The effect of unleashing two dozen racing cars on the streets of Monaco is like letting off a box of outdoor fireworks — rockets, roman candles, Catherine wheels, the lot – inside your house, and the blatant mismatch is what makes it so enthralling. Required to use the utmost finesse as they guide their 700-horsepower missiles within millimetres of unforgiving steel barriers, the drivers know that whoever wins will join a particularly illustrious list of heroes.
Monaco is seldom won by accident, or by a so-so driver. Ayrton Senna won six times here, although he is perhaps most famous for not winning on two other occasions: in 1984, when heavy rain persuaded the stewards to stop the race just as he was about to catch Alain Prost, and in 1988, when the Brazilian took pole position with a supernatural lap time 1.4sec lower than that of Prost, the next-fastest man, but lost concentration while leading easily with 12 laps to go and hit a barrier, marching straight from the scene of the accident to his nearby apartment, where he locked the door, took the phone off the hook, and wept with frustration. Graham Hill and Michael Schumacher each won five times, and Prost on four occasions.
“I think every driver would admit that it’s a sensational challenge,” this year’s winner Mark Webber explained last week. “You’d never design a track like this now. It’s a law unto itself and it’s right on the edge for all of us. And it can make you look as stupid as hell, because at Monaco there’s no difference between a small mistake and a big mistake. The result is the same — a trashed car.”