First held in 1929, the Monaco Grand Prix is the most prestigious race on the calendar, and one of the most evocative. It was on these streets that Lotus made its grand prix debut in 1958, and tasted victory for the first time in 1960 with Stirling Moss at the wheel of a blue and white Rob Walker-entered Lotus 18. Later that decade, Graham Hill became the unofficial King of Monaco with five epic wins, including two at the wheel of the handsome Lotus 49B. His record was eventually beaten by Ayrton Senna, who still holds the all time record of six Monaco wins – the first of which came courtesy of the Camel yellow Lotus 99T in 1987. In total, Lotus F1 cars have won the Monaco Grand Prix seven times.
Sunbathers watch from balconies and yachts as the cars race around the harbour; the deafening echo of the engines bouncing off the walls of high-rise apartment blocks. Landmarks such as the Garnier-designed Casino de Monte Carlo and the famous Hotel de Paris line the twisting streets that are barely wide enough to fit the cars through.
This renders overtaking almost impossible, and thus qualifying is all important.
Monaco also has the biggest elevations of any grand prix circuit – the cars power up the Beau Rivage up to Casino Square and then wind their way back down through the famous hairpin section.
There is very little grip, so the highest possible downforce setting are the order of the day. Most corners are taken in first or second gear, requiring teams to install low ratios. Traction and torque will play and important role here.
The most challenging corners are Turn 1, Sainte Devote, where drivers are greeted with an Armco barrier if they turn in just 1km/h too fast. It’s easy to miss the braking point as the entrance to the corner is so bumpy; Massenet, at the crest of the Beau Rivage, is blind on entry, and often the scene of pile-ups; The hairpin – the most famous turn in motor racing – is also the slowest and requires full lock and gentle throttle application; The tunnel - the only one in F1 - really is a shock to the eyes as drivers plunge in and out of darkness – the sound as the engine noise bounces off the walls is incredible; And the chicane at the Swimming Pool really does defy physics as the cars bounce across its kerbs.
This circuit requires 100 percent concentration from all the drivers, as the slightest mistake could ruin their weekend. After qualifying, the drivers’ eyes appear to be on stalks.
Because Monaco isn’t as aero-dependent as other tracks, this circuit is a great leveler. It’s less about the cars, more about the drivers and occasionally you’ll get a wild card winner. After all, there’s nothing predictable about 2012.
Romain won the GP2 feature race here in 2009, while Kimi won the Monaco Grand Prix with McLaren in 2005. His last result here, in 2009 with Ferrari, was third place.
Local start time: 14h00
Number of laps: 78
Circuit length: 3.340km
Race distance: 260.520km
Lap record: Michael Schumacher (Ferrari, 2004), 1:14.439
WHAT THE DRIVERS SAY:
Kimi Raikkonen: “To race in the streets of Monte Carlo is really different from everywhere else; a challenge I look forward to every year. It is very, very difficult, almost impossible, to have a clean weekend there. I’ve only managed to get it right once before. My win in 2005 ranks up there with my most memorable. So to win it again would be just as special. It’s such a twisty and narrow track. You have to be extra sharp and focussed in every single metre you go fast there. It gives such a good feeling a fast lap in Monaco. Overtaking has been almost impossible there in the past so to really enjoy racing there you have to be at the front.”
Romain Grosjean: “I think Monaco is going to be a fantastic event and it is a special race for me for sure. There are certain to be a lot of French fans, and I’m looking forward to their support. It’s also a very special event in its own right, and the atmosphere is quite crazy! As a driver you have to stay calm and relaxed and try to do your job. It’s a track that doesn’t allow any mistakes. You have to respect it and that is the key there I think. Hopefully we can have another good result.”
Beaux-arts landmark the Casino de Monte Carlo was designed by Charles Garnier and carries many of its architectural hallmarks from his Paris opera house. Games include roulette in various forms, baccarat, craps and blackjack. You can use the atrium slots for free, but entry into the main rooms is 10 Euros and 20 Euros for the Salons Privés. There is a dress code – jackets are recommended after 8pm, but you don’t have to go the full 007. Of course, you should. And have a crib-sheet of pithy one-liners up your impeccably pressed sleeve.
The Café de Paris is considered one of the world’s finest venues for people watching. It sits outdoors on the Place du Casino, so you can watch all the exotic cars drive by. However, given the tariff for beverages you should probably just stick to one. The tables are crammed close together, which is ideal because you can listen in on people’s conversations.
Jimmy’z is the world’s most notorious nightspot. While places like the Viper Room and Studio 54 claim their place in pop culture thanks to the various overdoses that have occurred on their carpet, Jimmy’z claim to fame is its prices. If you have to ask, you can’t afford it. Bottles are P.O.A. Are you sitting down while you’re reading this? A Coke is 80 Euros! Every single A-lister has passed through its rock-lined corridors. Paris Hilton got engaged here, at least once. Inside, it’s pure Eurotrash so best bring a sense of irony as well as your AmEx.
If that all sounds a bit over-the-top, head to La Rascasse cafe. As you’re shoving people aside at the bar, fighting for a Fosters, you might think ‘what’s so special about this place?’ But just remember, you’re stood (not) drinking in what is one of F1’s most famous turns. This bar has been an obstacle for Fangio, Senna and Schumacher who, at one point, looked like he’d stopped in front for a beer himself. Chances are you’ll bump into his pit crew, as the Rascasse is teaming with paddock folk every night of the GP week – and if they’ve had a few, they’ll probably offer you a pint. You might only come here once a year, but you can consider this your local.
There are seven Michelin-stared restaurants in Monaco, but if you fancy something simple visit the legendary Tip Top bar. Right next to the circuit on the run down to Mirabeau, this Italian is a Monaco mainstay thanks to its inexpensive, unpretentious food and 24 hour service. Yes, when you’re staggering back from the Amber Lounge salvation can be found right here, with a delicious pepperoni pizza. A meal and a beer should leave you with change from 15 Euros – otherwise unheard of in the Principality! The walls are plastered with signed driver photos. Many are regulars and even Prince Albert has been known to rock up at 5am with the munchies.