Special feature

Autosport writers' favourite F1 Monaco Grands Prix

This weekend marks the 79th running of the Monaco Grand Prix, one of the most prestigious events on the global motor racing calendar. That means there are plenty of iterations for our writers to pick as their favourites...

Alan Jones, Williams FW07C-Ford Cosworth, leads Gilles Villeneuve, Ferrari 126CK

What makes for a good Grand Prix? A tense spectacle decided right at the end? Lots of thrilling overtaking moves? A display of brilliant driving? A bafflingly unpredictable result? 

The Monaco Grand Prix remains Formula 1's jewel in the crown, and at some point in its long history it has produced races befitting of all of the above descriptors. It has crowned Monaco Masters, such as Graham Hill, Ayrton Senna and Michael Schumacher, while several drivers have put in career-defining performances on the hallowed streets. Think Stirling Moss against the Ferraris in 1961, or Jochen Rindt with the aged Lotus 49 in 1970.

Autosport has previously attempted to rank the very best Monaco GPs but, since the question is ultimately a subjective one, we decided to open the floor and asked our team of writers to pick their favourites.

1972, Monaco's greatest one-hit wonder - Kevin Turner

Beltoise took his one and only F1 win in a sterling drive for BRM in 1972

Beltoise took his one and only F1 win in a sterling drive for BRM in 1972

Photo by: Rainer W. Schlegelmilch / Motorsport Images

Let’s be honest, the tight confines of Monte Carlo rarely produce great races. But what the Monaco GP does provide is one of the greatest challenges in motorsport, with any mistakes usually punished severely. It’s therefore a place to admire great drives and there have been plenty of those, from Stirling Moss winning in 1961, Graham Hill’s finest victory in 1965, Gilles Villeneuve’s 1981 heroics and Ayrton Senna’s sextet of successes.

There’s also something appealing about drivers who manage their day of days around the principality. Jarno Trulli’s win in 2004 has to be one of the feel-good results in recent years. And the appallingly wet 1972 contest has to be regarded as one of the greatest one-hit wonders in F1 history.

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Jean-Pierre Beltoise had shone in the wet before, charging from 16th to second in the 1968 Dutch GP at Zandvoort, but his drive at Monaco four years later stands comparison with the best wet-weather drives in history.

PLUS: F1’s greatest wet-weather drives

The Frenchman qualified his BRM P160B fourth, 1.1 seconds behind Emerson Fittipaldi's polesitting Lotus. Also ahead of Beltoise was the Ferrari of established rainmaster Jacky Ickx, who might have been regarded the favourite when race day dawned wet.

But Beltoise shot through into the lead at the start and was 5s ahead after three laps. Ickx jumped to second after Clay Regazzoni and Fittipaldi made mistakes, but the BRM’s lead never looked under threat.

Sliding the BRM around, diving past backmarkers and even using the pavement, the inspired Beltoise led throughout and crossed the line nearly 40s clear of Ickx – and a lap ahead of third-placed Fittipaldi.

It would stand as Beltoise’s only world championship victory, but what a win, one that again demonstrated drivers can sometimes make the difference at Monaco.

1981, Villeneueve's Monaco miracle - Marcus Simmons

Villeneuve drove the terrible Ferrari 126CK to victory when Jones's Williams hit trouble

Villeneuve drove the terrible Ferrari 126CK to victory when Jones's Williams hit trouble

Photo by: Rainer W. Schlegelmilch / Motorsport Images

“You can’t overtake in Monaco”, and “you can’t win in Formula 1 unless you have the best car”. Both tropes were blown apart on a memorable day in 1981.

Gilles Villeneuve took the first of his two consecutive miracle wins in the horrendous Ferrari 126CK, but only after taking the lead with four laps remaining of a dramatic day.

It began with a delayed start. Fire had broken out in the kitchen of the Loews hotel, and the pompiers’ efforts to put it out resulted in water leaking through the roof of the tunnel and onto the track. Not ideal with the field on slick tyres.

Once the race got under way, Nelson Piquet and his Brabham quickly established a lead over Villeneuve. From seventh, reigning world champion Alan Jones got to fifth on the opening lap, then moved up to third thanks to a clash between his Williams team-mate Carlos Reutemann and Nigel Mansell, and began to gain on Villeneuve.

The Aussie squeezed inside the Ferrari at Mirabeau, and set off after Piquet, with whom there was bad blood following their recent Zolder clash. To Jones’s glee, Piquet wilted under pressure and, as he tried to lap Patrick Tambay’s Theodore at Tabac, he got it wrong and slithered into the barriers.

Jones was in front, but fuel pressure problems intervened. He stopped at the pits for a top-up of fuel, but the glitch was unresolved, and Villeneuve sailed past the hesitating Williams into Ste Devote for a memorable win.

