The 1956 Monaco GP & The Greatness of this Circuit

Monaco: One of the Great Race Circuits.

If you are reading this, you fall into one of two groups.  Either you follow Formula 1 and understand the magnitude of the great race known simply as “Monaco”; or, you are uninitiated to the awe-inspiring annual race around the confined streets of Monte Carlo.  This post is aimed toward the latter group.  You see, the first few years I watched F1 racing, I did not get it.  I thought the race was an anachronism; a stupid race on a too-small track.  But, with time, I came to see the epic nature of this annual F1 race.  Hopefully, I can explain to the uninitiated exactly what I came to see in the race.  To me, Monaco is even more than an event where a man, a driver, is anointed king for the day of a small principality of in the south of France, while the world’s super-rich watch on.  More than that, it is a chance for modern driver’s to compete against the hero’s of yesterday.

Sunset in Monte Carlo.

Sunset in Monte Carlo. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One weekend a year, the tight and winding streets of this European tax-haven become the landscape of a duel between fire-breathing monsters.  A few days prior to the actual race, practice begins.  The silence of this wealthy seaside community is shattered by the shrieking engines of  man-made beasts as they claw themselves around the claustrophobic curves of this city circuit.  Fear is not an option.  The driver must look at the ribbon of track ahead, and not the barriers whizzing by, inches from his tires.  In face, the masters of Monaco have held that to be fastest is to delicately brush your wheels against the barriors on the side of each corner.  They say this is the guiding maxim for the perfect lap.  It is infinitely easier said than done.

The perfect qualifying lap is essential at Monaco.  The streets are too tight for effective passing.  So, each driver has but a few chances to lay his machine inch perfect as he slides around the curves and chicanes of the course.  The

Casino de Monaco.

Casino de Monaco. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

driver must know every detail of the two-mile course.  For example, he must know that waiting sitting busses drop oil, and over time have created a depression, at the Casino corner.  He must avoid these few feet of tarmac.  As another example, he must be prepared for the light to momentarily blind him as he exits the tunnel.  All while keeping this, such as these, in mind, he must maintain perfect focus as he drives his most-perfect lap.

Driver’s say that Monaco rewards those who attack it most aggressively.  Too aggressive, and you crash.  Then, it was all for nothing.  Year after year, the finest drivers in the world assemble one Weekend in May to see who will conquer this tight course and become king for a day.

The following video is a humble attempt to recreate not only the magic that is Monaco, but, also the frenetic pace of the race itself.  It is my hope that the juxtaposition of old against new will illustrate the inspiring story of called “Monaco” and its nearly century-long history  of Motorsports.

The 1956 Monaco Grand Prix.

It was the weekend of May 13 1956.  A warm, dry breeze came over the sunny principality.  In terms of qualifying, Juan-Manuel Fangio drove the fastest lap around the 1.95 mile street circuit.  Fangio was in the car to beat–a Ferrari badged Lancia D50.  This was the Argentinian’s 20th pole position.  Stirling Moss was racing for Maserati this year.  Moss’ Maserati 250F was aging, but still competitive in the right hands.  With an impressive lap, only one-half second slower than Fangio, Moss qualified second.  Rounding out the front row was Eugenio Catellotti, also in a Ferrari-Lancia D50.

And the race was off…

Stirling Moss won the 100 lap 1956 Monaco GP in a time of 3:00:32.9.  Fangio rolled across the line 6.1 seconds behind the Britain.  Remember, Fangio only got half-points as he retired his own chassis and took over Peter Collins’ ride.  In third place, and a full lap from Moss, was Jean Behra in a Maserati 250F.

When all was said and done, Juan-Manuel Fangio was leading the championship with 10.5 points.  Jean Behra was nipping at Fangio’s heals with 10 points.  Stirling Moss did not score in the last Grand Prix.  However, his eight point win here at Monaco was sufficient to lock down third place, after the second race of the 1956 Formula 1 World Championship.