The Monaco Grand Prix conjures up some of the greatest images in F1. The sights of boats in the harbour and the sounds of engines screaming through the tunnel means the fans, more or less at the side of the track, get good value for their money. But, in a place Nelson Piquet (not Jnr!) once described as “cycling through your front room”, what moments stand out more than any other? Badgerometer investigates!
1988 was a season McLaren dreamed of. The team dominated the season, only failing to win one race all year, and clearly had the two best drivers on the grid in the shape of Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna. At Monaco, a track where both had the front row locked down yet again with Senna on pole, the wilyness of Prost secured him the win. After a boggy start, he was third behind Gerhard Berger, but after wearing him down and taking second place he began to trade fastest laps with Senna, even though the Brazilian was a massive 55 seconds in front. Ayrton responded with two scintillating laps before making an error and skidding into the armco at Portier, finishing his race and handing it to Prost. Senna would lock himself away in his Monaco property and not re-emerge for several hours.
The third mention of these two battling, after last week’s Badgerometer had two. Nigel Mansell in 1992 was the man to lose the championship as his Williams-Renault was the quickest car on the grid, driven by the most determined driver. Coming to Monaco, Mansell had won all the previous rounds and was on course to do the same in the Principality, when late on in the race, a loose wheel nut forced him into the pits and brought him out behind the only man that could really challenge him on a high downforce track: Ayrton Senna. Within two laps of coming out behind the Brazilian, Mansell has cut the lead down from six seconds to two, and then spent the last five laps desperately trying to get past the McLaren. But, Senna was just too wily, taking the chequered flag and his fifth Monaco win, then equalling Graham Hill’s record, one he would break a year later.
Probably one of the more controversial race held at Monte Carlo, the 1984 race saw not only the first win for Alain Prost at the event, but also the emergence of the two driver that would go on to dominate in the future. The rain came down heavy that afternoon, and after a delay of nearly 45 minutes the race began. Prost led from pole, but was rapidly caught and passed by Nigel Mansell in his Lotus, who then sped away at a lead of two seconds a lap. Mansell first taste of leading a grand prix ended with a bitterly, losing grip on a white line heading up to Casino Square six laps later and promptly crashing out. Prost reassumed the lead, heading a certain Brazilian rookie in a Toleman-Hart; Ayrton Senna. Only, with Senna gaining rapidly, Prost felt the conditions were undriveable and waved to the marshals several times to stop the race between laps 29 and 31, finally being granted his wish by head steward Jacky Ickx. The controversy was, Ickx was a Porsche sports car driver and the McLaren had Porsche based-engines, and Ickx didn’t consult any other stewards before finishing the race. Karma would affect Prost though, as he would lose the championship by half a point, mainly due to this controversial finish only earning him half points.
In races of attrition, it’s usually the man who keeps his head down who ends up on top. Olivier Panis in his Ligier one rainy day in the principality showed that having the fastest car is not always the best way to score a victory. The Frenchman qualified only 14th in his Ligier but was first across the line after an afternoon of extraordinary drama. The race, which started on a wet track that gradually dried, really should have belonged to either Michael Schumacher, who started from pole in his Ferrari, or Damon Hill, alongside him on the front row in his Williams. Schumacher was taken out of the reckoning when he uncharacteristically crashed on the first lap and for a long time after that Hill controlled the race, pulling away into a commanding lead over Jean Alesi’s Benetton. The Renault engine of the Williams suffered a rare failure around half-distance and that handed the lead to Alesi, ruining Damon’s chances of emulating father Graham’s success. Alesi lasted only another 20 laps before suffering suspension failure – and that put Panis into the lead. The Ligier driver was in that position after working his way to the front of a queue of cars that had built up behind Eddie Irvine’s fourth-placed Ferrari in the opening laps. Panis passed the Ferrari in a forceful move at the Loews hairpin and once Hill and Alesi were out, all he had to do was hold off the McLaren of David Coulthard – who was wearing Schumacher’s helmet after a problem with his own – for his only grand prix win and Ligier’s first for 15 years. It was to be their last. Out of twenty-two cars that started the race, only four finished and only three of those crossed the finish line after the two hour time limit. Survival of the fittest had never been so entertaining.
This race is famous for one of the most unexpected finishes in Formula One history: on the last 2 laps of the race, five drivers were in contention to win. By lap 74, when a light rain began to fall, Alain Prost was leading, and then crashed into the Armco barriers coming out of the Chicane du Port. On lap 75, Riccardo Patrese led, spun and stalled at Loews. On the last lap, Didier Pironi led into the tunnel and ran out of fuel, Andrea de Cesaris also ran out of fuel before he could take over the lead, and Derek Daly, the next man in line, experienced a damaged gearbox which seized up before he could start the final lap. Patrese, who had managed to restart his car by rolling downhill and bump-starting, won the race. Pironi and de Cesaris were classified 2nd and 3rd, with Dalyclassed sixth. BBC commentator and 1976 world champion James Hunt famously commented, “Well we’ve got this ridiculous situation where we’re all sitting by the start-finish line waiting for a winner to come past and we don’t seem to be getting one!”.