Opinion: The Monaco Grand Prix brings out the worst of Formula One

by James Batchelor
24 May 2021 4 min read
Opinion: The Monaco Grand Prix brings out the worst of Formula One

As the dust settles on another Monaco Grand Prix I have a confession to make: I can’t think of anywhere less welcoming for the average F1 fan like me to get near to the sport I love. How did it come to this?

Around a decade ago Audi had a habit of launching its new cars in Monaco. As a young twentysomething fresh out of university, the idea of travelling to Monaco on a chartered private jet and driving around the famed principality seemed impossibly glamorous. And I didn’t care if the car being launched (as it was on my first trip to Monte Carlo) was a comparatively dull Audi A3 2.0 TDI Sportback. This was Monaco. The classiest place in Europe.

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I remember being so very excited. I’d drop my imminent trip to Monaco into conversation with anyone and everyone in the weeks running up to the launch. And once on the plane, instead of reading the press pack of a car Audi was so proud of, I was reading about Stirling Moss’s famous 1961 Monaco Grand Prix victory where he fended off the Sharknose Ferraris of Hill and Von Trips in an outdated Lotus 18.

I didn’t much care for Audi’s updated diesel engine as detailed in the media bumpf. As long as it could power me out of Sainte Devote and up the hill to Beau Rivage, it could be a 1275cc A-Series from a Morris Marina for all I cared. I wanted to stand at the hairpin and imagine Fangio wrestling a 250F Maserati around it, charge through the tunnel and envisage Mansell trying to get past Senna at Rascasse.   

Monaco Grand Prix track with Ferrari
Photo: Ferrari

After landing at Nice airport, it was time to drive the A3 and the driving route took us high up into the hills around Monaco. The car drove just as you would imagine it to ­– which was pretty unremarkably – but the tight switchbacks high above Monte Carlo were like something from a Cary Grant and Grace Kelly film. Looking down on the city the sea was glinting, the high-rise flats basked in the Mediterranean sun and a handful of luxury yachts hugged the harbour’s pontoons.

The hotel Audi used for that launch was the Monte Carlo Bay Hotel & Resort, still in the city but a little way out of the heart of Monte Carlo we’re all familiar with on Grand Prix race weekend. Instead of waking up for breakfast at 9am, I set my alarm for four hours earlier to walk down into centre of Monte Carlo. At that time of the morning, the streets were just like those of any other city, busy with street cleaners and delivery lorries to service the city and ready it for another day. I walked the whole Grand Prix circuit – in the dark.

A year later Audi returned to Monte Carlo and launched the A3 Convertible. This time the hotel was the more prestigious Hermitage that sits behind the famous Hotel de Paris, but despite the more upmarket digs and the car being slightly more interesting to look at, the Monte Carlo romance for me was over.

The pseudo glamour grated almost as much as the queues of tatty Ferrari 360 Modenas and 996 Porsches cruising around Casino Square, and the Cartier, Chanel and Bvlgari shops on every street corner were so frequent it was stifling. Some like to say Monte Carlo is a playboy’s playground but that’s too much of a compliment. It’s like Las Vegas but with fewer neon lights.

Monaco yacht and classic Ferrari

Things get even worse on Monaco Grand Prix weekend as one of the most artificial places in the world becomes home to a revolting game of one-upmanship. The super-yachts arrive in ever-increasing sizes, the corks from €30,000 bottles of fizz are popped and people with questionable taste waltz around with as many privileged race weekend lanyards as possible.   

It has a vaunted place in the Formula 1 calendar and in the minds of all motor racing fans, but it’s difficult to see why for the average punter. The very cheapest, general access ticket costs more than £170, but if you want a guaranteed spot with a seat and a semblance of a view of the action rather than the back of other peoples’ heads, you’ll need to stump up nearly £900 to get into one of the cheaper grandstands. That’s not exactly family-friendly, and unlikely to make the next-generation of fans feel welcome. Unless you’re a Russian billionaire with an apartment overlooking the track, or, whisper it, a one-time Grand Prix driver who’s made the tax haven their home, viewing spots are limited. There’s nowhere to stay with the limited hotel rooms that are available costing the same as a brand new hatchback. And the cars? In their current guise they’re too big to allow overtaking.

