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Cling­ing like a limpet to a rocky hill­side be­tween two cliffs, Monaco is half the size of New York’s Cen­tral Park and ranked among the least suit­able venues on earth to host a mo­tor race even when top-flight rac­ing en­gines mus­tered lit­tle more than 100bhp. For race founder Antony Noghès it was a mat­ter of pride: the fore­run­ner of the FIA had bounced the Au­to­mo­bile Club de Monaco’s mem­ber­ship ap­pli­ca­tion be­cause it didn’t host an in­ter­na­tional event within its borders. Noghès spent weeks walk­ing the streets to come up with a lay­out that would en­able him to host such a race and put one over on the gov­ern­ing body, which he did in 1929.

The cob­ble­stones, tram­lines and gas­om­e­ter are long gone, and some of the other street-track fea­tures that per­sisted for decades have re­treated be­hind the bar­ri­ers (“You get ev­ery­thing that you meet on a pub­lic road,” noted Gra­ham Hill in 1968 af­ter his fourth Monaco win. “Lamp posts, trees, night­clubs, houses, ho­tels, kerbs, gut­ters. It’s a proper road race, in the true mean­ing of the term.”). But it’s still in­tense.

“The chal­lenge is off the scale,” says David Coulthard, twice a win­ner here. “There’s oil, there are man­hole cov­ers. One mis­take and you’re in the bar­rier. You be­come incredibly tuned in to your en­vi­ron­ment. You have to feel you own the road. You have to take own­er­ship of this space, know ev­ery inch in the same way as you know, if the power goes out in your house, how many steps it is to the door.”

Win­ning here marks driv­ers out as spe­cial. Even some cham­pi­ons (notably Nelson Pi­quet and James Hunt, who re­tired im­me­di­ately af­ter fail­ing to fin­ish here in 1979) have not suc­ceeded. Other more mid­dling tal­ents – Olivier Pa­nis, Jarno Trulli, Jean-pierre Bel­toise – ex­celled here on the day.

“Phys­i­cally and psy­cho­log­i­cally the whole race was work­ing on mil­lime­tres and de­tails,” says Mika Häkki­nen of his 1998 Monaco win, which he views as his crown­ing achieve­ment. “Ev­ery lap the cir­cuit was chang­ing: we had yel­low flags, oil flags… All the time there was some­thing and it re­quired in­cred­i­ble con­cen­tra­tion all the way through.”

Kerb your en­thu­si­asm: Max Ver­stap­pen proves David Coulthard’s the­ory that “you have to know ev­ery inch” at Monaco

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