Making a splash in Monte Carlo

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IT’S SPECTACULAR, unlike any other Grand Prix, but as PETER COSTER points out, the course in Monaco is extremely difficult to master and on very rare occasions the drivers need to be able to swim:

A MONEGASQUE has never won the Monaco Grand Prix and while most F1 drivers live in the tax haven, only four born there have driven in the most glamorous race on the calendar.

The race through the streets of the tiny principality is also the slowest, lined with Armco barriers to keep the cars on the circuit.

Two drivers have found themselves in the harbour. The first was the double world champion Alberto Ascari in his Lancia in 1955. He survived the dunking but died only four days later testing a Ferrari at Monza.

Ten years later, Paul Hawkins, an Australian driver, flew over a barrier on the 79th lap of the Monaco Grand Prix in 1965.

There was to be a spooky coincidence when Hawkins died on the same day as Ascari, May 26, when he crashed in a Lola T70 at Oulton Park in 1969.

 

Hawkins, known as “Hawkeye, was the son of a Richmond motorcycle racer turned clergyman and struck out strongly when his Lotus ended up in the harbour at Monaco.

His mechanics attached a lifebuoy to the wreck, with the words, “Swimming Kangaroo”.

The circumstances surrounding the death of Ascari were even spookier than being one of only two drivers to end up in the harbour and being killed on the same day.

Ascari died on the same day as his father, Antonio, in a crash in the 1925 French Grand Prix, and at the same age.

While the Monaco Grand Prix has never been won by a Monegasque driver, Louis Chiron was on the podium in third place in the 1950 Monaco race, the first year the world championship was held.

He retired in 1958 at the age of 58 when he failed to qualify for the Monaco GP. He died in 1979 at the age of 79.

Of the other Monegasques, Olivier Beretta competed in only one season, in 1994 in a Larrousse.

Andre Testut drove at Monaco in 1958 and 1959. His last race was for Monte Carlo Autosport but Testut was only a part-time Monegasque. He was born in France and competed under a Monaco licence.

This Sunday, Charles Leclerc has a chance of becoming the first Monegasque driver to win his home Grand Prix, unlikely as that may be.

Nevertheless, Leclerc is a genuine talent and the reigning Formula Two champion.

He won the GP3 championship the previous year and has won at Monaco.

The Monegasque was runner-up to Red Bull wunderkind Max Verstappen in the world karting championship in 2013 and started driving karts at the age of eight.

Monaco is not only the most glamorous race on the F1 calendar, it is one of the most difficult as drivers try to negotiate the street circuit that is like no other.

Lewis Hamilton and Daniel Ricciardo at the Monaco street circuit. Pic: VALERY HACHE/AFP/Getty Images
Lewis Hamilton and Daniel Ricciardo at the Monaco street circuit. Pic: VALERY HACHE/AFP/Getty Images

Australian drivers have shown the precision that is required in a race first held in 1929 and is regarded as one of the so-called triple crown of motor racing, the others being the Indianapolis 500 and the Le Mans 24-hour.

Monaco is also a dangerous place to race.

The tunnel alongside the harbour means drivers burst into sunlight at the other end, momentarily blinded on the fastest part of the circuit.

Mark Webber won twice at Monaco in 2010 and 2012 and might have won in 2011 but finished fourth after he was forced to sit in the pits when his pit crew didn’t have his tyres ready.

The same thing happened to Daniel Ricciardo when the pit crew failed to have his tyres ready in 2016.

Last year, he was sent out in traffic on what was the last lap of qualifying because of a Red Bull timing mistake.

The Australian was able to qualify only fifth on the grid on a circuit where a race has not been won from behind the first three rows since the 1990s.

Triple-world champion Nelson Piquet said it was “like riding a bicycle around your living room”.

Jack Brabham, the Australian triple-world champion, won at Monaco in 1959, the year of the first of his world championship titles, the others coming the following year and in 1966.

The most wins at Monaco were by Ayrton Senna. His sixth victory put him ahead of Graham Hill, known as “Mr. Monaco” with five.

The Monaco Grand Prix draws much of its glamour from the principality’s royal family, the Rainiers.

Prince Rainier and Princess Grace greeted the winners on the podium. The former Hollywood film star married Prince Rainier in a fairytale wedding that drew as much public excitement as the marriage last week of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, now the Duke and Duchess of Sussex.

People were agog when Prince Rainier and the star of movies such as Dial M for Murder, Rear Window and High Society wed in 1956.

Princess Grace died in 1982 after the car she was driving plunged down a mountainside when she was driving home to the principality. Her daughter, Stephanie, who was a passenger, survived.

The glittering Monte Carlo casino where Jack Brabham once flew off the track, ploughing up the royal turf in Casino Square, is a now venue for boxing events as well as a place to lose your money while playing at James Bond.

An unfortunate Australian pug, Trent Broadhurst, was knocked out by Russian light heavyweight champion Dmitry Bivol at the casino last year.

Watching the Monaco Grand Prix from the stern deck of a super yacht, while sluicing and grazing on champagne and caviar is a better bet if you can afford the ticket.

Or you might be lucky enough to be invited to lunch by Prince Albert, the son of Prince Rainier and Princess Grace and the current head of the House of Grimaldi.

Your correspondent was fortunate enough to share lunch with the head of the House of Grimaldi an avowed petrol-head at an Australian Grand Prix.

Albert Park might have reminded Albert of home. The lunch was in the Benetton pits, not a palace, but prawns and Vic Bitter laced with a few fumes never tasted better.

mm

Author: Peter Coster

PETER COSTER is a former editor and foreign correspondent who has covered a range of international sports, including world championship fights and the Olympic Games in Los Angeles.

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