1992, Senna's defence halts Mansell's domination - Haydn Cobb

Mansell was beaten for the first time in 1992 at Monaco, when a late puncture dropped him behind Senna

Mansell was beaten for the first time in 1992 at Monaco, when a late puncture dropped him behind Senna

Photo by: Motorsport Images

The Williams FW14B at the hands of Nigel Mansell proved impossible to beat arriving at Monaco, with the Brit taking pole position and victory at all opening five races. That trend looked set to continue when Mansell secured pole by a whopping 0.873s over team-mate Riccardo Patrese, as Senna wrestled his McLaren to third.

That was how the race largely unfolded, as Mansell stormed into a commanding lead while Senna played second fiddle having got the better of Patrese at the start.

As Mansell escaped up the road, and Senna was held up by Michele Alboreto spinning and Ivan Capelli’s weird incident at Rascasse not helping matters, it was assumed this race would never get near the almanacs of greatest Monaco spectacles.

But with eight laps remaining disaster struck for Mansell with a tyre puncture, forcing him to pit and hand the lead to Senna. The Brazilian was managing his tyres to the finish and soon had a charging Mansell to defend from over the final laps, but kept his McLaren positioned perfectly for an improbable victory.

The triumph allowed Senna to extend his Monaco GP consecutive wins record to an eventual five in a row (1989-1993) and six in total – still the highest wins tally of all-time at the principality.

1996, Panis scores the mother of all upsets - Tom Howard

Panis scored Ligier's final win from 14th on the grid in 1996

Panis scored Ligier's final win from 14th on the grid in 1996

Photo by: Motorsport Images

Everyone loves an against-the-odds victory, and in 1996 wet weather caused utter carnage that allowed Olivier Panis to score his only F1 win driving for the unfancied Ligier operation.

This is actually somewhat a painful pick to some degree, as I was 10-year-old Damon Hill fanatic in 1996, and this was a heartbreaking race for the Williams driver. But the race and Murray Waker’s iconic commentary lines have stayed with me ever since.

Although Ferrari’s Michael Schumacher stole pole position, it was Hill's Williams-Renault that got the jump at the start as the field scrambled for grip on the slippery track. Five drivers retired on that chaotic opening lap, a sign of the attritional nature that would continue. Among them, to Walker's disbelief, was Schumacher - who found the Armco on the run to Portier.

Hill swiftly moved serenely into a comfortable lead, appearing set to emulate his Monaco master father Graham, who scored five wins in the principality (1963-1965 and 1968-1969). After pitting for slicks, he quickly took the lead back from Benetton’s Jean Alesi, who had stayed out on wets.

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But on lap 40, Hill’s Renault engine gave up exiting the tunnel. As Walker put it: “He was destined not to win this race and the Englishman’s heart will be plunging to his boots.”

Behind, Panis had been slowly but surely - and forcibly in the case of a bold move on Ferrari’s Eddie Irvine at the Loews hairpin - making his way up the field.

Hill’s demise put Panis into second behind Alesi, which became the lead when the latter’s suspension failed. He was joined on the podium by McLaren’s David Coulthard and Sauber driver Johnny Herbert, who remarkably were the only other finishers as Herbert's team-mate Heinz-Harald Frentzen retired to the pits one lap from home - but was still classified fourth.

PLUS: How Monaco 1996 typified Alesi’s F1 career

1997, The worthy sequel - Jake Boxall-Legge

Barrichello earned Stewart GP's first podium with a superb drive to second place in 1997

Barrichello earned Stewart GP's first podium with a superb drive to second place in 1997

Photo by: Motorsport Images

Monaco had a hell of an act to follow in 1997, after the 1996 edition of the race yielded such an enthralling grand prix.

Luckily, the sequel also began in damp conditions; the teams were split on wet and dry tyres, and that played into the hands of those on the former compound as the cars skittered around the Monte Carlo circuit like Bambi on ice. Thus, Monaco had the perfect conditions for a) a vintage Michael Schumacher display of wet-weather superiority, and b) lots of opportunities for the midfielders to bag a healthy haul of points.

Schumacher, starting on the wets, punished Williams’ decision to start both cars on slicks and easily rounded pole-sitter Heinz-Harald Frentzen into the first corner. Although the Regenmeister had it sewn up early and won by 53 seconds, drama behind Schumacher proved the catalyst for a nonetheless interesting brawl over the remainder of the points.

