The Monaco Grand Prix is indisputably the most dazzling stop on the Formula 1 calendar each year. The tight, 3.3 kilometre street circuit has stood the test of time, and remains a favourite among fans and drivers alike.
Formula One first visited the circuit in 1950, with Juan Manuel Fangio the victor in an Alfa Romeo. Since then, the category has become a yearly visitor to the hallowed asphalt, which remains remarkably true to its original configuration despite some minor alterations. A lap of the Monaco Grand Prix circuit is the ultimate test of courage and car control, and it transpires like this…
A clean exit is absolutely essential out of the final corner in order to carry as much speed as possible down the surprisingly short start/finish straight. Before you’ve had time to contemplate whether or not you glanced the wall on the exit of Turn 19, the next lap has begun.
Almost immediately, you’re hanging on for dear life under braking into Sainte Devote, named after the small chapel that resides at the end of the corner’s run-off. The bumpy, uphill approach into the first turn gives the gearbox an enormous workout, requiring five abrupt downshifts from seventh to second gear in a matter of moments.
Placing your car just millimetres from the left hand wall on entry to Sainte Devote is essential to maximise the radius of the corner, and carry as much speed through the apex as possible. After clipping the inside ripple strip, the next task is to keep the car off the wall on the exit. The natural tendency of an F1 car is to oversteer out of the tricky right hander, thus quick hands to provide some opposite lock is important for the welfare of you, and your multi-million dollar machine.
Its pedal to the metal up the hill and through the gentle bends at Beau Rivage before the long left hander referred to as Massenet. After building speed on the climb up to the third corner on the circuit, it’s another quick shift down through the gears to fourth. The unique challenge of Massenet is to hit two apexes throughout the corner, one on entry, and another on exit in order to be best positioned for Casino Square. You throw the car into the corner and hope that it sticks; otherwise you will have an immediate appointment with the outside wall.
If you’ve made it through Massenet unscathed, the spectacular Casino Square corner awaits before you have a chance to take a breath. The positive camber is welcome relief, as the tight apex can be attacked before you once again step on the loud pedal and dive down the hill. It’s vitally important to miss the colossal bump on the exit of Casino, requiring a dramatic swerve to the right to avoid a painful, suspension destroying landing.
Another tremendously hard braking zone awaits on the entry to Mirabeau, with a hurried couple of downshifts back to second gear absolutely vital to slowing the car down for the tight right hander. You battle to reach a high angle of steering lock in order to kiss the inside kerb before a brief burst of hard acceleration on the exit of the corner. The back end threatens to slide whilst the fight is on to miss the emerging left-hand wall on the approach to the tightest corner in Formula One.
Once again, the brake pedal receives an almighty strike on the approach to the Fairmont Hotel hairpin. Shifting from third to first gear, you attack the tight left hander, reaching full steering lock as soon as possible in order to glance the apex and avoid an altercation with the outside wall. From there, the waiting game must be played before you muster the courage to feather the throttle on exit. The back end of your car will almost certainly step out, and quick hands once again come into play in order to provide some opposite lock and prevent the car from embedding its nose into the left hand wall.
Continuing the sharp decent down the hill, you’re quickly faced with a surprisingly open right hander referred to as Mirabeau Bas. Remaining in a low gear after the brief acceleration out of the hairpin, you throw the car over the inside ripple strip and hang on for dear life on exit, with the wall on the right hand side providing a blunt warning of where not to place your car.
Finally, the gradient begins to level out on the approach to Portier. Remaining in second gear, you reach almost 14,000 revs before crunching the brakes and wrestling the car into the apex of the 90 degree right-hander. The work isn’t over yet, as if you breathe on the throttle a millisecond too early, the rear tyres will lose traction and vicious opposite lock must be applied only millimetres from the outside wall.
After you’ve negotiated the tricky exit of Portier, there is almost enough time for a quick breath before you hurdle into the dark tunnel underneath the Fairmont hotel. In the moments following your plunge into relative darkness, a deceptively narrow right hander awaits, which is taken with the throttle wide open in seventh gear. Flinging the car to within millimetres of the outside wall, your eyes must again adjust to the bright light of day, all of which takes place at just under 300 kilometres per hour.
Next up is the Nouvelle Chicane. Before you’ve adjusted to the mid-afternoon light in Monaco, the 100-metre board is visible and the brakes cry out in pain as you desperately attempt to slow the car before the first left hander. Almost reaching full steering lock twice in a matter of seconds, the car threatens to oversteer under power as you fight to keep the left front tyre away from the outside wall.
A short straight following the chicane allows you a brief moment to collect your thoughts before the fast left hander referred to as Tabac. Full commitment is required as you clip the inside apex and hold the slide across to the outside wall at just under 200 kilometres an hour. Hundreds of adoring fans watch on from the grandstand above as you place the right front wheel only millimetres from the guard rail on the outside of the twelfth corner on the circuit.
The left-right chicane at Piscine is immediately upon you. Fighting the steering wheel at 225 kilometres an hour, you toss the car over both treacherous ripple strips and pray that they don’t spit you into the Armco barriers on either side of the asphalt.
After flying past the swimming pool complex in sixth gear, you once again squeeze the brakes on the bumpy approach to the Swimming Pool Chicane in front of the new pit facilities. Missing the right hand wall by a feather, you clip the inside apex before violently wrestling the steering wheel to the left in order to clip to second ripple strip. From here, you are a passenger until the car settles, and opposite lock is often essential in front of the large grandstand on the inside.
Your mind is totally fixated on nailing La Rascasse as you navigate the full throttle left hand curve on the exit of the swimming pool. After briefly reaching fifth gear, the brakes once again threaten to melt as you slow the car to negotiate the famous double-apex right hander. Reaching full steering lock for the second time during the lap, the throttle is a dangerous prospect with the potential for lethal wheel-spin on the exit of the corner. Gradually unwinding the steering, you feather the accelerator and hope the right rear tyre doesn’t clobber the Armco as the back end of the car steps out.
Heading toward the nineteenth and final corner on the circuit, Anthony Noghes, you virtually brush the right front tyre along the outside wall on entry, knowing full well of the importance of maximising the radius of the corner. Taking a deep breath, you throw the car into the sharp right hander. Clipping the apex just inches from the inside barrier, the nose of the car dives downhill toward the outside wall. You subsequently fight with desperation to provide opposite lock as the rear tyres lose traction on exit.
Tenderly applying the throttle, you once again upshift through the gears and dash toward the finish line. Congratulations, you’ve completed a lap of the Monaco Grand Prix Circuit! Only 77 remaining…
With roughly fifty gear changes per lap, it’s easy to understand why the Monaco Grand Prix is among the most physically and mentally draining stops on the Formula One calendar.
While navigating a lap of the Monte Carlo street circuit on your own is a daunting prospect, throughout the race drivers must also defend and attack for position, often at the same time.
Not only that, but in qualifying sessions they may only have one or two laps with optimal tyre performance, thus the pressure to produce a mistake-free lap is inconceivable. If you ever question why Formula One drivers earn exorbitant amounts of money, the Monaco Grand Prix is your answer!