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Who needs overtaking when you've got Monaco?

Laurence Edmondson May 29, 2012
Felipe Massa at the Swimming Pool chicane © Press Association
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It's Saturday morning in Monaco. Felipe Massa is having one of his better weekends in 2012 and is currently on track trying to get a feel for the super-soft tyres that he didn't get to test on Thursday due to wet weather. He hasn't made Q3 all year so a good qualifying performance will do wonders for his mindset, which by his own admission has taken a bit of a battering in recent weeks.

He's attacking the lap hard and as he enters the first part of the Swimming Pool chicane, the rear of his Ferrari snaps into oversteer. For a millisecond he's pointing towards the Mediterranean, seemingly destined for it with nothing but a chainlink fence separating him and the harbour, but in the next he's corrected the slide with his foot pinned to the floor as his Ferrari launches into the air over the next apex. Standing on the other side of the fence, I'm not only in awe of Massa's skill but also eternally grateful for it.

Monaco's lack of overtaking opportunities can be forgiven several times over while watching from trackside. Seeing the level of skill and bravery on display is remarkable, and the lack of run-off areas means it is possible to appreciate both from very close quarters. Tabac offers an opportunity to view the cars from less than a metre away in one of the fastest cornes on the track. Stood on the apex, you can't help but flinch as the front tyres point towards you on turn-in only to drift wide of the barrier by a matter of millimetres as the car reaches the apex.

"It's madness driving around here, but in a good way," Jenson Button says. "Tabac's crazy because you've got to hit the apex, it's blind like every corner round here in Monaco and as you come to the outside barrier on the exit, the Armco wall stops and then it drops back a section. You've just got to be brave enough to get as close as you can to that barrier, knowing that it drops away after that, because you can carry extra speed through the corner. That's one of the trickiest parts of the circuit and when you get it hooked up in qualifying you can carry a lot of speed through there if you have the confidence that you've placed the car right for the exit. But it's obviously very difficult to do because all the barriers look the same when you're doing over 200 km/h."

The circuit simply doesn't fit with the others on the calendar, although that should come as no surprise as the section from Beau Rivage to Portier is essentially the same as it was during the first race in 1929. But it's misfit status is exactly what makes it so appealing, and if it means that for one weekend a year modern F1 cars struggle to overtake then it's a small sacrifice.

Despite a lack of overtaking, Monaco offered up a tense finish © Sutton Images
Besides which, Sunday's race was incredibly tense in the closing stages. With just a handful of laps to go the top five cars were nose to tail around the Loews hairpin with Lewis Hamilton at corner entry as Mark Webber controlled a slide on exit. A few drops more rain, which eventually arrived ten minutes after the race, would have turned it into an absolute thriller.

Asked when he felt he had the race tied up, Webber said: "Lap 78, out of turn 19. That's Monaco. I watched the'82 Monaco Grand Prix, Prost was leading with two laps to go and he crashed. So you never get ahead of yourself around here, because you'll get bitten in the arse really hard. So it was only after the last corner that I thought I was going to win."

There are no second chances at Monaco and for that reason Formula One must never leave. Forget the parties, the glamour, the marketing opportunities, for three days a year the drivers have a stage on which they can perform at their most awe-inspiring best. It's a valuable link to a past era and a reminder of what the sport is all about.

"At the moment drivers have huge run-off areas at most tracks and they can get away with huge mistakes," Sir Stirling Moss told ESPNF1 recently. "The best race of the lot is Monaco because they have no margin for error. We're talking about drivers who are meant to be the best in the world, so they should be able to stick to the black stuff and face the consequences if they don't."