Winning at Monaco is special. The track might not be a fan favourite with plenty of “Monaco fast trains” spoiling the spectacle in recent years, but the drivers feel a special pull towards the winner’s trophy at the Principality. Why? Because strange things happen at Monaco.
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The 1996 Monaco Grand Prix is part of the Formula 1 record books as the race with the fewest number of cars taking the chequered flag. With 21 drivers lining up on the grid for the start, Olivier Panis, David Coulthard and Johnny Herbert were the only competitors to complete the whole race distance. Panis’s sole career win also marks the last time in which a French driver won an F1 race. With Jules Bianchi and Romain Grosjean being in the struggling Marussia and Lotus respectively, this record might survive a few more seasons. But why was the 1996 race such a challenge? Well, the track is difficult as it is and heavy rainfall makes it just undrivable.
The title “King of Monaco” is bestowed only to drivers that have been extraordinarily successful in the Principality. The early king was Graham Hill. Hill won five times between 1963 and 1969. Only one man has managed to win more races than Hill in Monaco. His name is Ayrton Senna. Senna has won six times in the Principality with an unrivalled run of five consecutive wins between 1989 and 1993. The 1993 Monaco Grand Prix marked Senna’s record-breaking sixth victory.
The 1993 win was special also because Senna (still at McLaren) managed to finish 52.118 seconds ahead of Damon Hill’s superior Williams. And to add a bit of spice to it Senna’s compatriot Christian Fittipaldi managed to finish fifth with the backmarker Minardi.
The 1984 Monaco Grand Prix has become legendary not only because it marked Alain Prost’s first of four wins at the Principality, but also because it announced to the world the arrival of the new star of the sport, Ayrton Senna. Senna was running in an uncompetitive Toleman but amidst the heavy rain was quickly closing in on the race leader Prost. The race would end up being suspended due to heavy rain before Senna and Prost had the chance to fight it out in earnest. Many fans would later claim that Prost asked the race to be stopped to avoid the embarrassment of losing the win to the rookie Senna, but the truth is that finishing second behind the Brazilian in a race that had covered more than 75% of the race distance would have been more beneficial for the Professor’s World Championship hopes than finishing first in a race for which only half the standard points were awarded. A few months later, Prost would end up losing the 1984 title to Lauda by only half a point.
If the 1984 Monaco Grand Prix was controversial, the 2006 one took Formula 1 scandal to the next level. Michael Schumacher is probably the greatest F1 driver ever, but there are a few blemishes on his resume that many fans will never forgive. The 2006 Monaco Grand Prix qualifying is one of them.
In the final minutes of Q3, Schumacher set a lap of 1:13.898 which put him narrowly ahead of Fernando Alonso’s 1:13.962 for the pole. Then in a moment of craziness, the German parked his Ferrari at the La Rascasse hairpin, bringing out yellow flags and preventing the rest of the field from bettering his time.
At the time, Schumacher claimed that he made an error but was still disqualified by the stewards. The whole situation is a pity because that weekend was Schumacher’s last real chance to match Senna’s record at the Principality.