In the beginning…
Since 1950, the first year of the Formula 1® World Championship, there has always been a race at Monaco with the exception of four years, from 1951-1954. Only Monza has occupied a more consistent place on the calendar, skipping just one year in 1980. So it's no surprise at all that the roll call of success in Monaco tells the entire story of the Formula 1® greats. Before Monte Carlo became a round of the world championship (the race has after all been run since 1929) a cursory glance at the statistics reveals that McLaren headed Ferrari in the list of wins and pole positions. In the modern era, Mercedes engines have won more grands prix in Monaco (10) than any other manufacturer, leaving aside the 1960 and 1970s, when nearly all the teams were powered by Ford. But in Monaco, it’s the men rather than the machinery that count for most.
Monaco means taking risks, and sometimes it means fear as well. Alongside that there is glamour, beautiful people, and even royalty. Right up to the present day, the same scene has always played out: the Grimaldi royal family presenting the grand prix winner with his trophy on the uniquely quaint terraced podium at the start-finish straight: the antithesis of the towering high-tech metal structures that typify most podia at modern race circuits. Monaco is an oasis of regal history, to the backdrop of multi-billionaires’ yachts lined up in the port. So it’s logical enough that the Monaco Grand Prix has always needed its own king. Following the race’s adoption into the world championship calendar, Juan Manuel Fangio was the first to claim two wins: in 1950 with Alfa Romeo and then in 1957, driving the legendary Maserati in which he sealed his fifth (and last) title. Then it was the turn of Maurice Trintignant, firstly with Ferrari (in 1955) and subsequently with a Cooper three years later. The first three-time winner in Monaco was Stirling Moss: in 1956 with Maserati, then 1960 and 1961 with Lotus. By the time the race had been run eight times (Jack Brabham triumphed in 1959) there were still only four winners, and the theory of the ‘king of the streets’ was well and truly born for posterity.
Monaco comes of age
Then Graham Hill came onto the scene. He took five wins between 1963 and 1969: the first three with BRM and the others with Lotus. There were only two interruptions to his winning streak, in 1966 and 1967 (although he still finished on the podium). The benchmark set by the moustachioed two-time world champion lasted throughout the 1970s and 1980s. Hill had a particular affinity with the place, they said. And that was as much through his character as his technical ability: even dressed in helmet and overalls, Hill still managed to look like a rakish a lord, very much at home in the rarefied Principality.
But there was also Senna. The relationship between Monaco and the driver who probably comes closest to the title of greatest ever, even 22 years after his death, was truly special. Ayrton so nearly won the Monaco Grand Prix on his debut there, in 1984. He was driving a lowly Toleman, seemingly oblivious to the torrential rain that in no way impeded his inexorable march through the field. The result was a distinct threat to Alain Prost’s victory – who was engaged in the thick of the title fight at the wheel of his all-conquering McLaren. Only an early chequered flag waved by race director Jacky Ickx, rescued Prost’s victory. Prost saved both face and the win, while in the waterlogged paddock Senna asked incredulously why the race had been stopped so early. For the record, this meant that Prost (along with everyone else) was awarded half-points: so 4.5 points rather than the usual nine for a win. At the end of the season, the Frenchman lost the title to his team mate Niki Lauda by a meagre half-point. Ironically, the six points that would have been awarded at Monaco for second place, had the race gone to the full distance, would have been enough for him to have been crowned champion. Some said it was poetic justice. Senna probably thought the same, although his illustrious wins that followed at Monaco more than made up for any disappointment on his debut.
The Senna era and beyond
Between 1987 and 1993, victory in Monaco was his for the taking. There were six wins, the first with Lotus and the others with McLaren. There was just one big lapse in 1988, when with a minute in hand over his team mate Prost Senna clattered into the barriers just before the tunnel, only a few corners from home. Nonetheless, Senna’s record – which will surely last for many years into the future – pays testimony to an incredible alchemy between driver, car and circuit. Not even Michael Schumacher managed to beat it, climbing on the top step of the podium in Monaco five times, three of which were with Ferrari (the last occasion still being the last of the eight times that Ferrari won in the principality).
The drivers currently active remain a long way from beating the record. Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton have won in Monaco twice, whereas Kimi Raikkonen, Jenson Button and Sebastian Vettel have each won once. Nico Rosberg, however, racked up three wins, in a remarkable consecutive run from 2013 to 2015. The last time a non-Mercedes driver won in Monaco was back in 2012, when Mark Webber triumphed for Red Bull. And for the last Ferrari win in Monaco, you have to go back to 2001 and Michael Schumacher. Could that all change this weekend?