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It is often claimed that the Monaco Grand Prix is the jewel in the crown of the Formula One World Championship. Likewise, since arriving on the calendar in 2008, the Singapore Grand Prix has quickly emerged as what many would argue as being a modern day classic. Despite the glamour and event places like this put on, are street circuits really a critical part of Formula One?
On the face of it, you'd be right to wonder what all the fuss is about. Yes, Monaco is one of the biggest races in the world, alongside the Indy 500 and the Le Mans 24 hours. Yes, Formula One has been racing around the streets of the Principality since the sport began. But the track has the slowest average speeds of any circuit F1 visits, and has in the past tended to resemble an expensive procession rather than a race, due to how difficult it is to overtake there. This year's race proved to be just that, with many fans complaining about how dull it was with the race featuring only twelve overtakes compared to last year's twenty eight.
Modern street circuits are no different either. The Valencia street circuit was designed to be a modern day twist on Monaco, but has so far proved to be unsuccessful since F1 started racing there four years ago. Many drivers and fans alike believe it is the most boring circuit the sport visits, and there has been very little action to speak of in recent seasons, despite Mark Webber's huge crash in 2010. Likewise, despite a dramatic race that memorably saw Renault's crash-gate saga take place in 2008, the same could be said for the Singapore race. The only difference is that Singapore has gone some distance to capturing some of Monaco's glamour by being the one and only night race of the year.
You could argue in the case of Monaco that it is the only race on the calendar where Formula One is a mere sideshow to other events. As the years have gone on, the focus on the Monaco Grand Prix weekend has been as much about the glamour, the parties and the night-life as it is has been about the race on Sunday. It is the one race that all the celebrities want to go to, and despite seemingly knowing nothing about the sport or any of the drivers or teams, they appear on the grid before the race. They turn up most likely to simply get their faces printed on the front pages of newspapers the next day.
The Monaco Grand Prix then, could be seen now as a caricature of what was once an important and meaningful race. Certainly, until a contract extension was signed last year, Bernie Ecclestone shared his views that he believed Formula One would be fine without the Monaco Grand Prix.
There are further fundamental concerns about street circuits too. As we saw last year, a place like Monaco has the potential to catch out every driver, from former champions to rookies. In a sport that is rightfully concerned about improving the safety of cars and race tracks around the world, is it right that the most dangerous circuit remains firmly on the calendar year after year?
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