“YOU HAVE TO FEEL YOU OWN THE ROAD”
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