“I WENT PAST THE FIRE SEVERAL TIMES”
The Monaco Grand Prix is the slowest of the year but remains one of the most hazardous of all – this in spite of average speeds not having increased as much as at other venues: Sebastian Vettel won last year’s race at an average speed of 92.65mph, whereas in 1950, albeit on a slightly different layout, Juan Manuel Fangio averaged 61.33mph.
Mistakes in Monaco are less perilous than they once were, but only through hard-learned health and safety lessons. Among the most ghastly was Lorenzo Bandini’s death in 1967, when he clipped the guardrail at the chicane with his left-rear and spun into the straw bales, which were all that separated the track from the quayside and the iron mooring bollards. Nearby spectators related that they could hear Bandini’s screams above the engine noise of passing cars as his inverted Ferrari and the straw bales caught fire, fanned by the blades of the TV helicopter hovering lecherously above. And the race carried on. “I went past the fire several times,” said Bandini’s team-mate Chris Amon, “and it never occurred to me that Lorenzo could still be in it.”
The marshals are now better trained – for months beforehand they run specialist drills in righting inverted cars as well as fire-fighting – and the entire circuit is bounded by high-tech barriers. There’s no room for complacency, as Karl Wendlinger’s near-fatal 1994 shunt at the scene of Bandini’s death amply proved.
Nowadays it’s the game of chance the drivers play with the barriers that causes the majority of shunts, large and small. Better safety provisions mean the consequences are less severe than in years gone by: in 1991 Alex Caffi hooked a right-rear into the barrier at the Swimming Pool and was left sitting in a pile of carbon fibre. Last year Stoffel Vandoorne nerfed his right-front against the apex barrier there in Q2 and hit the barriers – but still raced the same car the next day. When Caffi crashed, both ends of the Swimming Pool were blind-entry corners. Now they’re open chicanes. Some say this has had a detrimental effect on the challenge of Monaco – others, perhaps more wisely, point out that the barriers are there to be kissed.
“Michael [Schumacher] would scuff every tyre on a qualifying lap,” says Ross Brawn, “because that was the shortest and fastest way round…”
Below: in 1995, David Coulthard’s Williams tangles with both Ferraris on the opening lap, resulting in a restart