Monaco Grand Prix preview: watch the qualifying

This weekend is the Monaco Grand Prix, probably the most famous of them all. It’s meant to be the jewel in the crown of the Formula 1 season. As such, there are probably a lot of people who aren’t necessarily Formula 1 fans, but who tune into it especially because it’s the Monaco GP, in the same way that non-tennis fans will still watch Wimbledon and non-football fans will watch the World Cup.

What a shame it’s such an inadequate circuit then!

The Monaco Grand Prix usually isn’t a good demonstration of what F1 is all about. It can go one of two ways:

  1. Mundane procession where the person on pole position leads the race from start to finish due to the fact that it’s almost impossible to overtake on the narrow, twisty street circuit
  2. All-out crash-fest where no-hopers can grab a few points just for staying on the track

One of the first Monaco GPs I saw was back in 1996, a race which was won by Olivier Panis in the unspectacular Ligier car (the team only scored 5 points in the whole of the rest of the season). Mika Salo in the Tyrrell was able to collect two points without making a pit stop.* Only four cars saw the chequered flag! These sorts of races can be quite exciting, but it hardly makes for beautiful viewing, no matter how nice it is to see complete underdogs grabbing so many points.

Luckily, last year’s Monaco Grand Prix was quite good, with plenty of overtaking which is very unusual for Monte Carlo. I particularly remember Michael Schumacher’s cheeky move on his team-mate, Rubens Barrichello, on the last lap. Barrichello was less than impressed.

Not all races at Monaco are that good. There might be a few crashes, if that’s what you’re looking for, but the chances are that the race will be processional. The circuit is so narrow that Nelson Piquet likened it to “flying a helicopter in your living room.”

My advice to you, if you are not really a big Formula 1 fan but are planning to watch the Monaco GP anyway, then catch the qualifying session on Saturday as well.

A lot of drivers are warning that the qualifying session this year is going to be truly insane, with 22 drivers all trying to record a fast lap in just fifteen minutes. Qualifying is going to make for very interesting viewing, as drivers will almost inevitably get stuck in traffic. Some big names could lose out.

And because qualifying near the front is so vital at Monaco, drivers will be all the more eager to perform well. At Monaco, the real racing will happen during the qualifying session.

Update: BlogF1 brings us a history lesson.

While we’re at it, I forgot to mention that this weekend McLaren are celebrating their 40th anniversary in F1. They’re celebrating by racing with diamond-encrusted steering wheels this weekend. The diamonds gimmick is getting a bit old now — Jaguar did it a couple of years ago at Monaco, and I seem to remember McLaren racing with diamonds in the drivers’ helmets. I personally prefer the ice car!

Check out the changes that McLaren and F1 have gone through in the past forty years.

* Update: Don Speekingleesh in the comments pointed out that Salo’s non-stop effort was actually in 1997 (I need to get the old season review videos out to refresh my memory!). I remember now because that was the race that was hit by a tremendous downpour, leading to the race ending after the two hour limit, shortening the distance by 16 laps. So Salo finished fifth in both 1996 and 1997!


  1. Oddly Monaco 1996 was one of the first Monaco GPs I saw too.
    Salo’s non-stop effort was in 1997. Helped by using a V8 and having a damaged front wing (it improved the car’s handling in the wet). I think it’s still the only non-stop race since the reintroduction of refuelling.

    Really looking forward to the fun in the first 15 minutes!

  2. Salo went on to finish fourth in an Arrows in 1998 and then fifth in a Sauber in 2000, so his record around Monaco wasn’t bad at all.

  3. Just to clarify, the four cars that finished at Monaco in 1996 were (in finishing order) Panis, David Coulthard’s McLaren and the two Saubers of Johnny Herbert and Heinz-Harald Frentzen. As if to make the result sound even more freaky, this was Herbert’s only scoring drive of the year and Sauber only scored four more points in the whole of the rest of the season. It was also one of only four races that year that Constructors’ champions Williams failed to win and one of only two where they failed to score a point.