This weekend sees the Formula 1 world converge on the French Riviera once more for its premier event, the Monaco Grand Prix. It will be the 63rd time F1 cars have raced the streets of the tiny Mediterranean principality in world motorsport’s most famous event.
To celebrate another season racing past the casino, through the harbour and down the tunnel at speeds of up to 170mph, we’ve compiled this list of motorsport’s greatest spectacles.
6. 24 Hours of Le Mans
First run in 1923, the 24 Hours of Le Mans has become the blue riband event in the world of endurance racing. Home to legendary tales of heroism, commitment and tragedy, this corner of north-west France pulls in over 250,000 fans for the week-long celebration of speed, reliability and efficiency.
For the committed, the event actually starts the Sunday prior to the race – with all cars gathering in the Place de la Republique in Le Mans for a public parade and scrutineering. For everyone else, Thursday marks qualifying, with Friday a traditional rest day before the Tricolore drops at 3pm on Saturday to release all 60 cars. The action goes beyond the track, with the famous fun fair running late into the night, and a phenomenal collection of vintage cars and owners clubs making the journey.
Groupe Renault has form at the event, with victory coming in the famous 1978 running, where Jean-Pierre Jaussaud and Didier Pironi took victory in the stunning V6-turbo Renault-Alpine A442B. Pironi was so exhausted from his final stint, he had to be physically lifted from the cockpit and given oxygen before he could ascend the podium. Alpine are back again this year, with the new A460, ready to battle for glory in LMP2.
5. Belgian Grand Prix at Spa
Eau Rouge. Radillon. Blanchimont. La Source. Pouhon. Few tracks in world have the ability to conjure such vivid mental images from the mere mention of the names of their corners. The circuit at Spa-Francorchamps hosted its first GP in 1925, on a monstrous 9.3 mile course set on public roads in the Ardennes mountains. The modern course is still one of the longest, fastest and most challenging in F1, with 20 corners spread over 4.3 miles.
With capacity at around 80,000, and the proximity to the UK, it makes a fantastic alternative destination for fans who want to see F1 away from Silverstone. The food, fans and atmosphere at the track are legendary, with plenty of great locations available to experience an F1 car at maximum attack.
Renault have won outright victory at Spa just once (Alain Prost in 1983 – the first race on the “modern” Spa circuit), but have won a further seven races as an engine supplier.
4. Goodwood Festival of Speed
The Goodwood Festival of Speed is a relative baby amongst this company of decades old events, but in just under 25 years its gone from an extravagant garden party, to an event the size of Glastonbury, with a queue just as long! Held annually by the inimitable Lord March on the drive way to his family’s historic home, no other event in the world allows members of the public access to such a rich and varied collection of Motor Racing exotica.
It’s easy to forget sometimes that, underneath the pomp and circumstance, there is an actual competitive hillclimb. With a narrow, bumpy, and in some cases, flint-lined course to navigate at average speeds of over 90mph, the potential for drivers to get it wrong is very high.
The Renault Classic department regularly pull out all the stops in order to bring the most special vehicles from their collection to the event. Some, like the venerable 40CV “Montlhery Coupe” are run at a sedate (albeit thunderously loud) pace, while others, like Jean Ragnotti’s famous Phillips-liveried Renault 5 Turbo Maxi, are driven rather more adventurously…
3. Monte Carlo Rally on the French Riviera, Monaco
Monaco really does have it all — the tiny city-state occupying two places on this list; not only the famous Grand Prix, but the incomparable Monte Carlo Rally. Although nominally a tarmac rally, its traditional home in January provides a challenge like no other — sheer drops, hairpin bends, and lethal patches of ice.
The Rally has been a happy Groupe Renault hunting ground over the years. Renault-powered Alpine A110s took a clean sweep of the podium in 1973, on the way to claiming the inaugural WRC title. Meanwhile, Jean Ragnotti defied the odds, and the power deficit, of his Renault 5 Alpine to claim 2nd in 1978, followed by a legendary 1st place in 1981 in the 2WD Renault 5 Turbo.
Watching the rally live remains a rite of passage for many international motorsport fans — the difficulty of ascending the various Cols that make up the route, combined with the relative scarcity of accommodation mean many fans take to sleeping in their vehicles before hiking up to their vantage points. Doing so, however, presents one of the most stunning views in world sport — crisp winter light, delicate snows, and 300+hp machines driven at the very edge of human capacity.
2. Isle of Man TT
OK, OK, so clearly a couple of wheels are missing for entry #2 on the list, but, you don’t have to be a committed motorcycle fan to appreciate the passion, fury and danger of the Isle of Man TT. The “Tourist Trophy” was first held in 1907, and since then has continued to be sanctioned by the independent Government of the Isle of Man. Run as a time-trial across a variety of bike categories, the exploits of the brave riders that take on the course make headlines every year, despite the obvious danger.
Unbelievably, the event used to form part of the FIM World Championship (which later became MotoGP). Nowadays however, many of the riders are specialist road-racers, totally committed to this unique form of motorsport.
Watching the TT is not difficult — a 38 mile course means you can stand almost anywhere you like — but finding accommodation can be tough with the sheer volume of global fans the TT attracts. Be prepared to travel by any means necessary, camp out in your favourite tent, and take a few weeks off work to get the most from it!
1. Monaco Grand Prix at Circuit de Monaco
Monaco: playground of princes, amusement park to the A-list and home to the last great anachronism in Formula 1. If anyone had tried to create this race in the last decade, they’d have been laughed out of town. A race, held in one of the world’s smallest nations, involving 900+hp F1 cars, on public roads, next to a harbour. It shouldn’t exist, and yet every season it does. F1 fans are blessed.
Held since 1929, the race continues to generate highlight reel moments every year the F1 circus comes to town. The infamous 1982 race saw four different drivers lead in the last four laps. In 1988 Ayrton Senna crashed out in the lead whilst evading a hard charging Alain Prost. Oilver Panis in 1996 claimed an unlikely victory in terrible conditions for Prost’s eponymous team. Renault have claimed two victories in the principality, in 2004 and 2006, with a further four wins coming as an engine supplier.
Whilst expensive (with many race fans staying further along the Riviera and choosing to travel) the race at Monaco is simply without equal. Journey for the weekend and enjoy the traditional Friday rest day when you can take the rare opportunity to drive a real F1 track (warning: get up early!).