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Then and now

The gradual evolution of the Monaco GP only serves to highlight how much things stay the same...

Sport trades on its past, motorsport perhaps more than any other, and nowhere is the link between the ancient and modern more obvious than around the streets of Monaco; a fitting place you might say to bring back the iconic Gulf livery – a livery steeped in history. The Monaco Grand Prix traces its history back to 1929, following the same basic layout today as it did then. Corners are reprofiled, land is reclaimed from the sea and, occasionally, an old building is replaced with a new one – but the changes only serve to highlight that which stays the same.

McLaren’s history is intertwined with that of the Monaco Grand Prix, from Bruce winning for Cooper in 1962 to our Formula 1 debut here in 1966, and on to the 15 victories that make us comfortably the most successful team around the streets of La Condamine and Monte Carlo.

Preparation, preparation, preparation

Very little has changed on the track at the exit from Casino Square between Gerhard Berger’s race in the MP4/6 in 1991 and this weekend – though the addition of catch-fencing around the outside of the corner is notable. When we talk about improving safety standards in Formula 1, the context is usually for the drivers. The reality, however, is that spectators, marshals and pitcrews are just as big a part of the discussion. Building a street circuit in the modern era is a huge undertaking requiring months of preparation – which in large part is why F1 in 2020 was restricted to permanent circuits. 

Tunnel vision

The new, longer tunnel was introduced in 1973 and, despite several attempts to improve the lighting, the drivers always have a brief moment of blindness at the exit as they transition from the dark to – usually – blazing sunlight. The change in brightness is, however, rather better for Daniel Ricciardo in the MCL35M than it was for Emerson Fittipaldi driving an M23 in 1974. 


After a busy day of practice for the no.3 and no.4 McLarens, discussion on Thursday evening was dominated by the subject of rear wing legality. We are, of course, referring to the new aerofoils sported by Bruce McLaren and Denny Hulme in 1969 – though after being banned these were removed from the M7As before the race.

Compact and bijou…

Tradition dictates that car crews at Monaco will grumble about the size of the garages which, by modern standards, are tiny. They do, however, have the virtue of being in the pitlane. It wasn't always the case. Back in 1973, the McLaren crew were assembling the M23s in an underground car park, from where they would be towed to the track. Today, the support races still use this arrangement – with the cars brought down the hill from behind the paddock, to enter the circuit at Antony Noghès corner. At least the lucky ones do: the less favoured support races have their paddock somewhere off near the French border.

What’s new is old

The Nouvelle Chicane isn’t particularly Nouvelle any more, having been installed in 1986, to replace the old Chicane du Port. It has the fastest approach speed of any corner on the circuit and is the primary overtaking spot. It also sees many lock-ups, both because of the high-speed approach and the nasty bump in the braking zone, which rises and falls through the decades with every resurfacing.

It has been the scene of some of the modern era’s biggest crashes. But most recently the chicane has been under scrutiny more for track limits infringements, being perhaps the only place on the track where there is an advantage to be gained by cutting the first part of the chicane, either muscling through an overtaking move or simply missing the braking point. This year, 11 laps were struck off during FP1 and 27 in FP2.

Helter Skelter

The super-tight, downhill spiral of Loews – aka the Old Station/Sun Casino/Fairmont/Grand Hotel – Hairpin is iconic of the Monaco Grand Prix and F1 in general. The basic layout hasn’t changed over the years, though the backdrop has with the aforementioned train station coming down and the eponymous hotel going up. In racing terms, however, the biggest change has been the addition of a flatter kerb on the inside which the cars can ride. It isn’t much of an overtaking spot – but there are just about two lines and someone this weekend will try.