What it is like to be trackside at F1’s most famous race

Getting the chance to be inches away from F1 cars is an unparalleled experience and one the world championship’s most famous circuit provides like no other. 

It is intense, thrilling and slightly terrifying in equal measure. 

There is a real sense of irony from getting an experience that money can’t buy in one of the most glamorous and richest locations in the world, with one in three of Monaco’s 38,000 population a millionaire. 

But for all the riches of Monaco, there is no price that can buy the access that comes with being a media representative at the Principality. Being allowed to get closer to the action than anyone else is truly special and a real privilege that isn’t taken for granted. 

It was a mind-blowing experience for this writer, attending his first ever Monaco Grand Prix, when the first car whizzed by at Mirabeau as FP1 got underway on Friday. 

While TV coverage does well to highlight the skill level and precision required by the drivers to thread the needle around Monte Carlo’s legendary streets, witnessing this in person brings another level of appreciation and a true impression of speed. 

Much of my time trackside was spent standing in complete awe of the drivers (and photographers). For an F1 fan, being trackside at Monaco provides the ultimate adrenaline rush. 

You get a real sense of the forces and speeds involved. The barriers vibrate as they are skimmed by the drivers, who are pushing to the very edge of the limit at corners like Casino Square, the Nouvelle Chicane, Tabac and the swimming pool. At many parts of the circuit, you could literally reach out and touch the cars. 

Every lap, the drivers are flirting with disaster in the pursuit of the quickest time. Being in the tunnel is an overwhelming attack on the senses. You can feel the wind get sucked between the armco as the cars fly past, while the amplified sound is almost deafening, even with these quieter V6 hybrid engines. One can only imagine how the tunnel must have shook back in the screaming V10 days. 

When it does go wrong at Monaco, it usually does so in spectacular fashion. I had a first-hand experience of this when Daniel Ricciardo crashed his McLaren at the dizzyingly-fast swimming pool. 

At the time, I had been wandering back to the paddock, facing away from the action. The screech of the tyres was vivid, followed by a loud crunch of carbon fibre meeting metal, and finally a blanket of dust and debris that showered myself and a fellow colleague. 

I was struck by a small piece of carbon fibre that flicked off my elbow but was thankful to emerge unschathed. It was all over in a split-second, and by the time I had looked up, Ricciardo was already skating towards the barriers at Turn 15 where his car finally came to a rest. 

There is no shame in admitting it was a shock, especially when discovering from the replay that Ricciardo had been heading directly towards me at the point of impact. The forces generated were huge and served as a reminder of the dangers of motorsport (just as stated on the back of the pass), particularly at a venue like Monte Carlo. 

You can only begin to imagine what it must be like for the drivers to dance past the barriers at speeds of around 100mph, and why they are desperate not to lose the race from the calendar. Monaco faces an uncertain future with its contract expiring at the end of the year, with F1 understood to be seeking more concessions for the Principality to retain its slot. 

“Of course the overtaking is difficult, but I think what we all love as drivers is the challenge, especially in qualifying: to do that lap,” said home hero Charles Leclerc. “Pushing that hard, there are no tracks in Formula 1 that come that close to the adrenaline we get here.

“It’s part of F1’s history and should stay in Formula 1.”

World champion Max Verstappen is among those who believe the prospect of not having a Monaco GP is inconceivable. 

“I don’t think you can replace Monaco,” the Red Bull driver said. “Monaco has such a history, and of course it takes time to build that.

“Miami is completely different to Monaco, there’s a lot more space here and the whole atmosphere is different. Different kind of culture as well, which is good that we have because it would be very boring to drive every time at the same culture.

“So yeah, you have to find a middle way between, you know, these kind of things, Monaco and of course, permanent racetracks.”

It seems unlikely that Monaco will be lost completely, though rotation could be one possibility. Despite the racing never being particularly exciting, losing the race from the calendar would mark the end of one of sport’s most unique events. 

Regardless of the arguments over whether F1 has outgrown Monaco, the experience of being trackside will remain etched into my memory, and is certainly the biggest personal highlight of my career to date.

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