"The Monaco GP is the race that defines/highlights the pinnacle of motorsports" - Formula One fans could argue. If that is the case, there is something utterly wrong with one's concept about racing. Or not. Here's why.
Every motor sport fan around the planet tunes into the Monaco Grand Prix for three reasons:
- It is one of the biggest racing events in the world
Okay, that last one may not be a 100% accurate definition, so let's rephrase it to "celebrities in tight clothes get together in small streets surrounded by old buildings from 100+ years ago, hotels left over from the 60s and 70s, a mountain and the Mediterranean - powered by yachts and ladies in bikinis aboard".
And let us not forget about the multiple-hundred-horsepower machines with wings circling around the port and the main roads of said town. In fact, let's stick with this latter idea and imagine taking away everything stated above.
It is virtually impossible to pass at the Hungaroring, it's a little bit like Monaco without the houses.
Unless Murray Walker is very much mistaken, there is a considerably high percentage of truth in the statement above. Do look for a fan of the Hungaroring, though, it will be an exciting journey around the globe. Sign up to a Principality-lovers' hunt on the other hand, your trips ends on your very doorstep.
There has certainly enough drama, history and stories been conveyed at the event since its conception in 1929. And indeed, if you had to choose one from the F1 calendar to attend personally, this would be it. On the actual racing side of it, it looks much different, though.
Putting it bluntly: Monaco is every race driver's and engineer's nightmare. No one ever said it was actually a good idea to put high-power race cars on such tight streets. The barriers are close, the road is narrow, the race is short, shunts are big, getting use of aerodynamic advantage is close to zero, weather is unpredictable, overtaking is next to impossible and the safety car is a much seen guest in P1.
If you imagined a modern Formula One car as a beast, you couldn't find a place far more remote from its natural habitat than the slopes of Monte Carlo. These cars want to go fast around quick corners, yet they have to tackle bumps, bus stops, crossroads, hairpin turns and the lot. The parking lot, that is. The terrain is artificial, without any potential of showing off the capabilities of the car. Especially the ones with wings attached to them. Former F1 and current LMP1 driver Alex Wurz was quoted on Midweek Motorsport, saying LMP1 cars have just a great deal amount more of downforce in Le Mans configuration (the lowest for the WEC season) than F1 cars at Monaco (the highest for their season). In other words, no engineer would take it into consideration to design a car specifically for Monaco. For that matter, you could put NASCAR stock cars there as a reference, it would still be an impossible idea for both.
Returning to the "beast" comparison, racing an F1 car around Monaco is like putting a wild tiger in an expensive hotel room and waiting for something awesome to happen.
One one hand, the beast might just settle in and fall asleep in the discouraging and alienating environment. On the other hand, awesomeness might set in, but mostly for all the wrong reasons then: the wildcat goes berserk.
"Real" racing is more defined by tracks naturally following the landscape, evolving from connecting points A and B - relatively far from each other - the shortest/fastest/most convenient way without intruding the terrain much. Most of these tracks are now dead but can still be traced: Rouen-les-Essarts, Clermont-Ferrand, Reims-Gueux, etc. and some of them are still very much present as Spa-Francorchamps or the Nürburgring.
Arguably, these tracks died because the beasts they spawned over-evolved their habitat and went rampaging in cages specially designed for their needs.
Where does Monaco fit in there? Neither boxes. And it's a one-off event. That's why we love it: we take the wildcat to the hotel room, marvel its beauty up-close, let it trash the place, throw some bait at it as a prize, get a laugh, walk off, carry on as usual, return the next year.
The worst place is the best place for a zoo, but every zoo is a fake one. Still, we go to zoos, because we get to see the real thing.
Marvelling fake. And we just love it.
All images are of Creative Commons licence, except "Hangover tiger"