Changing tracks: Monte-Carlo

Posted on | Author Keith Collantine

The blast up the hill - and the scenery - hasn't changed
The blast up the hill - and the scenery - hasn't changed

Monaco has the longest unbroken run of years as a Grand Prix venue – having held an F1 race every year since 1955.

Much of the track remains the same, but there have been changes in recent years – some of which were criticised for diminishing the challenge of this unique venue.

Monte-Carlo circuit, Monaco – 1955

Length: 3.18km (1.976 miles)

Monte-Carlo circuit, Monaco – 2010

Length: 3.34km (2.075 miles)

Grand Prix racing was first held on the streets of Monte-Carlo in 1929. The Monaco Grand Prix has been a permanent fixture on the F1 calendar since 1955.

It’s a unique track which could not be replicated anywhere else – mainly due to being narrower and shorter than the minimum limits for new F1 circuits.

Its importance to Formula 1 as an event that has worldwide recognition can be gauged by the fact that not only are the venue’s shortcomings overlooked, but it is the only race where the promoters, and not Formula One Management, retain revenue from trackside advertising.

The configuration of the circuit has changed on numerous occasions since that first race. But from the climb up Massenet, around Casino, dropping down from Mirabeau to the Grand Hotel hairpin and around Portier, today’s F1 drivers trace the exact same route that Rudolf Caracciola and his rivals first did over 80 years ago.

The changes that have been made have been partly in the pursuit of improved safety and partly due to new buildings being erected in the principality.

The start line was originally on the harbour front where the swimming pool now stands. It was switched to its current location in 1963, making Sainte Devote the first corner.

La Piscine and Rascasse

In 1973 the Monaco circuit took a major departure from its original configuration to the more sinuous version we know today. The construction of a swimming pool on the harbour front forced a detour after Tabac, adding four new corners to the circuit.

From the exit of ‘La Piscine’ the drivers now arrived at a revised final sequence. The old Gasworks hairpin was gone, replaced by a tight left-hander leading into a pair of right-hand turns called La Rascasse. Another new corner, a right-hand turn taking the cars back onto the start/finish straight, was named after the designer of the original track, Anthony Noghes.

One other significant change that year altered the challenge of the circuit without actually changing its configuration. The tunnel was extended due to the building of Loews Hotel, which also gave its name to the hairpin after Mirabeau.

Sainte Devote

The first corner was originally a faster right-hander, but this was tightened in 1976. At first a barrier stood on the inside of the new corner, but in 2003 it was opened out to give drivers more room to escape the first-lap mayhem that often ensues here.

Nouvelle Chicane

Until 1985 the chicane in front of the harbour was a fast left-right flick. In qualifying for that year’s race the cars were changing lanes at 160mph and the drivers urged the race organisers to build a safer alternative.

So for the 1986 race a new concrete section was built, extending over the harbour and allowing the chicane to be tightened. Although the kerbs here have been changed many times since then – including this year – the corner is basically the same. It’s the nearest thing Monaco has to an overtaking opportunity.

New Rascasse

Several revisions were made to the circuit in 2003, mostly moving barriers to create limited run-off space. The entry to the swimming pool complex had this treatment in 1997, and six years later the exit also had its barriers moved, making the exit slightly quicker.

Also in 2003 Rascasse was altered to give the cars a faster, straighter run into a less tight corner. Not that it made it any easy for Michael Schumacher to get around it in 2006…

The pit lane exit was also changed. Although cars still have to negotiate the tricky switch onto the start/finish straight, the actual exit now extends past the first corner, giving them a safer passage onto the circuit.

The current pit complex was used for the first time in 2004. Unusually, it faces away from the start/finish straight, towards the harbour and the final sequence of bends.

Monte-Carlo circuit, 2010 Monaco Grand Prix
Monte-Carlo circuit, 2010 Monaco Grand Prix (click to enlarge)

How F1 tracks have changed

Image (C) Mercedes