The Sunday of Memorial Day weekend has always been better than Christmas to me. Back-to-back racing lets me gorge myself on all things speed. Naturally, the day’s opening event is the Monaco Grand Prix which I saw for the first time in 1973 when Jackie Stewart was victorious at the wheel of a Tyrell-Ford (on ABC’s Wide World of Sports, no less!).
I still love the Monaco Grand Prix, but it isn’t easy. To put it in the lingo of today’s youth: it is boring AF. As Nelson Piquet once said, “Driving around Monaco is like riding a bike around your living room." Rain mixes things up on occasion, but even then it’s still a procession with position changes due to pitstops, not on-track action.
Monaco has not always been that way. Back in the day, the track was wide, the cars small, and mechanical grip was all one had. Monaco is rich with authenticity and tradition and is a link to greats of the past (as compared to the recent Miami GP which feels like a fake Rolex to me!). As I watched yesterday’s procession, I became obsessed and started to jot down ideas about how to modify this great track without losing any of its character and novelty.
There’s really only one problem: overtaking. The track is too twisty and has few opportunities for overtaking. Yesterday, Fernando Alonso was going three seconds per lap slower than the leaders and no one could get past him.
Another contributing factor is that modern F1 cars are huge -- like, really huge. TV images don’t quite convey their proportions. The 2022 Mercedes is 5.7 meters long -- the same length as a Chevy Suburban -- and 2.0 meters wide. Watch an F2 or Formula E race in Monaco and you’ll see that smaller cars make for more overtaking. On Monte Carlo’s tight streets it is easy to drive defensively because there just isn’t much room. In days of yore, cars could go four wide.
The first limitation is that it has to stay put. The city of Monte Carlo is one of Formula One’s enduring characters. Since the Monaco Grand Prix was first run in 1929, it has traversed the same, sinuous course with only minor modifications.
Seeing photos of Nuvolari in an Alfa Romeo and Max Verstappen in a Red Bull nearly a century apart is magical. Parts of the track are so iconic that they are non-negotiable. These include Sainte Devote, the Beau Rivage/Massenet/Casino Square complex, the Mirabeau/Grand Hotel Hairpin, and Tabac.
Having said that, I think with the wealth in Monaco and Formula One as a whole, spending some money on construction is a reasonable expectation.
1. Lengthen the Circuit. There have been several ideas over the years to accomplish this, but must add a loop between Casino and Mirabeau. While they would add length to space the cars out, it would not help one bit with creating overtaking opportunities.
A better option is to make Rascasse a left-hander and run down the seawall on Quai Antoine 1er and return on Avenue de la Quarantaine, thus creating two new passing zones. Connecting them would be a 180-degree turn and a short tunnel. The extension would return on a parallel section of the road that would connect back to the start/finish straight via a chicane. This section of track would require little if any construction. A sensible solution that would not compromise the track experience one bit.
2. Remove the Nouvelle Chicane. Coming out of the tunnel, the drivers dip down into the Nouvelle Chicane. On rare occasions, a driver can squeeze in an overtaking maneuver, but the curve in the tunnel is far from conducive to that. By driving straight through, it would extend allow a driver to line up a pass into Tabac -- albeit a heavily modified version of the corner compared to today.
3. Redesign Tabac by Reclaiming Harbor. This is the “big ticket” item. Extend the seawall by about 10 meters into the harbor to create some space. (This already happening only a few hundred meters away.) Tabac could be relocated by 10-15 meters and provide a margin of safety with a run-off area. Doing this would eliminate the “zig” around the pool, but would create the best overtaking spot on the reconfigured circuit.
If this could happen, perhaps the seawall could be widened all along that straight. This would allow the track along the harbor to be widened a bit by a few meters to mimic what it used to look like -- what a difference that would make!
4. Make the Pit Delta Really Small. One of the problems with modern F1 tracks is that the pits are always along a high-speed straight so a pitstop costs around 25 seconds. We just accept that, but even not that long ago there was an exception.
France’s Magny Cour Circuit which used to host the French GP had a tight chicane after the pit entrance. The cost of a pitstop was less than 15 seconds and it made three and four-stop strategies viable, and it made a huge difference in shaking things up!
What if a pit delta was 15 or even a mere 10 seconds? That would be amazing and could create all manner of mixed-up tire strategies.
Two ways to do this would be to have the pit entrance be a right at Rascasse, while the track does the new extension proposed above. Alternatively, the pit entrance could be at Tabac, use the pits in the reverse direction as today, and then have the cars re-enter at Rascasse. Who says the pits must enter and exit along the start/finish straight?
5. Fix the Bump! Famously, after the Casino turn, the cars have to do a quick zig-zag to avoid a huge bump coming down the hill to Mirabeau. It has been there forever and is just part of the track. After nearly a century, can’t we just make that go away?!? Doing so would create one more passing opportunity dropping down into Mirabeau.
With some reasonable construction efforts that could even be completed in time for next year’s race, a new circuit would be born that would keep the character and novelty of old but would cater to the cars of today.
With Monaco threatened to be left off the calendar as this is the last year of its contract, new ideas like these could provide a rebirth for the event and make it a better spectacle that lets fans appreciate the locale and power of the current cars.
Got other ideas or input? Drop me a line!