“THIS GUY IS **@@*** CRAZY”
Not for nothing is Monaco synonymous with gambling. In the mid 19th century the enterprising Prince Charles III made the best of a poor hand – he’d had to trade ownership of neighbouring Menton and Roquebrune, Monaco’s chief sources of income, for independence from France. So he opened a casino in which one could play roulette, a game banned in France, initiating Monaco’s transformation from backwater state to the playground of the wealthy.
Chance and opportunism have played a part in the outcome of the Monaco Grand Prix from its earliest days. In the first world championship grand prix held there, in 1950, gusting wind sent waves over the parapet and onto the track at Tabac, leaving a pool of water that race leader Juan Manuel Fangio negotiated cleanly – the following drivers less so. Fangio won by a lap. And just two years ago Red Bull threw away certain victory for Daniel Ricciardo by muddling their tyre sets in the crowded pitlane.
While the narrow layout can make for processional racing, and does render pole vital, the unexpected is never far away. In 1992 runaway leader Nigel Mansell suffered a puncture, and the resultant pitstop left him behind archrival Ayrton Senna, who duly ‘parked the bus’ at every corner for the rest of the race. Four years on, Olivier Panis took an unlikely win after a misfire in qualifying consigned him to 14th on the grid. “I went to the mechanics and said, ‘We can still finish on the podium,’” he recalls. “I saw the looks from them that said ‘This guy is nice, but he’s fucking crazy.’”
Rain obligingly made the race chaotic, as it had for Jeanpierre Beltoise in 1972. Panis was one of only three drivers running at the finish, but he earned this victory through a combination of pitting at just the right moment, overtaking when he had to – nudging Eddie Irvine’s Ferrari in the process – and holding his nerve when his fuel ran low at the end, carefully short-shifting while ignoring his engineer’s increasingly shrill calls to pit for a splash-and-dash.
You can’t rely on rain, though; despite the perception that Monaco is often wet, only twice in the past ten years have the heavens opened during the race itself.
Right: it’s only rained here twice in the past ten years. But when it does, it’s a true test of a driver’s mettle, as Valtteri Bottas discovers in 2014
Above: Aftermath of a huge startline shunt between Patrese’s Alfa Romeo and Piquet’s Brabham on the pit straight in 1985