Apologies to those readers who do know these things, but there are many who do not and it is always a nice idea to give fans an insight into areas of the sport that perhaps they do not know… The Monaco Grand Prix has a long and rich history, which did much to give the Principality the image that enjoys today. It was created in 1929 by cigarette manufacturer Anthony Noghes, who was the President of the Automobile Club de Monaco. His father Alexandre was the man who invented the Monte Carlo Rally, back in 1911. The aim of both events was to attract business to Monte Carlo.
The first Monaco Grand Prix was won by a mysterious Anglo-Frenchman called “Williams” in a privately-entered Bugatti Type 35B, painted in British racing green. He arrived so late in Monaco that he completely missed practice but, having grown up there, he knew the right people and was able to do a few laps of the track very early on race morning. He then proceeded to beat Rudi Caracciola’s Mercedes SSK. “Williams” went on to win two victories in the Grand Prix de l’Automobile Club de France. In 1940 “Williams” escaped France to England and joined the Special Operations Executive (SOE). He was parachuted into France in May 1942 to act as the network organiser for a sabotage group, known as Chestnut. He recruited Robert Benoist, another famous racer and played an important role in reducing production of military trucks and half-tracks at the Citroen factory in Paris. “Williams” was arrested in 1943 and brutally treated by the SS. He was executed at the Sachsenhausen concentration camp in 1945. You can learn more about “Williams” and Benoist if you click here
In the 1930s Monaco quickly because one of the most important races in the racing calendar and in 1933 Achille Varzi and Tazio Nuvolari fought out one of their greatest duels on the streets for 99 of the 100 laps of the race.
The Grand Prix stopped during the war years but by then Monaco was known globally for its Grand Prix and on August 5 1945 – nine days before the Japanese surrender – the 36th American Infantry Division held a regularity trial on the circuit using jeeps and GMC lorries!
Proper racing revived in 1948 but it was not until 1955 that the race rejoined the international calendar with a dramatic race that saw Alberto Ascari crash into the harbour. In the 1960s Graham Hill earned the name “Mr Monaco” with five wins in the 1960s, but this was eclipsed by Ayrton Senna between 1987 and 1993 when Ayrton Senna won the race six times. Monaco is also famous for throwing up surprises. In 1972 Jean-Pierre Beltoise was untouchable in the wet but he never again won a Grand Prix. A decade later Riccardo Patrese scored his first Grand Prix victory in a race that had five different leaders in the last two laps, and in 1996 Olivier Panis drove through from the midfield in his Ligier to win a remarkable victory.
Today Monaco is the most important Grand Prix of the year, the place where everyone wants to be. More deals are done at Monaco than at any other race and the glitter of the Principality rubs off on F1 as much as the glamour of F1 reflects on the city.