The Formula One fraternity is gearing up for a unique anniversary, the eightieth running of the Monaco Grand Prix to be held on 28 May 2023.

By Graham Duxbury

Held annually in the streets of Monte Carlo the capital of the Principality of Monaco, the GP is recognised as one of the most important and celebrated motor races in the world alongside the Indianapolis 500 and the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Together they form the unofficial “triple crown” of motorsport.

The Monaco GP was part of the pre-war European Championship and was included in the Drivers’ World Championship in 1950. It is said to be a jewel in F1’s crown as it epitomises both the glamour and prestige of the Principality and motorsport’s adventurous origins.

In 1928, Anthony Noghes, then president of the Monegasque Automobile Club, had the idea of holding a GP on the tight confines of the streets of Monte Carlo.

A challenging 3,19km circuit was initially laid out featuring elevation changes and the famous tunnel. The track has undergone several changes over the years, the most significant being an extension to its current length of 3,34km in 1973.

The first race was held on 14 April 1929 and was won by William Grover-Williams driving a Bugatti. The Monaco GP has been held every year since then with some exceptions due to WWII (1939 to 1944), financial constraints (1938, 1945 and 1947), regulations uncertainties (1951, 1953 and 1954) and the death of the Prince of Monaco, Louis II, in 1949. The GP was last cancelled in 2020 due to Covid-19.

Owing to his five Monaco wins in the 1960s, double world champion Graham Hill became known as “Mr Monaco”. However Ayrton Senna racked up six victories – five consecutively – on his way to three world titles.

The 1984 Monaco GP, run in a downpour, is deemed to be one of the most exciting. From a lowly, thirteenth grid position, Senna, in an uncompetitive Tolman Hart, came through to challenge and then pass leader Alain Prost, only for the race to be immediately red-flagged and the results calculated from the previous lap giving the McLaren driver the win. It set the stage for Senna’s eventual crowning as the “King of Monaco”.

South Africa’s Jody Scheckter won this race in 1977 and 1979. His first Monaco GP win, in a Wolf Ford, marked the 100th World Championship victory for the famous Ford Cosworth DFV engine. Jody’s second win – from pole position – came in his world championship-winning year driving for Ferrari.

Just as Monaco has witnessed race wins by some of the world’s greatest teams and drivers, there have been occasions when the underdogs have shone.

For example, in 1972 Jean-Pierre Beltoise won in an underpowered BRM. He qualified in fifth place and then passed race leader and 1972 world champion Emerson Fittipaldi on lap 16 of 80, holding on to take the win. It was Beltoise’s only F1 victory.

And, in 1996, Olivier Panis stunned F1 fans by winning for the under-performing Ligier team, despite starting the race in fourteenth position. It was also Panis’ only F1 victory.

Monaco is home to some of the world’s finest restaurants and bars. Among the legendary watering holes is the Tip-Top bar. Founded over 60 years ago, it was a favourite among the drivers of the 1960s and 1970s. In the past, Monaco GP winners could be found carousing here at 4am on a Monday morning after the race, trophies often perched bizarrely on a handy bar stool.

Many of today’s fitness-focused drivers don’t seem to have the stamina of their counterparts of a few decades ago . Nevertheless, favour among current team members, sponsors, fans and glamourous VIPs seems to have settled on taverns such as the Crystal Bar, Cafe de Paris, Blue Gin Bar and La Rascasse Bar, which are, by night, among the liveliest spots in the principality.

The Monaco GP is the place to see and be seen for the rich and famous. Some of the celebrities who have been spotted in recent years include Brad Pitt, Naomi Campbell, Heidi Klum, Hugh Grant, George Lucas and Justin Bieber.

With this year’s Cannes Film Festival to be held just a few kilometres down the coast on race week, expect the 2023 Monaco GP to be packed to the rafters with celluloid superstars.