x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Get the heart racing

In a world that has become increasingly stifled by petty regulations, the Monaco Grand Prix remains a proud throwback.

Fernando Alonso, the Ferrari driver, was fastest during practice at the Monte Carlo Circuit yesterday.
Fernando Alonso, the Ferrari driver, was fastest during practice at the Monte Carlo Circuit yesterday.

In a world that has become increasingly stifled by petty regulations, the Monaco Grand Prix remains a proud throwback. If a circuit such as Monte Carlo were to be proposed today as a new addition to the Formula One calendar, it would be dismissed out of hand. Heritage, though, has its place and there are few more glorious anachronisms anywhere in sport.

The principality's streets first echoed to the sound of motor racing in 1929 and this weekend's race will be the 68th of its kind. It is a fixture of extreme contrasts, because the circuit's tight, compact nature generates the slowest average lap speeds of the Formula One season, yet proximity amplifies the impression of speed like nowhere else. Where most modern venues feature run-off areas the size of a small desert, Monaco has almost none.

"When you are doing more than 200mph on the straight at somewhere like Monza," says Anthony Davidson, who used to race for the now-defunct Super Aguri team. "It doesn't feel particularly dramatic because it's quite wide and there are no immediate reference points. "At Monaco, though, there's no space at all and everything comes at you incredibly quickly. Despite what the figures might tell you, it feels like the fastest circuit of the season."

Jenson Button won last year's race for BrawnGP (now Mercedes GP), and his current team McLaren-Mercedes triumphed in each of the previous two seasons. McLaren have scored 15 victories in Monaco, more than any of their rivals (Ferrari, uniquely present in the series since 1950, have won only eight times), but the British team are playing catch-up as Red Bull Racing continues to set the pace. Mark Webber's victory in Barcelona last weekend was Red Bull's second of the campaign, but the team have taken pole position five times in as many grands prix - and such things count for a lot in Monaco, where overtaking tends to be almost impossible.

During the past couple of years Red Bull's cars have been well known for their prowess in quick corners, but Christian Horner, the sporting director, believes previous slow-speed deficiencies have been addressed. "We weren't particularly strong in Monaco last year," he said. "But we feel the car has improved in many areas since then." Some drivers fear qualifying will be a lottery, with 24 cars on the circuit in the first part of the session, but it is no worse than things were 20 years ago, when 30 cars chased 26 grid positions and performance differentials were just as extreme as they are now.

That is the essence of Monaco. Is it a race in the term's strictest sense? Not really, but there is no finer stage on which to appreciate the art of a grand prix car and the precision of those at the helm. sports@thenational.ae