Unpopular Opinion: The Formula 1 Monaco Grand Prix Does Not Deserve Placement On The Calendar
There. I said it. The purists are already firing up the torches and sharpening their pitchforks. But, hear me out.
Let’s steel-man the argument for Monaco first. It’s glamorous! It is the epitome of exclusivity that Formula 1’s image puts forth. Who has the bigger yacht? Who throws the craziest party? It is pure excess consumption boiled down to the existence of a principality. Bernie Eccelstone loved when Formula 1 went to Monaco because of the exclusivity. In fact, most F1 drivers domicile in Monaco - it’s a tax haven.
And that’s one of its problems. F1 has an image problem, particularly with making drivers accessible to fans. Liberty Media should take a page from NASCAR - they seriously know how to connect with fans. But that’s not even the main issue I have with Monaco.
“Except for Monaco”
There are a few places in the rules of Formula 1 itself that make exceptions for Monaco. For instance, race distance. Races must be a minimum of 305km… except for the Formula 1 Monaco Grand Prix, measuring only 260km. Free Practice sessions 1 and 2 typically take place on Friday of a race weekend… except for Monaco. FP 1 and 2 happen on Thursday there. The podium procedure is the same at every race… except for Monaco. Timing and duration of garage personnel’s curfew is the same at every race… except for Monaco. There are more exceptions. You get the idea.
Racing in Monaco brings additional costs to teams. For instance, teams run a one-off steering rack on the cars to make the super tight Grand Hotel hairpin turn. Teams also have a special high-downforce aero package for each car to produce. Pit wall and garage setups are also specific to Monaco because the area granted to teams is so small. The team hospitality suites, normally in an area behind the garage at each race, are located in a completely different area that is difficult to get to. The logistics of getting team equipment into the pit lane are mind-boggling because of the cramped quarters. Quite simply, it’s expensive to run a pair of cars at the Monaco Grand Prix and if you’re a team like Williams, you really have a hard time justifying turning up when there is a slim-to-none chance of bringing championship points home.
From 2021, teams will also have to deal with a cost cap. There are many cost exemptions at first, but I’m curious if at some point we’ll see a team or two actually not run Monaco to cut costs and apply the cash elsewhere. Current agreements allow teams to miss races, still be part of the championship, and be awarded prize money for the points they score.
“Except for Monaco” and added costs are one thing. Excitement is another. Nelson Piquet described racing in Monaco, “like riding a bicycle around your living room.” I know I’d hit the end table, knock over a lamp, and probably crash into the wall if I tried that, so it’s an apt description. The barriers are super close - drivers frequently kiss them with their tires - and drivers who make mistakes earn heavy punishment. There are exceptionally few run-off areas. So, the skill (and courage) needed to drive the circuit is high, and the resulting crashes are fun to watch. But what about the racing?
Boring. Biblically, mind-numbingly, I’d-rather-do-literally-anything-else, BORING. I’ve literally fallen asleep watching it on multiple occasions.
The Formula 1 Monaco Grand Prix is a parade. Where you qualify on Saturday is a near guarantee of where you finish on Sunday. The major reason is that the track is so narrow, with so many turns, and with the lowest average speed on the calendar there is hardly a chance to pass. There will be no herculean efforts of someone having a poor qualifying and then ripping their way through the field during the race. Guaranteed. This is the primary issue I have with Monaco.
Prime example: 2018. Daniel Ricciardo needed revenge on a botched pit call in 2016 where the race slipped away from the Red Bull driver and handed the win to Hamilton in the Mercedes. In 2018, Ricciardo was leading the race again when disaster struck. With 50 laps remaining in the race, his MGU-K failed. The MGU-K is essentially a turbocharger that gives the cars an additional 160hp. He was 12 mph slower on the main straight and 2.5 seconds slower than his fastest previous laps - on the shortest track of the calendar. 2.5 seconds is an eternity in an F1 car.
However, because Monaco is such a parade, Ricciardo held on to win. At any other track he’d have fallen so far behind the team would have retired the car to save the engine life for later in the season.
One more time for the folks at the back of the room: for FIFTY LAPS he could stay in front with a broken car.
I’m not trying to take anything away from Ricciardo’s win - Monaco is, after all, part of the motorsport Triple Crown. I’d simply ask this question: Is it the pinnacle of motorsport when fans fall asleep? When a car fatally stricken in any other race can win? When teams deal with expensive one-off setups and logistical nightmares for just this race?
I’d argue no. No, it’s not. It’s time to rip the Formula 1 Monaco Grand Prix off the calendar and if 2020 has proven anything, it gives us more room for tracks where we can see some exciting stuff. I’ll take a 2020 Tuscan Grand Prix six ways from Sunday over Monaco.
About the Author:
Jared Nichols has been a Formula 1 fan for a decade and a car nut his entire life. He is the host of the F1 Explained podcast where he and special guests make Formula 1 accessible to all. Subscribe wherever you listen to podcasts.