Op-Ed: Top 5 reasons Monaco is the best race in the world

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I know I’m in the minority when it comes to really, truly liking the Monaco Grand Prix.

Sure, a lot of you appreciate the pageantry and how Monaco, with its royalty and uber-rich, in so many ways epitomizes the elitism of Formula 1. (An elitism somewhat lost to the Abu Dhabis of the world, if you think about it.)

But you yawn at the thought of the “processional” race, don’t you?

If so, I’m here to tell you why you’re wrong. Oh so very wrong.

Reason No. 5. The history. The race dates back to 1929 and was part of the first Formula 1 calendar, although it wasn’t until 1955 that it became a permanent race.

Of course, all the long-standing races have their history, and it will come down to what strikes your fancy as being really special, but among Monaco’s historic claims are:

  • It’s where Juan Manuel Fangio won his first F1 race.
  • Ayrton Senna’s dominance. Nuff said?
  • Paul Hawkins’ crash. That an F1 car can end up in water like that is another way to sum up what makes Monaco so special.
  • It plays a huge role in Grand Prix (and, I think, in the new Iron Man movie).

And I’ll also toss in a quote from Fernando Alonso: “I prefer to win the title and not to win here, but this is the most important race on the calendar, with the most attention and media coverage all over the world and it is very important for the sponsors. It is a special race and everyone wants to win it.”

Yep.

No. 4. The pageantry. Yes, the pageantry. While it isn’t my top reason for liking Monaco, there is something extra special about a race through this unique little city-state.

And sure it is related to the history, but it is also something else. We have royalty looking on. We have rock stars and celebrities beyond the usual numbers. We have the casinos and the whole “image” of what Monaco and Monte Carlo are. Everything’s just a little more beautiful, a little more rich, a little more better.

It’s like the Masters Tournament of Formula 1.

Rationale No. 3. It is viewer friendly.

I don’t want to over-emphasize nor under-emphasize this point. I think it’s important, but it isn’t critical.

But Monaco is a track where you immediately know what you are seeing when the camera switches to a new shot of the circuit.

I don’t think I have to compare it to a Tilke track. That’s too obvious, and easy. But even a Silverstone or a Spa or a Monza don’t have iconic buildings plus the iconic turns and short-straights (and the tunnel!) to immediately situate your perspective as a viewer. (It makes Monaco the best race to introduce F1 to a new potential fan.) They have some, I know, and long-time race fans will know the track. But the green trees of Spa or Monza in the background are the green trees of Spa or Monza.

If the TV cuts to Lewis Hamilton negotiating the Grand Hotel Hairpin, you know it. If you suddenly are watching Adrian Sutil pass the Swimming Pool, you know it. If Michael Schumacher is stopped, you know he’s at Rascasse. (Sorry, Todd, I couldn’t resist!)

Casino. Tabac. Nouvelle Chicane (Hi Adrian and Kimi!). They are all immediate, special, remarkable.

Argument No. 2. Qualifying. Because qualifying is so important here, and because the track is short and tight and drivers can get caught out so easily (witness all the worries about the 24 cars this weekend), it is my single favorite moment of the entire year. Hands down, my top moment of 2009 was Jenson Button nailing that pole position at the last moment in Monaco. (This one also is directly related to reason No. 1, which is…)

And the No. 1 reason why Monaco is the best race in the world…

None of us could drive it. (Maybe Paul Charsley, excluded.)

This, ultimately, is the one reason that matters and the one reason that makes Monaco the best race in the world. I’ll let you argue the other points. This one, nope. It all comes down to this.

Sure Monaco is slower than most other circuits. Sure it is a “street course.” But have you seen the margin for error? Why do you think this week Alonso also said “the driver factor is also higher than at other tracks.”

Put me in a Porsche GT3 (RS, if you ouldn’t mind, and heck, a GT2 RS if you’re really asking) and let me loose on the other tracks, and I’d be able to hustle the car around. I know I could manage Valencia and Silverstone, I believe I could get a handle of Spa and Canada, and I’m pretty confident I could learn to feel at ease at Melbourne and Singapore. Not to mention Indianapolis, even Le Mans, although I might be hard pressed to go the distance in either race.

But Monaco? To really try to push? I don’t think so.

And so while I’m watching practice and qualifying and the race this weekend, I’ll be sitting comfortably in my chair enjoying a Monte Carlo (1-1/2 oz bourbon or rye; 1/2 oz Benedictine plus 2 dashes aromatic bitters) and marveling at these drivers more than I do anytime during the season.

Every moment, from the first lap of practice to the last lap of the race, feels like it is on the edge, because it is. The smallest “moment” could end in disaster.

And so every moment is super exciting.

So go ahead, call it processional. Disparage it as a street race. Complain about the tight hair pins. Monaco is on the limit the entire time.

And that makes it the best race in the world.*

* Baring, perhaps, a rally here or there. But I’m not even convinced that can be called racing. It’s closer to madness. Or to MotoGP.

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