What is the magic of Monaco? It starts by emerging through the tunnel from France into a world where the Mediterranean sparkles, and all that glitters is probably gold; five days of an improbable fairy-tale, before returning to the real world.
It’s in the city pavements, painted red and white all year round as a testament to the heroic drivers who flash between them, or the hundred sets of traffic lights – temporary residents of the city, unbolted and removed as the circus arrives.
Monaco’s magic bivouacs on the rocky hillside below the palace. The jet-set may party on their yachts – owners zealously comparing size and length – but this is the people’s race and they come in their thousands, descending on the genteel principality with their brash, infectious passion, proudly flaunting their allegiance and enthusiasm, clinging to the hillside to watch their race.
The magic of Monaco is sprinkled over Casino Square on a Saturday evening before the Grand Prix. Alongside this annual display of automotive bijouterie, any other show of motoring prowess pales into insignificance – an enthusiasts’ car club meet at best.
Monaco’s magic reverberates in the shriek of Formula 1 engines bouncing between the buildings for the first time on Thursday morning. During Grand Prix week, the sound of racing engines signals daybreak over the serenity of the city…
It’s in the spice of danger. Since the 1930s, every metre of barrier has its own tale to tell… this is a circuit drivers treat with respect, not bravado. Standing on the outside of the swimming pool, as the cars fly across the kerbs, landing inches from the barrier on full oversteer, black marks trailing behind them. A flash, a blur, they are gone… the spectacle transforming an onlooker into a Formula 1 fan for life in mere seconds.
Monaco’s magic has deceived even the greatest drivers. Everybody has made a mistake there – and paid for it. A fast lap in Monaco is not an affair of geometry and telemetry; it’s about touch and feel. Drivers cannot avoid the barriers, they must shave them, caress them, treat them as friends – and fear them as enemies. Nowhere else is the challenge of driving a Formula 1 car so intimate and so intense.
It’s in each bump, camber and crest that defies downforce, traction control and all else, illustrating Formula 1 cars as truly, intensely alive as the drivers wrestle for control.
Monaco’s magic is in the headaches it gives the engineers, who grapple for every last point of downforce and let their creativity run free in the search for performance.
It’s in the tunnel… the noise, the sheer, stunning cacophony of sound as the cars fly plunge into the darkness on the first lap of the race, each jostling for position, flat out, relying on faith and instinct more than reason.
The magic of Monaco has been conjured by the great Ayrton Senna, who holds a record that has yet beaten; six victories, including five consecutive triumphs from 1989 to 1993. Simply magical.
What’s magical in Monaco is that every driver arrives with dinner jacket in his luggage, just in case the roulette wheel stops on his number – and he needs to attend the Victory Ball.
Monaco’s magic comes as the race ends. There’s no sponsored podium in Monaco, rather the trophy is awarded with a gentle touch on the shoulder from the Prince.
The magic is that for once, the stars of the show may not be the richest men in the paddock, as Prince Albert searches out the celebrating, winning team wherever they may be on Sunday night to share in their jubilation – and buy them a drink.
The spirits of the greats live on here. The Casino, Tabac, the tunnel… all landmarks Nuvolari could discuss with Senna, and Fangio with Schumacher. The past gathers no dust in Monaco, it is tangible and alive in every twist and turn of the tarmac.
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