How did that happen? Monaco seems to have slunk up on us so quickly; I’m still thinking about Nurburgring 24 hours and things like that. Yet here we are with the sun shining brightly on the harbour, boats crammed into it like a very expensive car park, and the cruise ships lying off the coast. Just along the coast they’re squabbling about the height of your heels of your shoes – blimey, at least we’re not that frivolous.
But here we are at the jewel of the crown – if that’s not Monza which it will be in September. It never ceases to amaze and impress and yet it can be a very humbling place. After all, forget the Lamborghini, the Ferrari, the Aston; the easiest way to get around here is on a moped – urban scrambling, I call it – and you can be sure that every team and driver has hired one for the weekend.
The humble inflatable dinghy is much in demand too, because once you’ve parked your 100 foot yacht, it’s just a block of flats to be lived in and slept in – and obviously partied in. It ain’t going nowhere until late on Sunday night, early Monday morning when they all flee back to their home ports.
So I made my entrance to Monaco on the humble number 100 bus, bringing me from Beatrice’s friendly two star hotel at Cap d’Ail to just up the road from the circuit for all of 1.50 euros. A taxi from Nice airport would have been upwards of £100; as it was, it cost me 39 euros in a shared minibus which I had had to wait for for 45 minutes. At least I was able to have sandwich and coke for lunch while I waited, a mere £9, watching some film star being pursued into his limo by the paparazzi and fans. No idea who he was, but I expect it made him feel good.
But it’s still a thrill to be here, among this spectacular scenery. Rocks rise high above the Principality, producing its own microclimate which is threatening to throw a spanner in the works for the weekend. As I say, it is a microclimate so it isn’t necessarily consistent but they’re talking about rain on Thursday and more on Saturday and Sunday. That’s usually not part of the script, but water has influenced many a Monaco Grand Prix – and not necessarily rain.
Remember the very first World Championship Monaco Grand Prix in 1950 when a wave splashed onto the circuit near Rascasse, soaked the track and caused a massive pile-up. Then one year the sprinkler of the Loews hotel went off, soaking the tunnel and causing the race to be delayed. Of course there’s Nigel Mansell and the white line incident, Alain Prost winning when being pursued by Ayrton Senna’s Toleman and Stefan Bellof’s Tyrrell.
This week we lost another driver who was associated strongly with Monaco, Renzo Zorzi. He was virtually unknown when he won the F3 race at Monaco, which in those days was a passport into F1. And so it transpired; sure enough, he turned up in F1 soon after. That was the year of my first Monaco Grand Prix. I’ve been every year since 1985; Zorzi didn’t quite have the same record, but he did win here in Monaco.
This week is round six of the World Championship, the last one before we head west for our first of three trans-Atlantic visits this year. But after the difficulties in overtaking at the Circuit de Catalunya, we have the similar situation here in the Principality. It just is so narrow, but Pirelli have brought a new compound supersoft tyre which they hope will enliven track action and indeed, a damp track might do the same.
We have six previous winners: Nico Rosberg and Fernando Alonso have both won twice, while Lewis Hamilton, Kimi Raikkonen, Jenson Button and Sebastian Vettel have won once. At the other end of the scale, three of this year’s rookies know the circuit from lesser formulae. Felipe Nasr was on the podium a year ago in GP2, while Carlos Sainz and Roberto Merhi have raced in Formula Renault 3.5, as has Will Stevens. The only driver never to have raced here is Max Verstappen; he likens it to Macau which I suppose is reasonable when you think of that circuit’s two characters and the two characters of Monaco.
So who’s going to win here? Impossible to say, no real favourite. All you can say is that it will take a driver with lots of confidence in his car, who will throw it around the Principality to within an inch of its life, with lots of power and traction, mechanical grip rather than aero, someone who has planned their attack on pole position – of the last eleven, ten have been won from pole – and for whom everything has gone right. Chuck it into the Armco and you’re on the back foot. (For your info, Pastor Maldonado has never finished any of his four Monaco Grands Prix).
But then the added chances of a wet/dry qualifying and race, yellow flags, safety cars and all sort of hazards are sure to make this one a real ding-dong. I’m strongly against people saying ‘it could be one of the best for years’ because they say that every year, but actually, with some strong performances, intriguing tactics in the wet/dry and slightly more open championship than in the past, we could actually be in for a good Monaco Grand Prix. Watch this space!
By Bob Constanduros