Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Should the Monaco Grand Prix be changed?

The 2023 Formula 1 Monaco Grand Prix is now behind us and the F1 circus quickly turned its attention to the subsequent races on the calendar. But as we always see with the event around the streets of Monte Carlo, there have been countless questions about whether the track should retain its place on the calendar.

That discussion has been done to death and there’s very little fresh ground to go over. So, until anyone in the decision-making levels of the sport decides to confirm either way, that Monaco question will remain unanswered.

The reality is that the prestige, history, and exclusivity of the principality will continue to make it an attractive location for sporting events, not just Formula 1. For example, the European Poker Tour has been visiting Monaco for the best part of two decades. Every year, it sees thousands of the best professional poker players come together to compete in various events that cover practically all of the most popular poker variants, including Texas Hold’em, Omaha, and H.O.R.S.E. But in addition to offering a challenge to talented professionals, it remains a popular event on the tour because players get a taste of the high life when they take a break from the tables, hopping on helicopter rides around the harbour, watching world-class circus events, and joining tours around the Prince’s Palace.

Similar happens during the Formula 1 weekend with many of the world’s super-rich docking their superyachts in the harbour and a long list of A-list celebrities wandering around the exclusive bars, clubs, and restaurants that line the Monagasque streets.

The problem for F1 in recent years has been that the actual on-track action is overshadowed by this pomp and pageantry, leading to the Grand Prix itself being a damp squib. However, the 2023 Grand Prix was actually an entertaining one with action and jeopardy taking place throughout, even if the top three finishing positions were a carbon copy of the starting grid.

But that excitement was brought on, in large part, by the opening of the heavens onto the track, which created a strategic dilemma for the teams on whether to pit for wet tyres or try and brave it out on slicks.

Had the race been a dry one, it is likely we wouldn’t have seen the same level of excitement, so that leaves a question around what else could be done to spice up the racing.

Make it Rain?

While having the drivers perform a rain dance on the grid ahead of the Grand Prix is unlikely to achieve more than a few puzzled looks, the idea of making races more exciting by randomly simulating precipitation is not an entirely new one.

Back in 2011, the former F1 supremo, Bernie Ecclestone, suggested that race tracks should be fitted with sprinkler systems to create fake rain in the hopes of promoting overtaking. As you would expect, it was quickly and widely pooh-poohed, but it likely would yield results in Monaco.

However, it’s still just pie-in-the-sky thinking, as it was back then, so perhaps there’s another way.

Extend the Track?

Currently, Formula 1 cars struggle to overtake in Monaco because they’re not designed for the narrow and twisty streets. There are also no places that naturally lend themselves to overtaking; most notably, there is a lack of long straights that lead into heavy braking zones which causes processional races. The DRS zone on the pit straight is also not long enough, so a longer one could be useful.

One solution could be to extend the circuit before the tunnel. After dropping down to the hairpin from Casino Square, the drivers could continue driving towards the French border, surpassing the current Portier corner, creating a long(ish) straight and a hairpin before the cars double back onto a longer run towards and through the tunnel.

This would create a bigger braking zone into the Nouvelle Chicane where we already see many overtaking attempts. Alternatively, that corner could be removed to extend the DRS zone right down the waterfront.

There would be safety concerns to overcome with at least some of these changes, but they tick all the theoretical boxes for what circuit attributes promote overtaking.

Change the Format

If the purists are adamant that the circuit should remain the same and we shouldn’t try to play the role of Mother Nature, then another option could be to change the format of the weekend.

Formula 1 is already doing this with its selected Sprint Weekends where there’s an additional race, so a special Monaco format could be created to better suit the circuit.

Some ideas for this include creating the option for joker laps where drivers get to take a shortcut a set number of times during the race (another Ecclestone idea), similar to what we see in Rallycross. For example, they could follow the old Formula E track layout after turn one instead of continuing up the hill.

This would help drivers to overtake when they’re stuck behind a slower car and create more strategic challenges for the teams.

Other options could include placing more emphasis on qualifying, perhaps by mandating tyre compounds in sessions, creating a shootout, or even combining multiple formats and averaging out the results.

While all of these ideas may seem a little out there, they could all help to spice up the weekend. If they work, then all of the negativity towards them would quickly fade away, securing Monaco’s place on the calendar for many more years.

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