors to sell their wares and link their brand to glitz, glamour and hi technology.

I’m looking forward to the 2021 race already.


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