And thus began the intrigue. The two Jordans of Fisichella and Ralf Schumacher were in early podium contention, chased by Stewart’s Rubens Barrichello as Frentzen dropped down the order. Barrichello was at his best, nipping past the younger Schumacher at Loews, as the rookie driver suffered a half-spin at the hairpin. The Brazilian was then on Fisichella’s tail, putting the 1994 Monaco F3 race winner driver under pressure and eventually bagging second on the run down to the Nouvelle Chicane – Ralf Schumacher following suit mere corners later.

From there, the top two were locked in, Barrichello taking Stewart's first podium – and the nature of the race gave some of the smaller teams to grab points as McLaren, Williams and Benetton all dropped the ball. Mika Salo even grabbed Tyrrell’s last points in F1, opting not to stop in his X-wing adorned 025 despite front wing damage after an early scuffle with Jean Alesi at Mirabeau.

There was also a sensational mid-race battle for third; Fisichella was resolute in defence as Olivier Panis put heavy pressure on the Jordan, but eventually forced his way through at the Swimming Pool. Eddie Irvine’s move past Fisichella a lap later was equally as stunning, threading his Ferrari past at the Nouvelle Chicane before avenging Panis's robust 1996 move to take third.

In all, it's just a properly good wet race - the contrarian's choice against the 'mainstream' 1996 race.

2001, Day of the Underdogs - James Newbold

Irvine took Jaguar's first F1 podium in 2001, joining old team-mate Schumacher and his replacement Barrichello on the rostrum

Irvine took Jaguar's first F1 podium in 2001, joining old team-mate Schumacher and his replacement Barrichello on the rostrum

Photo by: Clive Rose / Motorsport Images

The main reason for my picking 2001 as my favourite Monaco Grand Prix is probably down to childhood nostalgia, granted. But for all that the result was an easy Ferrari 1-2 after Mika Hakkinen's retirement allowed Michael Schumacher to score a fourth win in seven races, it does have some redeeming features. And for those partial to cheering on an underdog, there was plenty to like.

The race is famed for poleman David Coulthard being stitched up on the dummy grid by a fault in his McLaren's launch control system, dumping him to the back of the grid and a long afternoon spent trapped behind Enrique Bernoldi's Arrows. It was the Brazilian's most noteworthy moment in an F1 career that came to a juddering halt when his team ran out of funds the following year, but he played his part and didn't make a mistake.

"Friends of mine have been in F1 and nobody even remembers they were there, so at least somebody remembers that I have Monaco!” he told Autosport in 2021.

PLUS: The forgotten member of F1’s greatest rookie crop

A high attrition rate as several drivers - Nick Heidfeld, Juan Pablo Montoya and Heinz-Harald Frentzen - crashed out, while others fell by the wayside with mechanical dramas, helped create an unfamiliar look to the points scorers.

Eddie Irvine took advantage of a new aerodynamic package he called "by far the biggest development I have ever experienced in F1" and electrical problems for Ralf Schumacher's Williams to score a first podium in F1 for Jaguar, and even lapped Coulthard.

And although a puncture meant he was overhauled by the Scot, Jean Alesi took a first point since 1999 with sixth for Prost and celebrated by attempting a donut at La Rascasse. A chaotic, feel-good race.

2008, Hamilton gets off the mark - Charles Bradley

Hamilton survived an early impact with the barriers to score his first of three Monaco wins in 2008

Hamilton survived an early impact with the barriers to score his first of three Monaco wins in 2008

Photo by: Charles Coates / Motorsport Images

Monaco is one of the meanest street tracks in the world, proved by so many world champions never winning here, and its challenge ramps up when you add water.

The 2008 race was a great case in point. Lewis Hamilton’s chances of his first win in Monaco looked to have been binned on lap 6 when he slithered wide at Tabac, clipped the Armco and ripped the right-rear Bridgestone from his McLaren’s wheelrim.

Fortunately his car was undamaged, and the field was so spread out that he only dropped to fifth. As his rivals also hit trouble ahead – the Ferraris of Felipe Massa and Kimi Raikkonen in particular – Hamilton was able to time his final stop with the track drying enough for slicks.

Still the track was treacherous, proved by Nico Rosberg’s huge shunt in the closing stages. The safety car allowed BMW’s Robert Kubica onto Hamilton’s tail, but the Briton was not to be denied the first of his three Monaco wins.

I was covering the race as Autosport’s newsman, and found a great spot to doorstep Ron Dennis, Martin Whitmarsh and Norbert Haug for their reactions as they returned to the paddock. Hamilton himself then arrived, for the post-race interviews, sitting on the roof of a Renault Espace. His flying dismount, Frankie Dettori-style, was a treat to behold!

Ron Dennis looks on as his protege celebrates victory

Ron Dennis looks on as his protege celebrates victory

Photo by: Glenn Dunbar / Motorsport Images

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