Granted, the track winds its way through streets that are architecturally and topographically interesting, and if you compare Monaco to other street circuits like Baku, Singapore and the ill-fated Valencia, for example, it does feel like a city that has hastily erected a few barriers on a Thursday afternoon – exactly how a street circuit should look and feel.

It’s also clear to see winning means more to the drivers than winning some other races on the calendar as the place is rich with history and famous victories from Moss, Hill, Senna and even Olivier Panis. But I can’t help but feel it’s become the epitome of what we all loathe about Formula 1 – expensive, showy and unrelatable. 

Do you agree with James Batchelor? Is Monaco a no-go for F1 fans? Have your say, in the comments section, below.

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  • Neil Jervis says:

    I never watch the Monaco GP live. I record it and then fast forward to the pit stops and again to the end unless something catches my eye

  • Andy says:

    Go to the Monaco Classic. All the drama, everything affordable and proper cars with the right noise, smell of rubber and oil and no champagne charlies.

  • George Warner says:

    Unfortunately,this and many other of the older historic circuits,are not wide enough to cope with either the increased width of the modern F1 car.Overtaking generally only done with the aid of DRS

  • Andy says:

    I agree with James’s comments entirely. But who will be brave enough to dropnit from the calendar ? Its basically a boring race unless tactics can change the order : pole sitter wins unless they breakdown or crash. If you had the nous, you could win at a snails pace. But, let’s be honest, the drivers relish the challenge of driving fast millimetres away from disaster and its a fabulous brownie point to have on your CV. So, I guess…..let’s leave it be.

  • Vernon Wheeler says:

    To use a circuit like Monaco the cars need to be narrower and wingless or nearly so.
    A change of this type would also improve the spectacle on any other circuit especially if carbon brakes were replaced with metal discs to force lengthened braking distances and the possibility of brake fade.
    I’m sure many of the current crop of drivers would be against these suggestions as they would have to re-learn race craft.

  • Gerry Summerfield says:

    Formula 1 has never been my passion, preferring Endurance racing, Rallying and for REAL racing Moto GP, but, as a very young man I went to Monaco for the Grand Prix as a, sort of, right of passage. Evening drinks at Rosie’s bar half way up the hill, Jackie Stewart, Phill Hill having a chat in the corner and no-one bothering them. Breakfast at a café with various F1 cars warming up in the street. I’ll never go back because that will never be as good. And, they probably wouldn’t want want impoverished bank clerks there!

  • Gerry Summerfield says:

    As a follow on to my general moan. I wonder if spectators actually generate any income. With all the obligations on traffic control, safety, facilties etc, would it be cheaper for circuit owners not to have any spectators? And, I’m not being flippant, I know of one small town football team that saved money playing behind closed doors.

  • Mike Holdsworth says:

    I have been to Monaco twice for the GP. While the atmosphere is electric the cost and the availability of good viewing places is as bad as it gets. Fantastic place to see and enjoy but a terrible place to actually see some good racing.

  • Julian Kingshott says:

    Stay at home, relax with a very good bottle of wine and good friends, enjoy the racing on the TV. Save your money for Spa or Silverstone.

  • Reds says:

    Having attended about 20 Grand Prix – six of them Monaco, I find this article the selfish click-bait. I have found no other F1 race to be able to give the upclose inside feel as Monaco. The town is small, the drivers and teams are within arms length day and night and the cars are on the street moments after the sessions as the track is opened to the public at the end of the day. It is and always will be my favorite race.

    • James Mills says:

      How much would it cost for tickets for a family of four to watch the GP at Monaco? I think the article makes a fair point, without resorting to click-bait.

  • MonacoIsMehAtBest says:

    It is definitely the worst F1 race. I haven’t bothered to watch one in years. The 2 minute highlight reel after the races has every exciting thing that happens all day. Didn’t someone win that race while limping a broken car and just block the much faster car behind them for many laps. It is won with 1 good qualifying lap and good pit stops. Nothing else happens.

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