Brought to you by TJ13 Reporter: Adam Macdonald (@adamac39)
The jewel in the F1 driver’s crown and the race they all want to win; but what is it that makes the Monaco Grand Prix just so special?
Nowadays there are many street circuits which pose similar challenges, albeit not to the same intensity as in the principality but demanding nonetheless. With modern Formula One cars offering so much downforce to aid the driver, there are many who persistently make the call that ‘Formula One has outgrown Monaco.’
I do not hold such an opinion, although there is one part of the whole charade that puzzles me. Why is it the only race on the calendar that does not pay a race hosting fee? After all, it is no different from other races on the calendar that are forced to fork out unholy amounts of money to fund a bandwagon which whistles in and out of town in a matter of days. We have already seen how it has not worked in countries like India and most notably, South Korea, where the promised riches never arrived (as detailed in this article).
If it’s not broken, don’t fix it
One could argue that it is such an iconic fixture on the calendar that to risk losing it would be nonsensical. The possibility of it pulling out would be detrimental to the sport, as racing in the principality is one of the founding pillars of the series along with the British and Italian Grand Prix. As much as I can understand this point, it is certainly not the racing which is known for being the best of the year as many end up rather procession like; if anything it is the opportunity for business deals to be negotiated and conducted with the picturesque backdrop of the harbour.
With Singapore now being dubbed the ‘new Monaco’ due to the attraction of racing under lights in a financial hub, it would be easy to argue that the significance of the older street race has been lowered. However, there are no two ways about it – taming the unforgiving streets of Monte Carlo requires a unique skill set. With so many gear changes around the 3.34km circuit, a race can see close to 4,000 changes of gear (although this number will be significantly lower this year compared to those gone by).
One only has to look at the list of winners there in the past to see how important it is and what a true test of competence it is. Senna, the third highest GP winner of all time, won a record 6 times around the 2 kilometres square circuit. In a sport where everybody chases landmark achievements and to break records, Monaco seems to be a comparison of the very best. For this reason alone it has a place on the calendar, even if it is purely for the historical factor.
Furthermore, in an era of extreme reliability compared with periods where even finishing the race was seen as an achievement, the Monaco Grand Prix often has a higher than average rate of attrition. This can throw up challenges of strategy where extreme bravery (or foolishness) is rewarded. Take the 2012 edition of the race as an example, where Vettel qualified poorly but elected for a very different strategy to the rest of the front runners which eventually paid dividends, finishing 4th having started 9th on the grid. Equally, just one year prior to this, Vettel was fortunate that the red flag allowed him to change his ailing tyres as he was being hunted down by Button and Alonso on fresher rubber – although he would probably argue risk was part of the strategy.
How can it be guaranteed to stay?
The drivers and team owners alike enjoy the race largely because it is where many of them live. Also, the winning driver is treated to the honour of dining with the Prince of Monaco the evening of the race. Another reason for the race to stay, as well as the fact it is another race which is close to the European headquarters of many of the teams. Traveling is a large part of any budget, as well as the carbon footprint the formula has and time away from their country of origin for engineers and team workers.
The Monaco GP is unique not just in the way it does not need to pay a hosting fee, but also in the way it is the only race of the year that is allowed to keep all of the trackside advertising revenues it raises. I would propose that the principality is allowed to keep the advertising revenues, but is forced to start paying for a hosting fee each year. In 2008, trackside advertising totalled $16.25 million, which would come close to, if not, covering the hosting fee for the race. Given the money which the race brings into the area, it would more than make the race a viable proposition.
Not the first time…
Those of the older generation will recall the almighty tussle between ACM, who operate the Monaco circuit and Fédération Internationale du Sport Automobile (FISA), the sporting division of the FIA. 1984 was the last time the Monaco race was provisionally removed from the calendar, when ACM were threatened with expulsion from the FIA as they tried to hold onto the TV rights, which before what is widely recognised as the first Concorde agreement, were negotiated individually by each circuit with TV companies. The 20 year contract that had been signed in 1963 with American broadcaster, ABC, had run out with the ACM president Michel Boeri electing to ignore the mandate and sign a further 5 year contract.
