Monaco: A different kind of motor race
MAY 30, 2012
Sunday's Monaco Grand Prix polarised opinion - as it usually does. You either thought it was a tedious procession or a unique test of tenacity and skill.
Personally, I am of the latter view but I do appreciate some might think otherwise. What surprised me on Sunday night, however, was the number of bland tweets from professional F1 reporters. Without exercising what ought to be a balanced view of an interesting but tricky question, they simply wrote off the 78 laps as boring. Some even managed to sound offended.
Such opinion, it seemed to me, showed a worrying absence of understanding about a sport in which these people are supposed to be well-informed. It was like criticising a bridge tournament for lacking the urgency of a game of Snap.
On the other hand, such a simplistic summary could be interpreted as a reflection of our dumbed-down times when immediate gratification is demanded and no longer merely anticipated; an extension of spectator insistence on repeated explosions of drama that can be instantly measured and recorded in statistics.
Which leads me nicely into the very different scenario that followed from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Sunday evening. There can be no more diverse comparison than the Monaco Grand Prix with a static top ten (other than through pit stops) for an hour and 46 minutes, and the Indy 500 setting a record with so many lead changes that visits to the bathroom had to be planned around caution periods.
Different, as I say, but each event has its place. I wouldn't wish to see an Indycar championship made entirely of high-speed oval races any more than 20 Grands Prix round Monte Carlo in one season would be of interest to no one other than Monegasque businesses and bankers. But you can't knock either race for an inimitable and colourful contribution to our sport.
Critics of Sunday's Grand Prix would - and probably did - accept the trappings as they choked back the odd glass of champagne on a sponsor's yacht. All in the line of duty, of course. Their argument lies with the race itself and a stagnant lap chart.
It was not sufficient to have the first six covered by as many seconds for the last quarter of the event. The complaint seemed to be that the inability of the world's top drivers to overtake was somehow distorting Grand Prix racing's marketability and the provision of something uncomplicated to write about for the following day's newspaper. Man overtakes Man is more easily understood than Man has to stretch his focus and mental resilience while not putting a wheel so much as a centimetre out of place while skimming barriers with a precision and speed that would make your eyes water.
There have been calls for the organisers to somehow tweak the track and provide at least one place to overtake without visiting either the Armco or the stewards' room to explain why you caused a collision. Such an adjustment might help. On the other hand, the Webbers and Alonsos of this world are no fools. Recognising an overtaking place for what it is, there's a fair chance they would have a particularly wide car at that point.
Monaco may indeed be much as it was in 1929 when Grand Prix cars of the day had about as much relevance to a Red Bull RB8 as an abacus has to a computer. But it is what it is. So deal with it. Just as Mark Webber did so expertly on Sunday and more than 30 different winners had done since the start of the World Championship.
Talking of former days, I can't let mention of Monaco go without paying tribute to Les Leston, who died recently at the age of 91. Leston was a Monaco F1 stalwart, but in an unconventional way. A former racer and a pioneer of motor accessories such as wood-rim steering wheels, Leston also made money by running an unofficial betting office in the Top Top bar, located on the downhill run from Casino to Mirabeau.
This drinking establishment used to be Mecca because, in the 1960s and early 1970s, it was where race fans could literally rub shoulders with the good and the great. Leston had a blackboard on which he would chalk the odds for the Grand Prix and take French Francs off anyone - including most of the drivers - willing to have a flutter.
Having been a mid-turret gunner who, remarkably, survived more than 20 missions in Lancaster bombers during World War II, Leston's interpretation of life would not have allowed him to fret over the absence of overtaking through the streets of Monte Carlo on the Sunday afternoon. In those days, you placed your bet and sat back to enjoy a different kind of motor race. That hasn't changed. And neither it should.
Maurice Hamilton , a freelance motor sport writer and broadcaster since 1977, is the author of more than twenty books and contributes to websites and magazines worldwide.
His weekly column for Grandprix.com was Highly Commended in the 2011 Newspress New Media Awards.