Why visceral trackside experience proves Monaco's F1 worth

OPINION: Getting up close and personal with Formula 1 cars is always a special moment, but nowhere more so than on the iconic streets of Monaco. Though its place on the calendar is often questioned, it is clear to see why it deserves to remain

Charles Leclerc, Ferrari SF-23

Long since a mainstay of the Formula 1 calendar, and almost as long since derided for its dull on-track action and ostentatious partying, the Monaco Grand Prix faces among the most criticism of the calendar’s circuits.

At the same time every year, the harbour of Monte Carlo fills up with ever bigger vessels for a weekend of champagne, celebrity, social media posturing and glamour, a word incredibly overused when it comes to this event.

But it’s about more than that. It’s about one of the spiritual homes of F1, somewhere fans can get closer to the action than anywhere else, and which brings its own unique atmosphere.

Yes, it is very expensive - a grandstand ticket in Monaco will set you back around €500 on race day and you’re unlikely to find somewhere that mere mortals can afford to stay in the principality itself for the weekend – but the cost of F1 tickets everywhere has risen, and a seat on Sunday at Silverstone is a similar price.

But, put that all to one side, and let’s concentrate on the spectacle on track. Though there are many debates about the best spot from which to spectate, we took more of a roving approach. Heading out of the paddock in the opposite direction to the track, we first pass the looming grandstands by the swimming pool and Louis Chiron before coming to a standstill before the Nouvelle Chicane.

Though I have been trackside before at Barcelona, Silverstone, Spielberg and Monza, nothing comes close to this – quite literally. I am incredibly privileged to get this close to the action, and being trackside is a real highlight of this job. Standing at Tabac, the cars get terrifyingly close, so much so that I jump back the first time a driver passes.

It’s even scarier at the chicane, with nothing to separate myself from the passing traffic but a few brave photographers. I’ve been in a similar situation before at Monza’s Variante del Rettifilo, but this is even more extreme - though still not quite on the same level as standing roadside at the Isle of Man TT. It’s awe-inspiring, being so close to such an incredible feat of engineering as it’s deftly manoeuvred around such a tricky sequence.

It's not quite standing on the side of the road at the Isle of Man TT, but Monaco is an F1 spectacle like no other

It's not quite standing on the side of the road at the Isle of Man TT, but Monaco is an F1 spectacle like no other

Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images

The sheer drama of the whole thing continues heading into the tunnel – ear plugs are advised. Though many people like to complain about the noise of modern F1 cars, nowhere do they sound more impressive than in this enclosed stretch, the deafening roar approaching from Portier and under the streets of the city.

Twisting through the maze-like subterranean passages led by in-the-know GP Racing editor Stuart Codling, without whom we would have gotten quite lost, we eventually emerge behind the Casino de Monte Carlo, overlooking the sea, before cutting through some shrubbery to our final destination, the Fairmont hairpin.

It is, once again, an incredible experience. Standing on the pavement just metres from the passing traffic, it becomes even more obvious why this circuit is so special.

Though I have been trackside before at Barcelona, Silverstone, Spielberg and Monza, nothing comes close to this – quite literally

The F1 calendar may feature seven street circuits this season, and some of them may generate better racing than Monaco (though so far we haven't seen evidence of that in 2023), but they pale in comparison when it comes to true spirit. This circuit, for all its foibles, is special.

Don’t just take my word for it, either – the drivers agree. Formula 3 rejoined the calendar this year, and the young rookies praised its “really special” presence.

F1 drivers share the sentiment, with Charles Leclerc saying in 2021 that “F1 without Monaco for me is not F1,” adding: “I think F1 has a history, has some historic tracks like Silverstone, like Monza, and like Monaco too, and I think they should stay in the calendar.”

Of course, the hometown hero would say that, but he’s not the only one. Fernando Alonso, who lines up second for Sunday’s race, said after qualifying that it is a “very unique place” and that “even last year when there were talks that maybe Monaco was not on the calendar for the future it doesn't sound right. It has to be always.”

Yes, Monaco is very over the top, and yes, it is a silly place to have a race. The streets are too narrow, especially for the size of modern F1 cars, and overtaking is almost impossible.

But, sometimes, it’s nice to have something silly and over-the-top for some light relief, even if it doesn’t quite work properly, especially given the state of global current affairs. And even though it presents its own problems and will likely never deliver on F1’s goals to produce better racing, having Monaco on the calendar just makes sense.

Monaco may be over the top and may not produce the most exciting of races, but it's a novelty much-needed on the F1 calendar

Monaco may be over the top and may not produce the most exciting of races, but it's a novelty much-needed on the F1 calendar

Photo by: Megan White

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