Ahh Monaco...

For the people of this small Mediterranean principality things are starting to get busy. Why? The fastest show in the world is in town and the spectators aren't far behind...On the eve of the 61st Monaco Grand Prix (the 50th under F1 regulations) I thought it fitting to pay homage to this race of races. Situated in the narrow, winding streets of Monte Carlo's Dockside area, this race stands apart from all others. All the glitz and glamour of the world's fastest motor sport combined with the exotic setting of a Mediterranean paradise draw massive crowds each year to this special event.

The first race on this circuit was held in 1929 and despite the fact that today's cars lap almost twice as fast as they did then it is still one of the few tracks where the spectators can get up close and personal...standing just a few metres away from the howling F1 cars. Unfortunately, the same reason that makes the race so popular (the small confines of the track) is also what makes it the most hazardous to car and driver. This race is notorious for concluding with (far) fewer contestants than it was begun. The whole track is walled in in the style of the American CART street circuits. The narrowness of the track also means that overtaking is extremely difficult. Many people use this as ammunition to argue that the race is boring but I personally find it fascinating as the few position changes that occur are spectacular and exciting due to there difficulty (and rarity). It also means that team race strategies are all important.

"It goes without saying that the track is made up entirely of ends, steep uphill climbs and fast downhill runs. Any respectable traffic system would have covered the track with 'Danger' sign posts left, right and centre." La Vie Automobile, 1929

In 2003 the track has been modified slightly (the hairpin of Virage Rascasse has been smoothed somewhat) to prevent much of the automotive carnage that has occurred in the past. Those familiar with the street layout of Monte Carlo might get something out of the following description:

The 78-lap race begins with a short burst of acceleration before the treacherous right hand of Virage St Devote. Accelerating up through the gears from St Devote before slowing for the sharp left into Casino Square, it then opens up again for the downhill section past the Hotel Metropole. Keeping to the right in the approach to the Hotel Mirabeau corner, it gathers speed before slowing dramatically for the hairpin at the Monte Carlo Grande Hotel and the sharp right of the Virage du Portier. Down into the cool darkness of the tunnel, where the sweeping curve facilitates the circuit's fastest section, then accelerating up through the gears, the cars emerge into the sunlight at 280 kilometres per hour (174 miles per hour). Decelerating for the tight left and right of the chicane, there's a brief surge of speed just before the swimming pool. The hairpin of Virage Rascasse leads on to the uphill section, before the dangerous Virage Anthony Noghes and a burst of acceleration towards the end of the first lap, to face again the challenge of Virage St Devote.

As you can see it's full of tight corners and short bursts of acceleration and braking. The car setup is therefore optimised for cornering and the top speed is well down on other, more open tracks. This is the most prestigious event on the F1 Calendar due to it's rich heritage and the immense amount of driver skill required to be consistently quick (or even finish).

Update 02/06/03: It seems that the changes made to the track this season have evidently paid off as the race was almost without incident! The one crash belonged to Heinz-Harald Frentzen in his Sauber on the very first lap. There were 5 other retirements due to various mechanical failure - both Minardis, both Jaguars and the BAR of Jaques Villeneuve.