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27 March 2015

Life In The Fast Lane

 “Monaco should be driven smoothly and quietly… be nice to the car.” – Jackie Stewart

Ben Lerwill is a freelance travel writer based in Oxfordshire. His work has appeared in more than 50 publications, including National Geographic Traveller, The Times, The Independent, Wanderlust, BBC Countryfile and Time Out. 

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The Formula One calendar is crammed with big-name races, but none have quite the glamour and status of Monaco. There is, quite simply, no Grand Prix quite like it. Classified as one of motorsport’s Triple Crown events – alongside the 24 Hours of Le Mans and the Indianapolis 500 – the race was first run in 1929 and still makes use of a circuit that twists along narrow streets, through waterside tunnels and past yacht-filled harbours.

It’s an infamously difficult course (Nelson Piquet famously likened it to bicycling around a living room), but various legendary drivers have mastered its complexities year-in, year-out. Here then, in ascending order, are Monaco’s six most successful sons.

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6. Jackie Stewart (three wins)

“Monaco should be driven smoothly and quietly… be nice to the car.” So said Jackie Stewart, who won the race three times between 1966 and 1973. “The slowest way around Monte Carlo is the fastest way,” he continued. Forget any visions of The Flying Scot having a Sunday pootle around the principality, however – his blend of subtlety and speed was effective enough for him to be considered as one of Monaco’s all-time greats.

Aptly, he was the subject of Roman Polanski’s documentary film Weekend of a Champion, which shadowed the driver in the immediate run-up to the 1971 Grand Prix. It also happened to be Stewart’s finest Monaco moment – he won the race by a full 25 seconds.

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Image Credit: iStock.com/egadolfo

5. Stirling Moss (three wins)

The compact navy blue Lotus 18 in which Stirling Moss won the 1961 Monaco Grand Prix is far removed from the ultra-streamlined cars of today. Likewise, the leather-strapped white helmet that was perched on his head is a distant cousin indeed to 2015’s ad-splattered, high-tech model.

It makes the achievements of the London-born driver, who triumphed here in 1956, 1960 and 1961, all the purer. There remains a real nostalgia for the earlier era defined by racers like Moss and fellow Monaco legend Juan Manuel Fangio, and old footage of the Brit’s three wins at Monaco show just how technically gifted he was.

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Image Credit: iStock.com/StevanZZ

4. Alain Prost (four wins)

Leaping forward more than twenty years, the mid-80s at Monaco were dominated by one man, a tousle-haired, part-Armenian driver from the Loire Valley. Alain Prost remains a titan of the sport – despite standing just 5 foot 6 tall – and his record at Monaco was superb.

He finished first in 1984, 1985, 1986 and 1988, with the 1984 win particularly notable for being achieved in rain-soaked conditions (these days the race is also remembered for the remarkable 13th-to-2nd drive of a young rookie named Ayrton Senna). “You can be a great driver without winning at Monaco,” Prost said last year, on the 30th anniversary of that first win, “but it is much better to have won here.”

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Image Credit: iStock.com/GramirBlues

3. Michael Schumacher (five wins)

As a seven-time Formula One World Champion, Michael Schumacher found sustained success in most places. He achieved a total of 91 career wins – Prost, his closest competitor in this regard, managed only 51. The German topped the podium in Monaco on five occasions, an almost modest total by Schumacher’s lofty standards but one that can hardly be overlooked.

His greatest drive here was widely held to be in 1997, when he cruised home almost a minute ahead of Rubens Barichello in second. Less positive was the controversy surrounding the 2006 race, when he was accused of deliberately blocking title rival Fernando Alonso. But the question as to whether, over the years, Schumacher displayed brilliance on the track here? Not up for debate.

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Image Credit: iStock.com/StevanZZ

2. Graham Hill (five wins)

Graham Hill remains the one man to have won all three of motorsport’s Triple Crown races, which isn’t bad for someone who only passed their driving test at the age of 24. He gained the nickname Mr Monaco, and his mastery of the circuit means aficionados still talk reverently of the Graham Hill era, when he amassed five wins in seven years between 1963 and 1969.

By his own account, his finest ever triumph was at the Grand Prix here in 1965, when he clawed back a 34-second deficit. Poignantly, he died in an aircraft accident in 1975, a full 20 years before son Damon achieved his own Monaco high-point, finishing second in 1995.

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1. Ayrton Senna (six wins)

The most successful non-European F1 driver of all time is remembered for many things, but two of the most pertinent are his rivalry with Alain Prost and his half-dozen victories at Monaco. The one, in many ways, fed the other. The Brazilian conquered Monte Carlo in 1987, 1989, 1990, 1991, 1992 and 1993, displaying an almost poetic connection with the circuit.

We’ll never know how many wins he would have racked up had his career not been so tragically shortened, but it’s widely accepted that Senna’s genius found its fullest expression here in the principality. “It was like I was in a tunnel”, he once said of driving in Monaco. “Not only the tunnel under the hotel but the whole circuit was a tunnel. I was just going and going, more and more and more and more. I was way over the limit but still able to find even more.”

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Image Credit: iStock.com/&#169 Oliver Ritter-Wolff

Explore Monaco with an Avis hire car.

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