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Formula 1’s 2024 Monaco Grand Prix Is Upon Us. Here’s What to Know

Formula 1’s 2024 Monaco Grand Prix Is Upon Us. Here’s What to Know

Ask any Formula 1 driver which race they would want to win if they could take just one victory in their career, and the answer will almost invariably be the Monaco Grand Prix. As the elite motorsport series returns to the Principality this weekend for the eighth event of its 24-race season, there is not a single driver among the 20 starters—from the series leader Max Verstappen of Red Bull, who won the race in 2021 and 2023, to the stragglers at the back of the grid—who does not dream of holding the coveted winner’s trophy while standing next to the Monaco royal family on Sunday afternoon. 

“No question, in Formula 1, outside of winning your home Grand Prix, I’d say Monaco is the other really precious, precious event to put on your resume,” says racing great Mario Andretti when asked by Robb Report to comment on the contest’s importance. “Monaco is one of the absolute premier events—look at the tradition it has,” adds the 1978 world champion, who did win his home grand prix but never took Monaco. “I wish I could have had that as part of my trifecta,” he admits, in reference to his other major wins.

A practice session underway prior to the 2013 Monaco Grand Prix.

Darren Heath/Getty Images

Yet even the unlikeliest of underdogs can have their day. While a back-of-the-field driver has very little chance of victory at any other race in the season, history has shown repeatedly that, despite the difficulty of overtaking on the tight street circuit, any racer can win in Monaco if exceptional circumstances play into their hands.

Yes, the Monaco Grand Prix is a race like none other: a spectacle fusing the glamour and prestige of a Hollywood gala with pure speed. Nestled into the Mediterranean coast, the Principality itself is a fairy-tale world of sun-kissed cliffs, yacht-filled harbors, and opulent palaces.

Mario Andretti pilots his Lotus-Ford 78 race car during the 1978 Monaco Grand Prix.

Mario Andretti pilots his Lotus-Ford 78 race car during the 1978 Monaco Grand Prix.

Bernard Cahier/Getty Images

The rarified playground’s namesake race is where superyachts are the grandstands for billionaire owners and their A-list-celebrity guests who check in from the Cannes Film Festival up the coast. All the while, the world’s best drivers push their apex cars to the absolute limit, inches from unforgiving barriers in a location never made for racing in the first place. Surprisingly, though, the Monaco Grand Prix has been an iconic fixture in motorsport since 1929.

Preparing to start the first Monaco Grand Prix on April 14, 1929.

Preparing to start the first Monaco Grand Prix on April 14, 1929.

National Motor Museum/Heritage Images/Getty Images

Jenson Button, who won the race in 2009, called it the fulfillment of a lifelong dream. “Monte Carlo is a place where every driver wants to win,” he said at the time. “But achieving it is so satisfying because you know you’ve conquered one of the toughest circuits in motorsport.” In that regard, the race is a bit of a paradox: In a sport that’s all about speed, this street circuit is both the slowest course on the calendar and one of the most dangerous.

Lewis Hamilton, seven-time winner of the Formula 1 Drivers’ Championship, has stated, “Even though Monaco has the slowest average speed of all the circuits we visit in a season, it always feels incredibly quick.” Hamilton won in Monaco while driving for McLaren-Mercedes in 2008, and then at Mercedes in 2016 and 2019. He’s also on record explaining that the dichotomy is “because the acceleration is so rapid and the walls so close: There really is no room for error.”

Lewis Hamilton successfully navigates wet conditions on his way to winning the 2016 Monaco Grand Prix.

Lewis Hamilton successfully navigates wet conditions on his way to winning the 2016 Monaco Grand Prix.

Pascal Guyot/AFP via Getty Images

From the hairpin to the tunnel section, every corner presents a unique challenge, testing the limits of both skill and courage. The record-holder, with six victories, including five consecutive first-place finishes from 1989 to 1993, is the late Ayrton Senna, who described a particular qualifying lap around the track in almost supernatural terms.

“At that moment, I suddenly realized that I was going beyond the threshold of consciousness,” Senna once said, adding that while doing his lap he felt as if he was seeing himself from above, with the track as a kind of tunnel.

Forget about sprawling circuits with wide-open corners. Monaco is like a tunnel at those speeds, or like a tight, twisty, 2.07-mile rollercoaster that demands inch-perfect precision. Here, memorizing the bumps, the slippery white lines, and every subtle nuance of the asphalt is essential. Since its inception, the track has undergone minimal changes, with corners like Casino Square, the Swimming Pool chicane, and La Rascasse all becoming part of motorsport lore, each a potential scene for glory or disaster.

The field of drivers snakes around the Fairmont Hairpin during the initial lap of the 2012 Monaco Grand Prix.

The field of drivers snakes around the Fairmont Hairpin during the initial lap of the 2012 edition of the race.

Darren Heath/Getty Images

Although every driver will say that scoring the pole position is almost a prerequisite to victory on a track where overtaking the leader is nearly impossible, history has produced outrageous scenarios time and again. Torrential rainfall, enemy to the drivers hoping for a procession from pole to checkered flag, has often provided the key to success for those whose cars are not otherwise up to it. The rain has written several of the most memorable moments in the race’s epic story, including the event 40 years ago that announced the arrival of Ayrton Senna.

Alain Prost, himself a rising star that year, started from pole position in the rain. But way back in 13th place, the rookie Senna took center stage in an uncompetitive Toleman. By lap 32 of the 76 projected laps, the Brazilian had climbed up the pack to finally pass Prost and cross the finish line in the lead as the race was red-flagged due to danger. The rules stated that the official classification had to be counted from the last lap during which all cars still running had crossed the finish line—in this case the 31st lap—and so Prost was named the winner. 

