Bob McMurray: Monaco v Indianapolis
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It would never be allowed to take place had it been mooted in these modern times. But here it is again, the annual extravaganza best and famously described by Nelson Piquet as like “riding a bicycle around your living room”. Formula 1 has descended on the tiny principality of Monte Carlo for the 76th Grand Prix de Monaco.
The race is undeniably glamorous, with an almost vulgar attitude overtly displayed similarly by the moneyed and those who wish they were. For others who work in the pits and garages, service the cars, drive the trucks and assemble the motorhomes, the glamour is not so evident.
You either love Monaco or hate it and that includes the drivers.
But even those who say they hate the place seem to have a good time — as there is simply no other place like it.
Discussions about track limits — and penalties for those who wander too far over the white line at track edge — are forgotten, as Monaco has a simple solution.
Hard, unforgiving walls of solid steel “Armco” barriers define the track limits. Step over the limit and that sculptured front wing is going to be the most expensive piece of art in the nearest waste bin.
This is a race where the extremes of Formula 1 can be reached. It is one of the most exciting circuits — as in 1992 when Ayrton Senna, driving a slower McLaren on old tyres, held off Nigel Mansell driving that all-conquering Williams with new tyres.
The event is founded on the old glamour days of royalty mixing it with dashing young daredevil racers and lashings of dollars.
But even in those heady days some races were tedious to watch.
In 1962 there were only 16 cars on the grid with huge differences in performance. After more than two an a half hours of racing, just six cars took the chequered flag — and two were almost 100km behind the winner, a young chap named Jackie Stewart (now a sir).
Qualifying well means more at Monaco than any other race. The race often has little or no overtaking and speeds are slow.
Conversely the drivers have to demonstrate more skill, more precision and more concentration than at any other race.
The title “Monaco Grand Prix Winner” carries perhaps more kudos than any other grand prix.
On the other side of the Atlantic, a world away from the yachts and bling but equally as ostentatious in its own way is another race — the 102nd running of the Indianapolis 500.
It is a spectacle and, like Monaco, a standalone event in which every driver dreams of competing, winning and adding his, or her, name to the greatest drivers in the sport.
Like Monaco, the Indy 500 is a race of attrition, demanding the same level of respect in terms of precision, skill and concentration and plain old “race-craft”.
Unlike Monaco, the starting position for the 500 is relatively unimportant — the race has been won by drivers starting well back in the pack.
Each event is special but each serves also to illustrate the major differences between IndyCar oval racing and Formula 1.
It is unfortunate that tradition dictates these events take place on the same day, early this Monday morning NZ time.
And when the racing is over, one person on either side of the Atlantic will go down in history as the winner of the most famous race in their series.