Monaco may statistically be the slowest grand prix of the season, but it always looks the fastest. With a racing line rarely more than millimetres away from the barriers, the 78 laps of the world’s most famous street circuit pass by in a blur. It is, perhaps, the ultimate test for a Formula 1 driver and also one of the world’s most spectacular live sporting events: nowhere else do crowds get so close to F1.
The Circuit de Monaco is a throwback – not just to the early days of the F1 World Championship, but beyond that to the interwar period when the Monaco Grand Prix helped put the tiny principality on the map. While the circuit has been nipped and tucked since the Monaco Grand Prix of 1929, the modern cars wind the same route through Monte Carlo as did those of that inaugural race. History is never far away at the Monaco Grand Prix.
It is, however, a circuit fundamentally unsuited to modern Formula 1 cars, which require a host of Monaco-specific adaptations – expect to see front wings cranked up to the maximum. The road surface is far from smooth, so the softest suspension settings are used to keep the wheels in contact with the surface and maximise traction. There’s also a Monaco-specific steering rack, required to get the cars around the tight, slow, Grand Hotel Hairpin (formerly known as Loews).
The key performance parameter, however, is driver confidence, and time on track during the practice sessions takes on extra significance here. Fernando is a former winner in Monaco, with the second of Fernando’s Monaco victories contributing to McLaren’s peerless Monaco record of 15 wins.
How McLaren defined 15 days in the history of the Monaco Grand Prix
June 3 1984
Heavy rain delays the start by 45 minutes. Alain Prost leads from pole, but he’s overtaken by Nigel Mansell during the early stages. Mansell crashes out on lap 19, leaving Alain in the lead, which is where he stays until the race is stopped on lap 31 due to the appalling conditions.
May 19 1985
Alain qualifies fifth, but runs third early on in the race. He inherits the lead when, first, Ayrton Senna retires with a blown engine and then Michele Alboreto spins off at Ste Devote. Prost wins by 7.5s.
May 11 1986
A hat-trick of Monaco wins for Alain. He leads from pole position and is never headed en route to the 23rd victory of his career. Keke Rosberg comes home 25s adrift to give McLaren its first 1-2 in the Principality.
May 15 1988
McLaren utterly dominates the weekend. Ayrton Senna takes pole position by 1.4s from Alain, who’s 1.2s faster than Gerhard Berger in third. Ayrton then leads the race from the off, but Alain is overtaken by Berger and takes until lap 54 to pass the Ferrari driver. On lap 67 of 78, Ayrton crashes out of the lead, handing victory to Alain.
May 7 1989
After the disappointment of the previous year, Ayrton dominates from start-to-finish. He takes pole position by 1.1s and wins the race convincingly from Alain. The McLarens are the only cars on the lead lap.
May 27 1990
Another Monaco win for Ayrton. He starts from pole and never looks like being headed in the race. Prost retires from second place with an electrical problem, handing the position to Jean Alesi in the Tyrrell. Gerhard Berger finishes third in the second MP4-5B.
May 12 1991
Victory number four for Ayrton in Monaco. He wins from pole position, coming home 18s ahead of Nigel Mansell. His McLaren team-mate Gerhard Berger is unable to repeat his podium of the previous year when he crashes at the Swimming Pool.
May 31 1992
Ayrton qualifies ‘only’ third after the all-conquering Williams lock out the front row. He runs second to Nigel Mansell in the race, until the Englishman is forced to pit on lap 71 and rejoins the race 5s behind Senna. A monumental battle ensues, but Ayrton crosses the line 0.2s in front.
May 23 1993
Ayrton claims a record sixth victory in Monaco, beating Graham Hill’s tally of five wins. The weekend doesn’t run entirely smoothly: Ayrton crashes twice during practice and qualifies third. Pole-sitter Alain Prost then gets a 10s stop-go penalty for jumping the start and Michael Schumacher retires from the lead, handing Ayrton victory.
May 24 1998
Mika Hakkinen wins from pole position. The chances of a McLaren 1-2 end when David Coulthard, running second, retires on lap 17 with a blown engine. That leaves Mika with a 20s advantage over Giancarlo Fisichella, which he manages until the end of the race.
June 4 2000
A multi-car shunt on lap one forces a re-start, but that doesn’t deter David. He starts third, but wins his first Monaco Grand Prix by 15s when pole-sitter and early race leader Michael Schumacher retires with a mechanical issue.
May 26 2002
A second Monaco victory for David. He qualifies second, but beats pole-sitter Juan Pablo Montoya away from the line and is never headed. He has to withstand late pressure from Michael Schumacher, but drives a faultless race to come home one second ahead.
May 22 2005
This is Kimi Raikkonen’s weekend. He takes pole position by just 0.08s from Fernando Alonso, but streaks away during the early laps of the race. All his hard work is ruined by a Safety Car on lap 24, but he charges into an unstoppable lead once again and wins by 13s.
May 27 2007
There’s very little to separate Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton. Fernando beats his Vodafone McLaren Mercedes team-mate to pole position by just 0.1s and there’s only 4s separating them after 78 laps of racing. Felipe Massa is third, more than a minute behind.
May 25 2008
Lewis becomes the first Englishman to win the Monaco Grand Prix since Graham Hill in 1969. But it isn’t an easy win: there are tricky wet-dry conditions throughout and an early brush with the wall forces Lewis to make an unexpected pitstop for new rubber.