Perhaps no race on earth has changed so little over the decades as the Monaco Grand Prix. From the 1920s to today, the extremely tight confines of the principality reward concentration and precision like nowhere else. It's a place where only the best drivers of all time win with any frequency; men like Graham Hill, Michael Schumacher, and especially Ayrton Senna made it their personal play grounds. This weekend, more people will tune into the Monaco GP than the Indianapolis 500, so we took a look back at 12 of the very best moments in the history of the Monaco Grand Prix.
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12. The First Ever Monaco Grand Prix in 1929.
Forget the laughable lack of anything related to safety, or how dusty the roads look. Amazingly, the first Monaco Grand Prix was won by a spy. William Grover-Williams spoke both English and French like a native, so he worked with the British army to recruit French saboteurs during WWII, until he was captured by the Nazis in 1943.
11. Schumacher parks his car.
For all the great things Michael Schumacher did on track, and especially at Monaco, he also had a darker side that was periodically less-than-sporting. In 2006, facing a burgeoning rivalry with Fernando Alonso, Schumacher set a quick qualifying lap, then simply parked his car in the middle of one of the tightest corners, blocking Alonso from even attempting to go for pole position. As punishment, Schumacher had to start from the back.
10. Casualties of Ocean Spray, 1950.
1950 was the first time the race was part of the Formula 1 World Championship, and on the very first lap an unusually stiff breeze blew water up from the harbor onto the course, which the drivers were not expecting as they came around to that part of the circuit. As you might expect, a pileup ensued.
9. The race no one wanted to win in 1982.
The first 74 laps of the 76 race were fairly normal, and then all hell broke loose. Rain began to fall, and Alain Prost spun and crashed out, handing the lead to triple world champion Ricardo Patrese… who promptly spun himself. New leader Didier Pironi then ran out of fuel… as did the new leader, Andrea de Cesaris, who handed the lead to Derek Daly. He didn’t run out of fuel, but his transmission failed, giving the win back to Patrese.
8. The triumph of technology.
In 2002, David Coulthard was leading handily when his engine started to develop some problems, and smoke started pouring from the exhaust. Game over, right? Normally yes, but the car was so advanced that an engineer watching telemetry the car’s sensors from England was able to not only identify the problem, but make some adjustments via satellite, fixing the problem, saving the engine, and allowing Coulthard to win.
NOTE: Unless you really like Fatboy Slim, hit mute on this one. Sorry.
7. Rindt forces Brabham into a mistake.
Eventual 1970 world champion Jochen Rindt was chasing down Jack Brabham, having reduced his gap from a very large nine seconds down to nearly nothing, over the course of a few laps. On the last lap things got intense, and Brabham cracked under the pressure, hitting the wall and handing the victory to Rindt at the last possible moment.
NOTE: RIP Jack Brabham. "Black Jack" was truly a legend, and the only man to win a world championship in a team he built himself. He died this month, aged 88, and he will be missed.
6. Mansell vs Senna, 1992.
Nigel Mansell’s Williams was, by far, the fastest car of 1992, with active suspension and a host of other inventions that ultimately wound up on your street car. He was dominating the 1992 race until seven laps from the end, when one of his tires started to deflate. He pitted for fresh rubber, during which time the only man close enough to pass him was Ayrton Senna. Mansell was much faster, and caught up to Senna almost immediately, but the Brazilian put on a masterclass of defensive driving, taking alternate lines not to be faster, but to take up more space on the track, making it impossible to pass.
5. Senna sprays the royal family.
One of the coolest things about Monaco is that the podium celebration always takes place at the royal suite. Senna was so happy to have won in 1987 he sprayed his Champagne… all over Prince Albert and Princess Caroline. Classic.
4. Ascari goes for a swim.
In 1955, Alberto Ascari was in 3rd, when the dominant Mercedes of both Juan Manuel Fangio and Sterling Moss both broke down. Before he could inherit the lead, however, a momentary lapse in concentration at the worst possible moment sent him off the circuit. He splash landed in the harbor, where he swam towards the nearest yacht, because Monaco. Amazingly he was fine other than a broken nose, though he was tragically killed in a testing accident just four days later.
3. Graham Hill wins for the 5th time.
Graham Hill was the first man to win the Monaco GP five times, a feat for which he earned the nickname “Mr. Monaco.” His last win in 1969 was about as glamorous as F1 gets. The cars were gorgeous and the sounds were magnificent, and he won with relative ease.
2. Everything about the 1988 race.
In qualifying, Ayrton Senna turned in what is widely considered the single greatest lap of Monaco, when he beat his world champion teammate, Alain Prost, by nearly two full seconds. Senna went so fast he spoke about it in ethereal terms, like touching planes of existence. During the race the following day, he was so far ahead that Prost deliberately backed off, prompting the team to tell Senna to slow down as well. When he did, he lost his concentration, slammed into a wall, and gave the win to Prost. He was so embarrassed that he climbed out of his car and jogged straight to his apartment with his helmet on, which happened to be a couple of blocks away.
1. 1984: Senna's coming out party.
Alain Prost was on pole for the 1984 race, and Senna had qualified 19th for the lowly Toleman team in his rookie year, but shortly before the race, the skies opened up. In horrendous conditions, multiple world champions couldn't control their cars, but Senna drove flawlessly, at one point continuously lapping four seconds faster than Prost. By the time the rookie was up to second, Prost protested, parking his car in the front straight, insisting it was too dangerous to race. Officials agreed and called the race, giving Prost the win instead of Senna, but Senna's reputation as a superstar was firmly established that day.
Aaron Miller is the Rides editor for Supercompressor. His first video game included the Monaco street circuit, and he "drove" it relentlessly back when Senna was doing the real thing.