FISA president, Jean-Marie Balestre was firm in his stance and did not back down, causing the dispute to be taken to the high court of justice in Paris, where the court refused to instruct the FIA to reinstate the race. The eventual concession between FISA and ACM was that the Monaco circuit should be allowed to keep the trackside revenues and be exempt from a hosting fee. However, surely the sport has moved on from such a time as this. Since then, TV rights deals have become multi-million dollar contracts and not the six figure contracts they were back then. A sport now worth billions has evolved from these times and the time for change is sooner rather than later.
This must go down as one of the last times the FIA stood up fiercely against the teams and won. Something that TheJudge13 has repeatedly reported the motorsport governing body is on the verge of doing again at the end of June with new cost control measures to be implemented.
Many will question the point of charging the principality a hosting fee if it will just go into the CVC coffers to further fund the port at the Christmas party. What purpose would this strategy, to start charging Monaco a hosting fee, have to the Formula One audience worldwide who have followed the sport through thick and thin?
I recently read a report from somebody else who writes about the world of F1, Kate Hewitt, who argued that the European Grand Prix should be brought back. An idea that few would have any qualms with as the race would see classic Grand Prix like Magny Cours, Zandvoort, Brands Hatch and Estoril making a return to our screens. The Monaco GP would essentially fund the return of the European GP. Race venues like Valencia and the Nurnburgring would not be forced off the calendar as they too could make a case for being included in the rotation. Mr E was forced to give the Nurburgring a free race in 2013 due to the circuit’s finances being so dire. As Kate argues, a return to a circuit like Magny Cours would make sense while there are 3 French drivers lining up on the grid each weekend (and another waiting in the wings at Lotus for when Maldonado reaches his penalty points limit).
A stumbling block for all of these circuits would be the hosting fee required by FOM before the motorhomes even turn up at the circuit. The system outlined above would solve this issue and pave the way for classic races to return to the calendar.
Furthermore, it could be used a trial for other Grand Prix before they become a regular feature. The recent news that Azerbaijan could soon host a race raised the eyebrows of many. How could the popularity of a race be guaranteed in a place where no Formula One driver has ever come from before and has never hosted a race? This European GP rotation would allow for a trial year/period, allowing time for the popularity of the sport to build in a country like this before it becomes a permanent fixture on the calendar.
An even more radical system could see fans vote for where they want to see a Grand Prix go in future years. I divulge from the topic in hand, but the possibilities would be large for such a proposal.
Bringing F1 to the people
With the smallest capacity of an F1 circuit, at just 37,000 spectators, the Monaco Grand Prix does not lend itself to reaching the masses. However, Boeri argues that over the 4 days of the event some 200,000 people watch the race from the grandstands, surrounding buildings and boats in the harbour; which would bring it into line with the attendance of the Australian, Italian and British Grand Prix.
With a miniscule $7 million state subsidy for the race (when compared with the $60 million that the Singapore race receives) the race is seemingly kept on a budget. Even though Formula Money reports the state “does get one of the highest returns on investment.” With the further effect of tourism to the second smallest nation in the world thanks to the race, the race more than covers its expenditure. Boeri states, the impact is felt “not so much during the Grand Prix period as all year round, through the number of congresses, seminars and launches, tourists and professionals choosing the principality.”
Allowing racing in other areas of Europe will bring those in countries where it is less popular to be introduced to the sport or reintroduce it to those who have previously held a race. The necessary investments to upgrade these old circuit’s facilities (which Formula One demands) would be made viable if they were not lumped with a secondary cost to fork out for a hosting fee.
Is this ever possible?
While this is merely a whimsical idealistic proposal at the moment, with the change the sport will go through over the next decade of power and constant challenges, anything is possible. For the foreseeable future Force India owner (for the meantime at least) Vijay Mallya will continue to host his invite only soiree and the Red Bull energy station will be docked in the harbour with its seemingly never ending parties. People will continue to fork out €101,000 for a top spot in the harbour berth as the allure of the race around the principality is still so great.
To see drivers on the very edge of control, pushed to the extent of their capabilities is something that will never go out of fashion. However, shouldn’t a country that has the highest GDP per person in the world, in excess of £140,000, at least have to pay for this luxury?