Politically, it felt like a game of poker was being played in Monaco last weekend.
It wasn’t an actual game taking place in the iconic Monte Carlo Casino that forms a backdrop for one of the sections of track that Formula 1 cars race around, but there was plenty of bluffing and trying to work out who actually holds the cards when it comes to F1 and Monaco.
The Monaco Grand Prix is a bit of a love-it-or-hate-it race for many people, with the often processional offering on a Sunday threatening to overshadow the awesome spectacle that qualifying can provide 24 hours earlier.
Drivers know that everything rests on that one-lap pace and the job they do on a Saturday, because it’s so rare to be able to make up any ground yourself in the race. Sure, as Charles Leclerc found to his cost, your team can have a big hand in where you finish due to strategic calls, but so little of the order reshuffling is down to the way a driver is performing.
Take Fernando Alonso’s pace in the second part of the race, for example. Alonso clearly didn’t think he was going any further up the order because overtaking is impossible, so he was a number of seconds slower than those ahead for a spell and still never came under proper attack from Lewis Hamilton behind, much to Toto Wolff’s frustration.
“That was the usual chaotic race in Monaco — and once again, a lesson that we need to look at this circuit layout, so people can’t drive around five seconds off the pace in a procession,” Wolff said. “This is a fantastic venue and spectacle but it would be great if the racing could be at the same level.”
But it’s not the racing — or lack of it — that is in play when it comes to discussions about the race’s future. It’s a lot of other things around the event, some of which are very obvious to fans and others not so much.
For starters, the race hosting fee is a completely invisible aspect to you and I, but it’s a crucial one. Monaco does pay for the privilege of hosting a grand prix, but the amount pales into insignificance when it comes to some of the figures being demanded of other venues such as Saudi Arabia or Singapore.
F1 isn’t silly enough to think it should be quadrupling the amount it gets from Monaco in order to hold a race, but it does feel the synonymity means Monaco as a destination benefits greatly from being on the calendar and should be paying more than it currently is.
And that’s before you factor in some of the concessions that are already made for Monaco to host a race. One of them is the ability for the local organizers to sell their own trackside advertising, leading to the slightly bizarre situ ation where drivers round Mirabeau next to F1’s proud Rolex sponsorship only to then pass signage for TAG Heuer before they even reach the hairpin due to a deal with the Monegasques.
That might be a discussion that F1 can have with one of its partners that is relatively simple, but it’s far more complex when the sport is being criticized for the poor television coverage that it is providing to the world. And that’s not really F1’s fault, either.
At the majority of races, Formula 1 itself controls the world feed output that all broadcasters receive, so from five minutes before the race to the end of the podium celebrations the same images are being shown everywhere. But in Monaco, a local television director is the one in charge, and that has led to increasingly questionable decisions in terms of what is being shown on screen and what isn’t.
For that, F1’s own reputation takes a small but annoying hit, and the multiple broadcasters that combine to put hundreds of millions of dollars into the sport’s accounts are not overly happy about the product they are being served up.
F1 also wants managerial changes at the Automobile Club de Monaco moving forward, to make it a more productive working relationship, which is a move that could lead to all of the aforementioned issues being more easily discussed.
It’s unlikely that all of those different aspects will be addressed in the next contract, but the length of any deal could be telling. A shorter-term agreement will suggest there are still key points that F1 is not satisfied with and it wants further negotiations in the near future, while a longer-term commitment would point to the sport getting the majority of what it wants.
But the standout omission from all of that is the track itself, which is so heavily restricted by the location and infrastructure that surrounds it. There’s a general acceptance from those in charge that one race out of 22 (or 23, or 24 depending on how next year shapes up) is acceptable as one that is almost exclusively defined by qualifying on a Saturday.
It’s still a race that carries so much prestige and means so much to the teams and drivers competing, even if the 78 planned laps on a Sunday don’t often lead to much in the way of racing. You only have to look at Sergio Perez’s reaction on the podium to know how special a Monaco win is for a driver, and it’s events that instill that sort of emotion that should be on the calendar.
F1 will have to adapt to fit Monaco if it wants a better racing spectacle, with the hope that smaller, lighter cars in 2026 can improve opportunities for overtaking just that little bit more, and turn “impossible” into “very difficult”.
But if Monaco wants to reach the point where it gets to see if those new cars work better on its city streets, then it is going to have to make a few concessions of its own first.