The Wall Street Journal ran an article about Monaco today that was in keeping with its general F1 coverage: showing a lack of balance and on-the-ground nous. The point that was missed when talking about Monaco is that it is not motor racing in the purest sense of the word. It is show business. It is the showcase of F1 not because drivers go wheel to wheel but rather because of the spectacle of what they do with their cars. Watching the F1 cars through these streets is to see great artists in action.
For a driver, the first visit to Monaco is intimidating.
“The first time I came here in the Renault World Series, I was shocked,” said rising star Stoffel Vandoorne. “I thought: ‘There’s no way I can do what the experienced guys were doing’. But then after a few laps you get into it and you’re doing it. It’s amazing.”To watch ever the junior drivers threading the needle between the barriers time and again, looking for a tenth here and a tenth there, is inspiring. Some say that there have taken away the bump after Casino Square and the gully at Mirabeau and that Monaco is not what once it was – but it is. The drivers all find it energising and, for a spectator, it is great. Anyone who goes to Monaco and is not excited by what they see on the race track, suffers from a dullness of soul, for this is majestic, in the true sense of the word.
The folk in this part of the world have always had ambitions as dramatic as their towering corniches. The world’s first hill climb was held here, from Nice to La Turbie. There were insane hill climbs up the Mont des Mules and Mont Agel and, of course, the Monte Carlo Rally. And then in 1928 Anthony Noghes proposed holding a Grand Prix on the streets. Some thought that the Automobile Club was mad to embark on such a project.
“They have the most astounding audacity in some parts of Europe,” wrote The Autocar when word of the idea first filtered to England. It was, the magazine concluded, an unlikely event in a Principality “which does not possess a single open road of any length, but has only ledges on the face of a cliff”. The French were only a little less cynical with La Vie Automobile noting that although it was the first time that a race had been held right in the heart of a city, “it goes without saying that the track is made up entirely of bends, steep uphill climbs and fast downhill runs.”
But the Grand Prix went ahead and very quickly became a key part of racing folklore. That is part of the attraction. Despite the developers, Monaco is a stunning part of the world, and there are enough of the buildings from the Belle Époque to retain some style. From the start of its history Monaco has always been about old money and new money living side by side. Today the principality sings with crisp new dollars and rather grimy roubles. They don’t ask where the money comes from… And they don’t care. Money is money. Those needing to show off have the usual girlfriend/supercar/yacht to do so; those who know how to understate, do it with exquisitely. Everybody thinks that this the place to be. That is the glamour.
And, of course, the Monaco Grand Prix is a great party, the chance to drink a lot and all that goes with that. For the wealthy it is all about the right bars, salons, yachts and friends; for the rest of us it is the chance to impress your Facebook friends with the message: ‘Look at me, I’m in Monaco. I’m glamorous’.
But when it comes to “motor racing” this is still magic and I hope it always will be…