Formula 1 used to regard the Monaco Grand Prix in much the same way it regarded Ferrari: As a unique part of the show of such importance it deserved special treatment.
Just as Ferrari had the power to veto regulations changes it opposed, the principality was granted favours other races could only dream of.
Notably, while other grands prix had to hand over the lucrative trackside advertising arrangements to F1, Monaco arranged its own. At every other track on the calendar F1’s top-paying sponsors each take over individual sections of the track which are plastered in a single brand. In Monaco a mix of different names are crammed into each location.
But Monaco’s special treatment is increasingly a thing of the past. Last year saw a major change as the event lost its early start. Previous Monaco Grands Prix had begun with practice on a Thursday, followed by a day off on Friday. Last year the event fell into line with the other 21 rounds on the F1 calendar.
No more Thursday action at Monaco since 2021 While this undoubtedly took away an aspect which made the event special, the loss of a day of inactivity is not likely to be missed. Some regarded it as an inconvenience – Michael Schumacher even headed back to Ferrari’s Fiorano test track to shake down a spare chassis on the Friday of the 1999 event.
Monaco has lost another of its special graces this year, one which is unlikely to disappoint anybody who doesn’t work for Tele Monte Carlo. F1 will take over from the Monaco broadcaster in producing the images which are beamed around the world, and viewers’ days of cursing the ‘Monaco TV director’ for failing to keep up with the action are over.
F1 today nodded towards the broadcaster’s notorious 2021 gaffe when it cut away from Sebastian Vettel and Pierre Gasly scrambling up Massenet in a rare moment of side-by-side action to show an inconsequential replay of Lance Stroll. Other local broadcasters long ago relinquished their rights to produce the footage for international audiences and the quality of F1’s coverage has improved as a result.
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Anyone on the Monaco side of the operation suffering from a touch of wounded pride should console themselves with the thought their event will come across much better this year. The Monaco Grand Prix has garnered a non-entirely-undeserved reputation for being processional, but hopefully that will improve with fewer moments of genuine interest being overlooked.
Monaco’s TV director targeted the wrong Aston Martin This year Monaco will also fall further into line with F1’s preferred support race format. For years Renault-powered junior championships enjoyed a privileged spot on the schedule: Formula Renault 3.5 series, the former rival to GP2 (now F2) was once the Sunday morning curtain-raiser to the grand prix. After that series closed, the more junior Eurocup took over, but that is gone too, paving the way for F3 to return alongside F2.
Same format, same support races, same television director: The Monaco Grand Prix increasingly looks like any other European round of the world championship. But there is one other key difference which remains, and it too is overdue a rethink.
Monaco’s grand prix is shorter than every other round of the world championship. This is specified in the sporting regulations – along with its unique podium ceremony – which states: “the distance of the race in Monaco shall be equal to the least number of complete laps which exceed a distance of 260km” instead of the usual 305km.
The rule is a hang-over from the days when average speeds around Monaco were so slow that fitting a full-length race without the two-hour time limit was difficult. However as cars have become quicker and sections of the track have been eased this is much less of a concern. During the last dry grand prix, in 2021, all 78 laps were rattled off in less than 99 minutes – leaving more than enough time to complete another 13 tours which would have brought the race up to the same distance as all the others.
Comment: IndyCar’s determination to complete every racing lap is an example to F1 There’s no longer any reason for Monaco’s race to be shorter than all the others. There’s both a business and a sporting case for making it the standard length. Sponsors would surely appreciate an extra 15-20 minutes of coverage at what remains F1’s most recognisable event. A longer race would create more time for tyres to degrade, drivers to fatigue and make mistakes. That much was surely clear at the end of last year’s curtailed race, where winner Sergio Perez was developing tyre trouble and had a trio of cars climbing over his tail when the chequered flag was waved even earlier than usual due to F1’s questionable red flag rules.
As F1’s popularity has grown under Liberty Media, Monaco’s importance to it has diminished. Those running the series have won concessions which have made this showpiece race increasingly resemble the rest of the calendar. Some positive changes have come out of this and more could follow.
But what makes Monaco special as a sporting event is the unique challenge of the circuit. While it has been eased in places over the years no other F1 street track is as punishingly narrow, nor as rewarding of precision as Monaco is. In a season when one team is sweeping all before it, there’s a reason why some of their rivals are eyeing this grand prix as they one where they might just snatch a win.
Yes, this relic of a race needed some updates and arguably still does. But not everything has to change.
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