Ayrton Senna racing in Formula 1's 1984 Monaco Grand Prix.

Ayrton Senna’s Formula 1 legacy was initially forged on the streets of Monaco in 1984.

Mike Powell/Getty Images

The Senna legend and the Prost-Senna rivalry, however, had just begun. The two drivers would be the only winners of the race from that year until 1993, the last time that the Brazilian participated before his death in a crash the following season.

Heavy rain was also responsible for giving two Frenchmen their only Formula 1 victories. Jean-Pierre Beltoise won in 1972 in an otherwise underperforming BRM, and Olivier Panis won in his Ligier in 1996 after he qualified 14th on the grid.  With one champion after another crashing out, Panis crossed the finish line ahead of only two other cars that made it to the end of the race, a record for the least number of cars finishing a grand prix. 

Frenchman Jean-Pierre Beltoise is all smiles after his first-place finish in the 1972 Monaco Grand Prix.

Frenchman Jean-Pierre Beltoise is all smiles after his first-place finish in 1972.

Bernard Cahier/Getty Images

The only other driver to make Monaco his sole Formula 1 victory was Jarno Trulli, who won at the 2004 edition in a Renault. In that race, Trulli started from pole and led to the end. But he had always prepared well for the coveted event, saying that the best method for learning the track was the one that he discovered in his first year there in Formula 3. He awoke at 4 a.m. on the Tuesday before the race so that he could jog around the route when there was no public traffic. 

“In Monaco, more than any other circuit, you want to know everything about all the bumps and curbs, any change in the circuit, in the tarmac,” said Trulli. “You really want to have a good idea of where you are going to put your wheels.”

Renault driver Jarno Trulli celebrates his only Formula 1 victory, which was Monaco in 2004.

Mark Thompson/Getty Images

After Senna, the drivers with the second most victories are Graham Hill and Michael Schumacher with five each, followed by Prost with four, then Stirling Moss, Jackie Stewart, Nico Rosberg, and Lewis Hamilton—all with three victories. Fernando Alonso, currently driving for Aston Martin, came close last year to taking his third victory in Monaco, finishing second. Some drivers, though, dislike the track, the best known among them being Nelson Piquet, who some say famously compared racing in Monaco to flying a helicopter around your living room.

Fittingly, the overall spectacle of the Monaco contest has been the setting for some of the most memorable scenes in John Frankenheimer’s 1966 film Grand Prix, starring Yves Montand, James Garner, and Eva Marie Saint.

Actor James Garner (seated in car) with Ferrari racer Lorenzo Bandini in Monaco during filming of John Frankenheimer’s 1966 film Grand Prix.

Actor James Garner (seated in the car) with Ferrari racer Lorenzo Bandini in Monaco during filming of John Frankenheimer’s 1966 film Grand Prix.

Victor Blackman/Express/Getty Images

The location has also long been closely associated with Hollywood’s glamour thanks to Princess Grace (the former American actress Grace Kelly), who always attended the races and their podium ceremonies with her husband, Prince Rainier III. Today, their son Albert II, Prince of Monaco, and his wife Princess Charlene, carry on the tradition.

For sponsors, Monaco represents an all-important opportunity to hobnob with the glitterati and showcase their brands amidst the extravagant setting of Monte Carlo. And for many of the drivers who have chosen to live in this tax haven—such as Hamilton, Verstappen, and Sergio Perez—it’s also a home race of sorts. That’s truly the case, though, for Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc, who was born in Monaco and has lived there all his life. 

Monaco's Princess Grace and Prince Ranier III are flanked by the winner of the 1973 Monaco Grand Prix, Jackie Stewart, and his wife.

Monaco’s Princess Grace and Prince Ranier III are flanked by the 1973 winner, Jackie Stewart, and his wife.

Gabriel Duval/AFP via Getty Images

“It’s the same roads that I took by bus to go to school when I was younger,” said Leclerc to the media last Sunday. “Now it’s in a Formula 1 car. So that makes it extra special for me. So I’m really looking forward to it.”

Yet despite the legendary status of the Monaco Grand Prix, questions remain. Can a race so at odds with modern safety standards continue to exist? Formula 1, forever pushing boundaries, struggles to reconcile its ever-evolving technology with the limitations of Monaco’s streets. And one of the most impressive aspects of the race disappeared when the hybrid engines arrived in 2014 and the cacophony of the power trains no longer bounced quite so strongly off the buildings and hills around the city. 

The start of the 2023 Monaco Grand Prix, a race eventually won by Red Bull's Max Verstappen.

The start of the 2023 Monaco Grand Prix, a race eventually won by Red Bull’s Max Verstappen.

Jakub Porzycki/NurPhoto via Getty Images

“I went to the historic race and the best thing about it is, for me, sound,” said Lando Norris last week, referring to the event that features classic racing cars before the Formula 1 teams arrive. “The sound needs to be improved,” he added, commenting on the new Formula 1 cars compared to those of yesteryear.

Despite the occasional chaotic race, the lack of overtaking remains a problem due to the very nature of such a cramped and serpentine street circuit. Still, this particular grand prix is too fabled to fuss with and too intertwined with motorsport’s DNA to ever eliminate. As Stefano Domenicali, the former director of Ferrari’s team and the current CEO of the entire race series, once put it, “Formula 1 cannot exist without Monaco.” 



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