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October 15, 2019

Monaco: Grand Prix Track Walk

Filed under: Architecture, Europe, Monaco, Photography, Travel, Travel, Writing — Tags: , , , , — anotherheader @ 2:50 pm

A view of the swimming pool chicane from our room

It is easy to forget about Europe’s micro-countries. They’re too small to have much of an impact on the world scene and thus don’t often feature in the daily news. Perhaps that’s why two of the smallest countries, San Marino and Monaco have promoted their brands, intentionally or otherwise, by lending their names to Formula 1 championship races.

A curiosity in this is that the San Marino Grand Prix, while it existed, was never held in San Marino itself. Instead it was held nearby in Imola Italy, completely outside of the principality. Using the San Marino name for the Grand Prix was in effect a convenience to allow a second F1 race in Italy.

Despite being 1/30th the size of San Marino, Monaco does manage to fit its historic grand prix circuit inside its 2 square kilometers of land area. The Principality of Monaco has 50 km of road. Fifty kilometers of road in 2 square kilometers seems a lot. Indeed I calculate this means that very roughly 17% percent of the country’s surface area can be driven on. The F1 course is a little over 3 kilometers in length, at takes up around 7% of Monaco’s road distance. It is amazing that a road race can be held in such a small place.

When we visited in November of 2018 we spent a couple of hours walking the two-mile Monaco course trying to figure out the exact route. In some places the path of the cars is very obvious: There’s no doubt about the route at the casino or through the tunnel. In other places the layout is a little confusing. Our survey wasn’t helped by the carnival going on in what is the race’s pit area at the time we visited.

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If you watch a F1 race on TV you get a rough idea of the circuit layout. But on the ground, when the course is not set up, it’s a bit of a challenge to figure out how exactly the circuit is configured. Sometimes there are clear signs of where the course runs: There are striped rubber berms that stay in place all year and the painted starting grid remains visible after the race. But in other places the race route is less obvious. For us the most reliable way to trace the track was to look carefully for the attachment points for the Armco barriers. In the end the Armco fixing points let us pretty accurately figure out the route of the race.

One thing’s for sure: Walking the track makes clear that racing through the tight streets of Monaco at Formula speeds is completely bonkers. Footage from in car cameras confirms this. Though the track is too narrow for routine passing, which often makes for boring race for spectators, it has to be completely mental in the seat of a racecar averaging 105 mph as it whizzes through the tight streets.


Here is another more complete take on the configuration of the track a Monaco.

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