And so we go, in this most unpredictable of seasons, to one of the most unpredictable and historic of racetracks. Come with me, if you will, to the squeezed confines of Monte Carlo. To the track that took the great Alberto Ascari not just into it’s cruel barriers, but launched into the harbor itself. To a track where, like Spa, the names of the corners bring with them images, fear, history – not for this track the non-events of a modern day “Turn Four” – here we have Sainte Devote, Mirabeau, La Rascasse – when any fan of the sport hears those names, you can’t help but conjure the grainy, pastel images of Graham Hill wrestling his BRM through over 3,000 gear changes. In-car footage of Senna, pure commitment. Recollections of Mika Hakkinen’s pole lap of 1998 where he returned to the pits with paint from the barriers on the side of all four tires…the place is steeped in motoring history.
As is the nature of this column though, I don’t want to write purely about the great races and drives in detail – those are recounted in many other publications. Let’s instead look at some of the (sometimes surprising) statistics of the race and follow that up with a short preview of the weekend’s action in this great Sunday for motorsport.
*Number of Races – 58*
The world of F1 is often inconsistent and riddled with intrigue and power-games, but the one constant has been the presence of the Monaco Grand Prix. The race itself pre-dates the World Championship as we currently know it, with the first action commencing in 1929 in an event organized by Anthony Noghues (after whom the last corner on the circuit is named) and has been an ever present since (though not always a championship scoring race), barring a gap between 1938 and 1947 where a rather pesky World War got in the way…
*Winningest Drivers – 6 – Ayrton Senna, 5 – Michael Schumacher, Graham Hill*
Monaco, due to it’s attritional nature, has thrown up a few surprise winners in it’s time (see Olivier Panis and Jarno Trulli for details) but in the main, the same names crop up. It’s a true test of both skill and concentration…and perhaps more than any other circuit, rhythm. Hence it’s no surprise to see Ayrton heading up the list. However, for me, it’s “Mr Monaco,” Graham Hill that really grabs the attention. The debonaire Brit won five times in the 1960s where safety just didn’t really register as a concern for organizers, and Hill remains the only man to win the “Triple Crown” of motor sport – the Monaco Grand Prix, the Indianapolis 500 and the 24 Heures Le Mans. Some achievement.
*Winningest Constructors – 15 – McLaren, 9 – Ferrari, 7 – Lotus, 5 – BRM*
This for me was perhaps the most surprising statistic, in that I hadn’t registered McLaren’s dominance of the circuit – a fact of which I am quite sure my friends in the Woking based team will be incredibly proud. The McLaren team have always tended to construct nimble, edgy cars, rather than some of the power-hungry beasts from Ferrari, so perhaps the statistic in those terms makes sense. Either way, there’s nothing to say that win number 16 won’t come for them this weekend.
*Average Number Of Finishers – 9.9*
We move from the most surprising to my favourite statistic. The fact is, you don’t tend to get too many people who make it from the start all the way through to lap 78 to see that checkered flag. Perhaps my most clear memory was from the race in 1982 where it almost seemed as if nobody wanted to actually win the race…On the last lap, the sole Ferrari of Didier Pironi led into the tunnel and ran out of fuel, next up came Andrea Di Cesaris who also ran out of fuel before he could take over the lead. Derek Daly then took over the lead, but already had a car with no front or back wing and just as he began the final lap his gearbox seized. On the previous lap, Riccardo Patrese had spun and stalled his car at the Loews Hairpin – he then managed to restart his car by rolling downhill and bump-starting and ultimately took his first race win. The BBC commentator and 1976 world champion, the wonderful James Hunt, famously commented, “Well we’ve got this ridiculous situation where we’re all sitting by the start-finish line waiting for a winner to come past and we don’t seem to be getting one!”
*Percentage of winners who went on to win the title – 36.2%*
So, there’s something. Again, despite the race being the occasional supplier of surprises, it also serves as a pretty good barometer for who ends up with the ultimate prize come the end of the season. Let’s keep our eyes on that and see if that figure will rise come November 20th
*Average Winning Margin – 23.702 seconds*
Again, this surprised me. Monaco is such a tight course with so little opportunity to barge past other drivers that you tend to end up with a train of cars. Saying that, the smallest margin of victory was fairly recently, in 1992, with a winning gap of 0.215 seconds. That should appeal to the oval racing lovers amongst you! Let’s hope the gap this year is closer to that figure than the average.
*Safety Car Periods – 13 (in TOTAL)*
Unlucky for some, but again, considering the nature of the track and the fact the race has been run 58 times, an amazingly low figure. One of the things that’s really struck me trying to keep up with NASCAR this season is wow, you guys and girls really love to have a yellow flag period! I must say I find that frustrating, particularly when it seems to be used just to close up the field and keep the “show” running (I mean debris…..really!?) Either way, the marshals at the Monaco track are amongst the very best in the world (bar perhaps Silverstone – hey, I’m allowed some national pride) and strewn bits of car tend to be got rid of without the need to pull out the growling Mercedes SLS to bunch the field back up.
So with all that in mind, what’s going to happen this weekend? Well, honestly (and with two practice sessions completed as I write this) I still have no idea, and I’d be brave enough to say that neither do the teams. The Lotus seems a quick package, though Kimi Raikkonen has already lost a lot of time finding his way around a steering issue. Perhaps Romain Grosjean, who looks the best French (and therefore as near to local as you’re going to get) driver for some time could break his duck. Pastor Maldonado seems to have shaken off his reputation as a “rock ape” of a driver with a controlled and impressive debut win in Barcelona, and has always been quick around here. Could he make it two in a row? Absolutely.
But if I’m going to stick my neck out, I think we’ll have our sixth different winner in six races. Slip me a ten dollar bill and I’ll go down to the betting shop and put it on Lewis Hamilton. He’s genuinely driving as well, if not better, than at any time in his career, and his run of poor luck can’t continue on forever…..can it?
Let’s tune in Sunday and see.
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