It’s been a pretty good year for Formula 1.
We’ve seen the return of overtaking and excitement after the addition of gadgets and tyres that wear out faster than a cheap set of retreads.
Yes, it’s contrived and manufactured racing, but it’s exciting and makes a refreshing change from the processions that we’ve seen over the past decade.
Then, just when we’ve come to terms with the new and improved F1, we go back to Monaco.
It is one of the most widely known motor sport events in the world, holding pride of place next to the Indianapolis 500 and Le Mans 24-hour. It is iconic and the most glittering prize in the F1 calendar.
And it’s also dead boring.
Overtaking is almost impossible on the tight street circuit and the crash barriers that line the track are absolutely unforgiving on any errors or overshoots. The circuit is so unsuited to modern F1 racing that the teams have to install modified steering systems just to allow the cars to navigate the Grand Hotel hairpin.
It may well also be the only track this year not to utilise the DRS during the race. Monaco is very different.
It’s the only race in the F1 calendar to have Thursday practice, so that the city can be opened to "breathe" again on the Friday—whatever that means. Yes, it’s a living city and it needs to operate, but either way it only loses one weekday.
Monaco is an anachronism; a throwback to a gentler time of F1 racing, a time when there were no wings, when drivers sat up high in the cockpit wearing leather helmets and goggles.
It no longer sits comfortably in the modern F1 world. In amongst the modern Hermann Tilke tracks that have been saved by KERS and DRS, Monaco stands out as the ugly duckling. Nothing can make racing exciting in Monaco, it all comes down to the unsatisfying combination of qualifying and pit strategy.
As uncomfortable as it is, Monaco is also tightly woven into the very fabric of F1. It has hosted Grand Prix since 1929 and was part of the first F1 world championship in 1950. It runs second only to Monza for the number of F1 races, with 56 in total.
If it was to disappear from the championship, people would probably notice.
But, can anyone seriously argue that if this circuit was dropped anywhere else in the world, that it would be tolerated? It is slow and tortuous and doesn’t reward either a fast car or exceptional driver.
Not that it’s easy.
Monaco is one of, if not the hardest races in the calendar. There is not a moment’s respite around the circuit. Any loss of concentration is rewarded with an up-close, and usually terminal, look at the Armco barriers.
And that may be its saving grace. Monaco is interesting on an intellectual level as opposed to the more visceral excitement that you get at a circuit like Monza or Spa. It is a race for those who spend their life memorizing F1 stats and have bar-code collections.
It’s hard to know where, or if, Monaco fits into the F1 world any more. It almost seems better suited to an exhibition race, maybe a season finale or opening race—not for points—but for the honour of winning one of sport’s most enduring trophies.
But as long as Monaco remains the home to many of the tax averse F1 drivers, don’t expect things to change anytime soon.