6 Of The Best – Monaco's Magic Moments

26th May 2016
Henry Hope-Frost

Formula 1’s most prestigious – and outrageous – race takes place this weekend. And for the 63rd time in World Championship history the unforgiving streets of the principality will reward the perfectionists and punish the reckless. All the clichés about Monaco – you know, riding a bicycle in your bathroom – are true; they always have been and always will be. And the circuit’s uncompromising nature often throws up surprises. As we gear up for this weekend’s event, in which fans will be hoping for Spanish Grand Prix-style surprises (and Lewis Hamilton will be desperate to start his 2016 title challenge), we’ve picked out half a dozen races that had a, let’s say, less than obvious outcome. We’ve chosen one classic for the past six decades, but, as is customary, don’t forget to tell us about any you prefer.

1955 – Trintignant stays out of trouble

Five years after making his World Championship debut in the principality, Maurice Trintignant didn’t look a likely victory candidate. There’d been no Monaco Grand Prix between 1951 and ’54 and the Frenchman had been eliminated in an opening-lap shunt in 1950, so his experience of the unforgiving streets was minimal. Second time round he’d qualified his Ferrari 625 only ninth, 3.3 seconds adrift of Mercedes poleman and reigning World Champion Juan Manuel Fangio. The Argentinian had taken an easy win on home soil in the opening race of the year, so nobody had any reason to suspect the 100-lap street race would not go his way. JMF duly took off into the lead and stayed there until the W196’s transmission gave up bang on half distance. Assuming control was Fangio’s team-mate Stirling Moss, who held sway for 20 laps – until his Merc’s engine let go. Lancia ace Alberto Ascari, who’d split the Three-Pointed Star in qualifying, then ended up in the Mediterranean at just the moment he could’ve taken advantage of Moss’ lap-80 plight. And through it all came a slightly surprised Trintignant for his maiden victory. Needless to say, Mercedes wouldn’t lose again during 1955.

1961 – Moss trounces a trio of Ferraris

The 1961 season heralded the start of the 1.5-litre formula and the fabulous ‘sharknose’ Ferraris were expected to lead the way. A brace of 65-degree V6 156s for Wolfgang von Trips and Phil Hill, plus the latest, 120-degree, unit for Richie Ginther, looked to have the British Cooper and Lotus ‘garagistes’ covered. But the Scuderia hadn’t reckoned on Stirling Moss. Britain’s best had mastered F1’s downtown rollercoaster in 1960 in Rob Walker’s 2.5-litre Lotus 18, but he’d have a tougher time in ’61 against the Maranello onslaught. Wouldn’t he? It appeared not after qualifying, in which Moss eclipsed the quickest Ferrari of Ginther by 0.2s. Although the American made his horsepower advantage over the Climax unit in Moss’s Lotus count by leading the first 13 laps, the dark blue machine got in front and pulled out a gap of more than four seconds – much to Walker’s mirth.

Stirling held it together, though, fending off a late-race attack from Ginther to make it a record third win in the principality. Von Trips, who was classified fourth, despite crashing on the 98th of 100 laps, was moved to say: “Stirling alone is worth a second per lap”. It was a triumph for driver talent over technical superiority.

1972 – Beltoise’s BRM raindance

Frenchman Jean-Pierre Beltoise, who’d spent five years in F1 with his beloved Matra equipe, was not expected to be challenging for a first Grand Prix victory on his fifth appearance at Monaco. When the Monegasque enclave was rainlashed on raceday, he set out to prove the doubters wrong by leaping off the second row from his fourth-place grid spot and into a lead he would keep for each of the 80 laps. His Marlboro-liveried, 3-litre V12 BRM P160 was at its compliant best on the sodden streets and Beltoise took a famous win – ahead of acknowledged rainmeister Jacky Ickx, whose Ferrari had started on the front row alongside the Lotus of first-time polesitter Emerson Fittipaldi.  Beltoise’s stars aligned perfectly that day; as all around him spun, rejoined and spun again, or simply threw it into the scenery, he majestically swept to a first victory at his  48th attempt. And his historic personal moment signalled a 17th and final win at the top level for the BRM outfit. During the British team’s steady decline of the mid-1970s, it would only once more get a car to a top-three finish – in South Africa in ’74, thanks to the efforts of the hero of Monaco 1972.


1982 – Patrese prevails – but only just

For years, the 40th Monaco Grand Prix has been billed as the race that no one wanted to win – and it was thanks to the last few laps. Polesitter René Arnoux led for the first 14 laps before his Renault engine lunched itself. Team-mate Alain Prost then took up the cudgels, looking entirely as though he was on course for an easy sixth career win for The Regie. And then a rain shower turned the race on its head. Le Professeur was caught out on lap 74 while gunning the turbocharged RE30B out of the chicane and down to Tabac. The ensuing shunt immediately handed the lead to Riccardo Patrese’s Brabham, the Italian using the trusted Cosworth DFV engine while team leader Nelson Piquet persevered – and failed – with the recalcitrant turbo BMW unit. Patrese had only been out front for one tour when he spun at the Loews hairpin and got the BT49 beached on the apex kerb. A contentious push-start got the car going again, although too late to prevent Ferrari’s Didier Pironi from assuming control. The Frenchman’s 126C2 then coughed as it entered the tunnel, its fuel tank dry. Back to the front went Patrese – for one more agonising lap. Victory was his, from the stricken Ferrari that had completed enough of the race distance to be classified second. Murray Walker’s excitable on-air toing and froing included the Alfa Romeo of Andrea de Cesaris, the Williams of Derek Daly and the two Lotuses of Elio de Angelis and Nigel Mansell, all of which had briefly emerged as suitors.   

1996 – Panis’s first is Ligier’s last

A survival of the fittest, but not the fastest, the 1996 Grand Prix will long be remembered for the myriad front-runners falling by the wayside and the unfancied runners flying the flag for consistency and perseverance.  First-time Ferrari polesitter Michael Schumacher blotted his copybook at Portier before the end of the first lap, handing the initiative to Damon Hill’s Williams-Renault. The Englishman held sway for 40 laps, save for a pitstop cycle, before a rare Renault V10 engine failure scuppered his plan to join his father Graham as a Monaco winner. And that left Jean Alesi’s Benetton out front. A second career win for the Frenchman would have been a popular result, that is until suspension failure spoiled his afternoon. For 15 nerve-wracking laps, Alesi’s countryman Olivier Panis held on to a lead he’d assumed thanks to an error-free, if slightly fortuitous, drive in the Ligier-Mugen JS43. What would prove to be his only win at the top level was Guy Ligier’s first for almost 15 years – and its last. The attrition meant that only four cars hung on to see the chequered flag – the lowest in the principality since 1966.

2004 – Trulli’s half-second heroics

As venues for nailing your first pole position and converting it into your maiden win go, Monaco takes some beating. Just ask Italian Jarno Trulli, who understandably rates his only F1 victory as the race of his life. Trulli had the measure of undisputed Renault team leader Fernando Alonso all weekend, heading him in qualifying and in the 77-lap race. In fact, Trulli made sure of a first-corner lead and, pitstop cycles aside, stayed there throughout. Once Michael Schumacher and Alonso – the only other drivers who led the race – had retired, Trulli had to fend off Briton Jenson Button. The BAR-Honda man caught the Renault but couldn’t find a way past, the pair circulating as one for more than 30 laps. In the end, Button fell short by 0.4s, to ensure one of the closest finishes in Monaco history and Trulli adding his name to a pretty exclusive list of winners.

  • F1

  • Monaco

  • Olivier Panis

  • Flat-Out and Fearless

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