The importance of Monaco for F1

Some say the Monaco Grand Prix brings more to F1 than F1 brings to Monaco. That may be true. Christian Sylt and James Newbold report


If ever there was a championship for the best value for money deal in F1 then the Monaco Grand Prix would surely take victory. Such is its importance that the Automobile Club de Monaco (ACM) is one of only a handful of F1 promoters that keeps all the revenue from its trackside advertising and has the distinction of paying no fee to host the race. And what a race it is.

The Monaco Grand Prix is one of motor racing’s prestigious ‘Triple Crown’ races, along with the Indianapolis 500 and the 24 Hours of Le Mans. The absence of a hosting fee puts the street race through the tiny principality on a firm financial footing, but it is the trackside advertising gain which is one of its biggest boons.

The city transforms

“Advertising is one of the takings which makes up, with those from grandstand ticket sales, the means to recoup the necessary funds to put on the event,” says ACM president Michel Boeri adding “it is true that other circuits prefer to delegate the charge of this activity. This isn’t the case with Monaco.” It pays off.

“The Grand Prix is certainly the best-known Monegasque sporting event because it is the most broadcast,” says Mr Boeri. “It has 900 hours of live television and 1.2 billion viewers. For the image of the principality and its local business it is one of the peak moments of the year.”

The principality has the smallest capacity of all the circuits at just 37,000 - 22,000 in the grandstands and 15,000 general admission - although unlike others it has a significant non-ticketed attendance. “Over the four days of the event it can be estimated quite precisely that there are around 200,000 spectators who follow the Grand Prix from the grandstands, the balconies of the buildings around the circuit and also from the boats in the harbour,” says Mr Boeri.

He adds that “of course Sunday is the peak day: the city literally explodes. It is estimated that there are 100,000 people present in the principality which ordinarily has a resident population of 30,000 inhabitants.” They fill Monaco’s tiny 1.95 square kilometre footprint to bursting but it is the streets, not the state’s borders, which need reinforcing.

Transforming a city into a race track is a far from an easy task. “The construction waiting periods were reduced, to optimise business use, to six weeks of construction and two weeks of deconstruction,” says Mr Boeri. Around 1,100 tonnes of grandstands, 900 tonnes of pit garages and 33 kilometres of barrier are used and a permanent team of 50 Monaco engineers are in charge of the installation.

Mr Boeri says the toughest challenge for such a small state is “the coordination of 500 trailers which must travel into the city, during the day and night, to supply material for the construction and of course the subsequent deconstruction. To that, one can add the material delivered by railway which doesn’t simplify the problem, but counts towards the necessary stocks.”

Recipe for success

Once the track is in place even more workers swamp the scene. Mr Boeri explains that “the Grand Prix puts over 600 commissaries in place to which 300 to 400 voluntary workers are added, divided between all the commissions, over 500 monitors and security service personnel, 40 first aid doctors…This list isn’t restrictive; in effect the event lists every state service - police, firemen, crowd control police, hospital, Red Cross, civil engineering department, town planning and cleaning departments - in all a total of over 3,000 people.”

These high overheads mean that although Monaco pays no race hosting fee and keeps all its trackside advertising revenues its ticket prices this year start at $194 and rise to $1,124. According to Boeri “the takings from the Grand Prix are less than the expenditure.” He explains that the ACM receives a state subsidy of $7 million to host the Grand Prix and with this included, the total budget for the race is around $35 million.

Visitors come to the site of the on-track battles long after the race has ended and Mr Boeri says that the impact is felt “not so much during the Grand Prix period as all year round, through the number of congresses, seminars and launches, tourists and professionals choosing the principality. The impact to the economic plan is undoubtedly positive.”

It is a dream package of promotion for Monaco, and Mr Boeri modestly remarks that “our marketing plan is quite well balanced”. However, he acknowledges that Monaco needs to rev up just to stand still against the current competition of space-age circuits that cost hundreds of millions to build. “If we want to survive we must, more than ever, make sure that we stay in the first bunch of Europeans, using our technical know-how, keeping the confidence of the international authorities, sponsors, car manufacturers and racing drivers, and continuing to modernise the course with the support of the Monegasque state.”

He adds that “with a lot of work and luck, we can hope to maintain the place that is ours today. We must realise that it’s necessary to evolve, to banish amateurism and select only the best in relation to their skills. We should manage, in a modern and commercial way, what has become an entertainment business, and take on board all the risks that this type of activity entails.”

His caution is admirable, particularly in a location which is so closely connected with gambling. Nevertheless, it probably isn’t necessary because when it comes to making money in motorsport, the Monaco Grand Prix is the safest bet in town.

THE JEWEL IN F1’S CROWN

First held in 1929, the Monaco Grand Prix is one of few constants in a motorsport landscape that has changed almost beyond recognition over the last 87 years.

A narrow street course lined by unforgiving barriers that allow little room for error, Monaco is the race that every driver most wants to win to immortalise their names alongside the likes of Sir Jackie Stewart, Ayrton Senna and Michael Schumacher, as well as modern stars Lewis Hamilton, Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso.

As one of the few circuits where a driver’s raw talent can transcend the abilities of their machinery, Monaco has forged a reputation as a proving ground over the years.

Max Verstappen’s fearless display in 2015 dispelled the theory that you can’t overtake at Monaco and was the latest in a long line of breakout performances in the principality. Ronnie Peterson’s second place to Stewart in 1971 helped the mercurial Swede to realise his frightening potential, while Senna and Stefan Bellof’s charging drives in monsoon conditions in 1984 marked both out as future stars.

Monaco has also thrown up plenty of surprises in its time. The Schumacher-Ferrari axis was at the height of its dominance in 2004 when the German missed out on a record-equalling sixth victory after making contact with Juan Pablo Montoya in the tunnel behind the safety car, opening the door for Jarno Trulli to score his first and only grand prix win. Eddie Irvine took a rare podium for Jaguar in 2001, while Frenchman Olivier Panis enjoyed his day of days in 1996, winning his only grand prix in a race only four cars finished.