We went there ten years ago last fall, but before that we saw the movie. John Frankenheimer directed Grand Prix, which came out in 1967 and featured James Gardner as American Formula 1 driver Pete Aron, and the movie follows an entire season of F-1 racing. It starts immediately with the race in Monaco, where the streets are converted into a race track. Since the Principality of Monaco is less than a square mile, and is densely populated besides, this makes for a tight course.
Anyhow, in early fall 2004 my brother and I took our wives on vacation, and we spent a day in Monaco. We walked the track, took lots of photos, and had a nice lunch looking at some of the most expensive scenery in the world.
This is going to be a short walk through featuring:
- Clips from the Frankenheimer movie
- Vacation photos from 2004
- Screen shots from today’s Monaco Grand Prix
It’s best to just follow the course around and compare 1966 with 2004 and finally with 2015.
In 1966 the course started down by the waterfront and worked its way uphill to the Casino Square. Here are spectators (in the movie) watching the cars turn to the right around the fountain with the casino in the background.
When I was there the scenery was slightly different.
Today not much has changed.
Leaving the square the cars plunge downhill along scenic Avenue de Spélungues, here in 2004.
And here today.
Avenue de Spélungues makes some wondrous twists on its way to the waterfront, and the movie made a lot of these shots:
I attempted to recap some of these scenes in 2004.
It remains a driver’s challenge today.
The arch bridge of 1966 was interesting.
It’s long gone, replaced by a modern structure by 2004.
And as seen today.
An interesting feature of the course was the tunnel along the waterfront, which may have been unique in F-1 courses. Scenes inside the tunnel added drama to the movie.
By 2004 the tunnel had become an open cutout in the side of the cliff beneath a hotel.
It still adds excitement to the race.
An infamous feature of the course is the chicane after the tunnel and along the waterfront. A street comes down to the waterfront from above, and cars have to dodge left around the intersection and then back right to stay out of the harbor.
This made for a spectacular scene in the movie, when Pete Aron tangled with a teammate right before the chicane and plowed through the hay bales and into the drink. Ouch!
Here’s what the place looked like when they weren’t racing.
This is also were driver Lorenzo Bandini was killed in 1967 when his car failed to negotiate the switchback and rammed the barricade, right in front of where the motorcycle is going. The chicane has been further revised. See the shot from today’s race.
Besides the addition of a swimming pool in the middle of the course along the waterfront, which requires a detour to the left and back, the U-turn at the end of the waterfront has been eliminated.
The waterfront section has been extended to go around this very nice café by the docks.
Juan Manuel Fangio was an outstanding F-1 racer, known for his absolute precision in driving. He was a master of this course, and he drove one of the cars for the movie. A statue of Fangio and his Mercedes Benz racer stands near the switchback turn.
Today’s race was with some excitement. Notable among the drivers was Max Verstatten, born in 1997 and currently setting the F-1 world on fire. Not today. Too eager to pass on the uphill stretch, he connected with the right rear wheel of the car in front of him and collected the barricade at turn one. The shots are from his car camera as the accident unfolded. Here it comes:
And now Verstatten rides his crippled car towards the apprehensive track workers straight ahead. Whamo! Stuff flies everywhere.
Go to Monaco if you can. You can eat cheap if all you want are sandwiches, soda and ice cream. Don’t go during the yacht festival (our first mistake). There’s no place to park. Our second try was during an off day, and we found ample parking in a garage under the pier that sticks out into the harbor.
Monaco is a small place. Tolar, Texas, is larger. You can go anywhere you want by walking. You can also get there by train from Nice, in France. Trains run frequently, and the fare is just a few Euros. Stop for lunch at Villefranche-sur-Mer. You won’t regret it.