Site logo

Monaco and Mercedes: The Odd Couple

FEATURE BY GUEST AUTHORS
23/05/2014

The new Princess Grace movie (Nicole Kidman playing ex-actress and ex-Princess Grace Kelly) is opening down the Corniche at Cannes. And two current citizens of Monaco in their dominant Mercedes-Benz W05 machines - sorry "W05 Hybrid" - are about to take to the streets of Monte Carlo to see which one will be feted at the royal box Princess Grace used to occupy in the heyday of the Grand Prix de Monaco, a race that has become the crown jewel of the 19-race Formula One calendar.

With the kind of tense and exciting season we have been having in the first five races, it is just possible that we are on the cusp of an historic race weekend at Monaco, where so much Grand Prix history has already been written, a race that for once could match the grand and spectacular setting that is the Principality.

One thing for sure is that the factory Mercedes-Benz team will play the pivotal role, once again returning to a venue that the legendary German team has been trying to conquer for 85 years, not always successfully, so unpredictable are the forces that determine the winners at Monaco.

The Best Monaco?

I once reviewed the ingredients that would make up the very best race weekend in the Principality since the first race was run in 1929. I concluded that the 1961 Monaco Grand Prix took the prize, a race that saw the then-dominant Sharknose Ferrari 156s - sculpture on wheels - driven by Americans Phil Hill and Richie Ginther, coming up short against a battling Englishman, Monaco-specialist Stirling Moss, who bested the Ferrari team in a year-old Lotus 18 run by privateer liquor baron Rob Walker.

I chose 1961 as the Best Monaco because it had everything; course, cars and drivers of the first magnitude and a race that was so close that Ginther and Moss were swapping identical times as the American, in only his fourth Grand Prix, having dispatched his teammate Hill, vainly tried to catch the much more experienced Briton.

In 1961, the Monaco course was still in its relatively low-rise, round-the-houses configuration as it had mostly been since 1929, with the multi-coloured Victorian brickwork of the elegant Monaco railroad station and the Station Hairpin in front of it defining one end of the circuit, and the Gasometer hairpin defining the other end of the course, leading the cars back into the city streets for another lap, passing the royal box on the main straight along the way.

The cars were then, as now, in the first year of a new formula that was already not well-received by the Grand Prix community and fans alike, the new 1.5 litre engine (not "power unit"), regarded as much less worthy than the 2.4 litre era that had preceded it. Sound familiar?

And yet in the fullness of time, the Grand Prix cars of that initially-unloved formula have become some of the most influential and admired icons of our sport: the Lotus 21 of Jim Clark was the latest innovation from Colin Chapman, the aero-stylish Ferrari 156s that we have never seen the likes of again, the BRM P48 of Graham Hill that would evolve into the winningest car at Monaco since the Bugatti, the Coopers of John Surtees, Jack Brabham and Bruce McLaren that had ushered in the rear-engine revolution and the even the idiosyncratic Porsche F2 cars that Dan Gurney and Jo Bonnier raced that year at Monaco which would in a year's time bring the Stuttgart manufacturer its only win in Formula One.

All of these legends of the future were in that one race and those names and marques would come to epitomize Grand Prix racing. So maybe there is hope yet for our much bemoaned current 1.6 litre teeny turbo formula and it will surprise us all and bear unexpected fruit over time.

The Missing Marque

The only marque conspicuous by its absence in the 1961 Monaco Grand Prix was Mercedes-Benz, which has had a very chequered history in the Principality, going back to the very first race in 1929 (which lasted nearly 4 hours by the way; no drink bottles).

Rudolf Caracciola, could only wrestle his brawny, white-coloured, 7-litre Mercedes-Benz SSK to third place behind two Bugatti 35B's in the inaugural "Grand Prix Automobile de Monaco", as the posters called the race, Caracciola having been delayed by a four-and-a-half minute tyre change on lap 51 of the 100-lap race.

On Easter Monday 1935, when the Mercedes-Benz W25Bs, by now painted silver and dubbed the "Silver Arrows", ruled the earth, Caracciola returned to Monaco with a factory team of 3 cars and he and his teammates - Manfred Von Brauchitsch and Luigi Fagioli - started side-by-side on the front row, with Alfred Neubauer and his trademark red and black flag running the team. There was no absence of noise in the streets of Monaco from the whining superchargers of these magnificent beasts.

Notwithstanding the legendary build quality of the W25s, on lap 1, von Brauchitsch's transmission acted up on the twisty streets and he limped back to the pits and retired, classified dead last. Caracciola - so successful everywhere but Monaco - was again saddled with bad luck when a valve spring broke in the bulletproof W25, consigning him to a lowly 10th place.

RELATED ARTICLES

LATEST FEATURES

more features >

LATEST IMAGES

galleries >

  • Pitpass.com latest F1/Formula 1 images
  • Pitpass.com latest F1/Formula 1 images
  • Pitpass.com latest F1/Formula 1 images
  • Pitpass.com latest F1/Formula 1 images
  • Pitpass.com latest F1/Formula 1 images
  • Pitpass.com latest F1/Formula 1 images
  • Pitpass.com latest F1/Formula 1 images
  • Pitpass.com latest F1/Formula 1 images
  • Pitpass.com latest F1/Formula 1 images
  • Pitpass.com latest F1/Formula 1 images
  • Pitpass.com latest F1/Formula 1 images
  • Pitpass.com latest F1/Formula 1 images
  • Pitpass.com latest F1/Formula 1 images
  • Pitpass.com latest F1/Formula 1 images
  • Pitpass.com latest F1/Formula 1 images
  • Pitpass.com latest F1/Formula 1 images
  • Pitpass.com latest F1/Formula 1 images
  • Pitpass.com latest F1/Formula 1 images
  • Pitpass.com latest F1/Formula 1 images
  • Pitpass.com latest F1/Formula 1 images

POST A COMMENT

or Register for a Pitpass ID to have your say

Please note that all posts are reactively moderated and must adhere to the site's posting rules and etiquette.

Post your comment

READERS COMMENTS

 

No comments posted as yet, would you like to be the first to have your say?

Share this page

X

Copyright © Pitpass 2002 - 2014. All rights reserved.

about us  |  advertise  |  contact  |  terms  |  privacy & security  |  rss