There's Nothing Quite Like a Formula 1 Friday in Monaco
Formula 1 cars took over the usually sedate roads of the principality on Friday in Monaco.
Where else in the world do Formula 1 cars pass by someone’s apartment entrance?
And where else in the world does the race track itself turn into a dance floor each night as revelers spill out from the famous Rascasse?
There is no way Monaco would get added as a new event to the calendar. It shouldn’t work as an event—yet that is exactly the reason why it just does work.
Friday practice for Formula 1’s Monaco Grand Prix provided a timely reminder of F1 racing of days gone by.
Not since 2019 has Monaco’s Grand Prix existed in its finest form, with 2020’s race canceled, and 2021’s taking place under COVID restrictions that robbed it of its usual bounce.
Monaco is still like no other Formula host. Trackside marshals and fire workers erect tables for a spot of lunch under a gazebo shielding them from the searing heat of the principality. They come prepared: a cheeseboard, miniature grill, sandwich-making equipment.
The French—and by virtue Monegasques—know how to do lunch. Porters drag luggage to and from the Fairmont Hotel, around and under which the Circuit de Monaco passes, while waiters show expectant customers to their restaurant tables. An overlooking balcony on the many high-rise flats in the principality becomes a lucrative commodity for the weekend, as do the yachts, which in reality are floating palaces that line the latter parts of the circuit. From those yachts blasts an array of Europop music in an apparent competition to hear who has the loudest speaker system.
Then the green flag flies and Formula 1 cars take over.
Formula 1 drivers hurtle their cars around Monaco’s 3.3 km (2 miles) layout in just 75 seconds, flirting mere millimeters from the barriers, past the Valentino, Gucci and Hermes shops typically frequented by those for whom finances are never a worry.
The famous Casino and Hotel de Paris are flashed past in the blink of an eye for 2022-spec Formula 1 cars as the usually sedate roads of the principality become a playground for the 20 racers. It is mind-boggling how the drivers thread the eye of a needle and when it goes even ever so slightly wrong—as happened to Daniel Ricciardo right in front of this writer—the outcome can be violently destructive.
Formula 1 has visited the streets of many cities around the world but nowhere is as wonderfully mesmeric and purely mad as Monaco.
Yes, the race will likely be underwhelming (though current forecasts suggest rain could spice up matters) and yes, the current specification cars do at times appear more cumbersome and laborious than their predecessors, with their stiffer suspension particularly influencing slow-speed performance.
But where else in the world do Formula 1 cars pass by someone’s apartment entrance? And where else in the world does the race track itself turn into a dance floor each night as revelers spill out from the famous Rascasse? There is no way Monaco would get added as a new event to the calendar. It shouldn’t work as an event—yet that is exactly the reason why it just does work.
Monaco still does need to change. It has, for decades, paid only a modest fee to Formula 1, and that is likely to be rectified in the next race deal. Being permitted to sell trackside sponsorship in some areas means clashes with Formula 1’s own partners. And the TV coverage, shot and directed by TMC (Television Monte Carlo) rather than Formula 1 itself, is largely sub-standard for what coverage should be in 2022. The viscerally violent manner of Formula 1 cars tackling Monaco does not translate on TV—and that’s where most people are watching.
Ferrari's Fast Friday
It was a prosperous day for the local hero. Monegasque flags and messages of support drape from the balcony in favor of Charles Leclerc and he led the way during both practice sessions on Friday. Leclerc’s time of 1 minute, 12.656 seconds left him 0.044 second clear of Ferrari teammate Carlos Sainz as the team finished comfortably clear of the rest. Points leader and reigning champion Max Verstappen, who won in Monaco last year, wound up fourth.
Mercedes, after its encouraging Spain display, had a more troubled day, with George Russell sixth and Lewis Hamilton only 12 in practice.
"I think overall, whatever tracks we have been at this year, we've been competitive, so I think we have a very strong package overall," Leclerc said. "In the corners has been our strength against the Red Bull, but as we've seen last year, we didn’t have a very competitive car, but we arrived in Monaco and were super quick.
"So, it could be that we have some good surprises and maybe other the teams, that we don't expect to be fighting for pole, are actually there at the top. So, I think it will be an exciting weekend and I hope that for ourselves, we will be strong."
Did Someone Say Fish Fry?
Lewis Hamilton was asked again about the jewelry ban that the FIA and Formula 1 is trying to enforce this year. Hamilton, for one, says it's time to find something else to talk about.
"I think we've all worn jewelry our whole careers in Formula 1, it’s not been a problem in the past and there's no reason for it to be a problem, necessarily, now," Hamilton said on Friday in Monaco. "There are positives that we're working with them. And I think they're accommodating a little bit at the moment. But we shouldn't have to keep on revisiting this thing every weekend.
"We’ve definitely got bigger fish to fry. Not literally obviously, but you know what I mean."