The Monaco Grand Prix is Formula One’s most popular race and it doesn’t take long to understand why. The wealthy streets of Monte Carlo are the perfect backdrop for the worlds richest sport, and the race will be the most challenging and unpredictable of the season. It is without doubt a very unique event on the motorsport calendar.
The Formula One race at Monaco is full of quirks and idiosyncrasies. It is the shortest Grand Prix in terms of distance, but the longest in terms of time. It is the only place where first practice is on a Thursday, and is the only circuit without a podium or parc ferme. For many years the pit straight didn’t even have any garages!
Monaco is the only circuit to have exceptions made for it in the FIA Sporting Regulations, and the Grand Prix organisers (allegedly) have a unique arrangement with Formula One Management as they do not pay any race fees and keep all of the revenue from trackside advertising.
Where else but Monaco has a driver crashed into the ocean, or broken down in front of his own apartment block? Where else will you see a superman cape on the podium, or a diamond encrusted helmet?
It is where Ayrton Senna had an out-of-body experience and qualified 1.5 seconds clear of the field. It is where Juan Manuel Fangio avoided an accident by checking where the crowd ahead of him were looking. It is where Michael Schumacher pulled out a 15 second lead in the first three laps.
Monaco is simply an enchanting place to watch Formula One cars in action.
As a result of its irregularities, the harbour side circuit has played host to some of the most exciting Grands Prix of all time. Perhaps the craziest and most incredible of them all was the 1982 race which Murray Walker described as “the most eventful, exciting, momentous Grand Prix I have ever seen.”
Let us not forget how much F1 action Murray Walker has watched over the years!
Renault had the strongest package at Monaco in 1982, much like they did in 2004. The turbo powered cars of Rene Arnoux and Alain Prost enjoyed a significant advantage on the bumpy streets, and although Prost only qualified in fourth he was quickly up to second behind his teammate once the race got underway. Both cars took charge of the field and a Renault quinella seemed likely.
The French manufacturer didn’t get their dream result though. On lap 15 Rene Arnoux spun through the first part of the swimming pool complex and stalled whilst trying to keep his car off the armco. It was a strange mistake for Arnoux because he had built up a comfortable gap over the sister Renault.
Alain Prost assumed the lead, and although Ricardo Patrese’s Brabham was never too far behind, it was looking good for an all-French victory.
Much of the race passed with any further incident, and it wasn’t until the final three laps that things started to get interesting.
In the dying stages of the Grand Prix a set of dark clouds rolled over the harbour and started dropping rain around the circuit. Attrition had already reduced the field by half and a couple of drivers quickly succumbed to the slippery conditions, shrinking the group even further. With three laps to go there were only nine cars still on the circuit.
Little did anyone know that seven of them were about to be given a chance of victory.
The strongest contender was the first to fall.
Alain Prost lost control of his leading Renault on lap 74 of 76 and smashed heavily into the barriers. Back in 1982 the chicane at Monaco was a flat-out left right kink, and on the exit Prost let the back end slide too much and the car looped around into the barrier. It was a very heavy shunt and Prost hurt his legs in the impact. He was able to walk away from the wreckage though, and was more immediately hurt by the loss of a certain win so close to the finish.
Renault must have been distraught that both of their drivers threw away victory with unforced errors.
The incident moved Patrese into the lead which was new territory for the Italian as he had yet to register a Grand Prix victory. Perhaps the occasion got to him because he also spun out of contention. Patrese lost control of his Brabham at Lowes hairpin having just assumed first place.
This gave the Grand Prix its third leader within a lap. Didier Pironi found himself at the front in his Ferrari and was set to give the Scuderia a very emotional victory. The team was still reeling from the death of Gilles Villeneuve in one of the red cars just two weeks earlier.
As the last lap started, Pironi slowed significantly and let the backmarkers around him unlap themselves. It appeared as if he was taking it easy in the damp conditions to guarantee victory, but as he entered the tunnel for the final time it became clear there was actually a problem inside the cockpit. The Ferrari was quickly running out of fuel and despite Pironi’s best efforts the tank went dry just over a kilometre from home.
Andrea de Cesaris was running behind Pironi and was now in a great position to claim the win for Alfa Romeo. Or at least that would have been the case if his car had not run out of fuel on the last lap also.
Derek Daly had been circulating in fifth but now seemed likely to take victory. His Williams was an incredible sight as he had already crashed once and was missing large chunks of bodywork. It certainly wasn’t in the condition you would expect to find most winning cars. Unfortunately, as a result of the extensive damage, the Williams was spewing out various fluids and did so until it ground to a halt just after Pironi and de Cesaris had done likewise.
It was the closest that Derek Daly ever got to a Grand Prix win.
All of this was falling nicely into the hands of Elio de Angelis. The Lotus driver was running a lap behind the leaders, but with no-one ahead of him to cross the start/finish line he could unlap himself and storm home to a very unlikely victory. De Angelis let himself down though, because when the others started dropping like flies he accidentally let Nigel Mansell overtake him.
The late charge was of little use to Mansell because he wasn’t about to win either. Before he or de Angelis could unlap themselves, Patrese had been able to restart his stricken Brabham. The marshals had deemed him to be in a dangerous position and accordingly pushed his car out of the way. This allowed the Italian to roll downhill towards the harbour, and jump start his engine.
It didn’t matter that Patrese had lost a huge amount of time, because everyone who passed him had since fallen by the wayside.
Ricardo Patrese eventually took the chequered flag to cheers from the crowd, although he was oblivious to the fact that he had actually won. It was a manic finish to the Grand Prix, and during the telecast legendary TV commentator James Hunt remarked “We’ve got this ridiculous situation where we’re all sitting at the start finish line waiting for a winner to come past and we don’t seem to be getting one.”
It was a very special way for Patrese to claim his first race victory. Since there were only four other cars still running when the Brabham driver finished, both Pironi and de Cesaris ended up on the podium. This also gave Patrese the unusual distinction of winning a Grand Prix by a whole lap!
Seven drivers came close to winning the race in the final two laps, and of the six cars that scored points only three of them actually crossed the finish line.
Monaco is the one race of the year where that sort of madness can take place. With any luck we might just see some more of it again next weekend.