Credit: Rosella De Berti

There’s been a lot of talk recently about Monaco’s place in the F1 calendar and many within the industry, mainly the team principals and those on the business side, are okay with its removal from the calendar. That is, unless changes are made, either with the track or with the current commercial agreement.

There is hesitation for track changes, but it seems a new deal may be on the cards between F1 (Liberty Media) and the Automobile Club de Monaco. Let’s take a look and try to find out just what the hell is going on and whether or not the Monaco Grand Prix will be cancelled.

Why Cancel The Monaco Grand Prix?

According to veteran F1 journalist, Joe Saward, given that the Concorde Agreement only allows F1 to schedule at most 24 races and with three tracks scheduled in the U.S., it seems likely that one of the European circuits will face the axe. Saward believes that Monaco is the likely choice as he told the Missed Apex Podcast,

“There is no contract for Monaco in Formula 1. Well there’s a contract this year. It could be the last Monaco. Monaco has always had a cheap fee, because it thinks it’s more important than all the other races.”

He also mentions Paul Ricard and Spa as likely candidates for cancellation. Paul Ricard I understand, but Spa? One of the most exciting and iconic races on the calendar? That would be outrageous.

 The Washington Post clarifies what Saward means by a “cheap fee.” It’s quite simple, Monaco only has to pay around $15 million USD to host F1, whilst every other country has to pay around $60 million. The issue isn’t really that Monaco is hosting, but that they aren’t paying enough. Monaco is the second-smallest country in the world with a GDP of just 7.424 billion which, to put it into context, Australia has a GDP of 1.331 trillion. Liberty Media aren’t asking for $60 million, but they are asking for more than $15 million. That’s what the negotiations seem to be focused on right now. 

To add the cherry on top, Monaco has a lot of privileges for its own advertising. The Monaco Grand Prix is allowed to have its own trackside advertising and sponsorship deals that aren’t associated with F1’s standard list of brand agreements. That’s why you see TAG Heuer logos instead of the official timekeeper of F1, Rolex. This is also likely a part of the negotiations. 

Zak Brown, CEO of McLaren Racing, agrees that Monaco shouldn’t still get this preferential treatment. “I think Monaco needs to come up to the same commercial terms as other grands prix,” he said. Brown adds that while commercial aspects shouldn’t be the only way decisions are made, they “should be part of our decisions.”

“…what’s the economic contribution to the sport? I’d much rather have Monaco than not… but just like the sport is bigger than any one driver or team, I think it’s bigger than any one grand prix.”

However, while Monaco itself doesn’t hand out wads of cash, it has and does historically foster an environment that allows for F1 to gain new sponsorships that are worth much more.

“The Monaco Grand Prix Is Boring”

Credit: Birute

Financials aren’t the only reason Monaco is facing the chopping block. For years, fans have been saying that the Monaco GP is boring thanks mostly to the cars being too big for the tightest track on the calendar.

There is a point to be made here. Reigning World Champion, Max Verstappen, believes that “if they would propose the plans nowadays with how the track layout is, probably it would not be on the calendar.” So can track changes be made to alleviate the problem?

An idea was thrown around that they could possibly extend the circuit to the left before the tunnel to make use of the mostly straight roads by the beach. But that idea hasn’t seemed to have caught on.

Ferrari driver, Charles Leclerc, isn’t so sure about the idea either as he said in Monaco recently, “I thought about that sometimes, but whether it would improve overtaking, I don’t know. Maybe you could go left before the tunnel and do a big straight there, but how feasible that is, I’m not sure.”

Leclerc may be a little biased (it is his home track), but Lewis Hamilton seems to agree that adjustments might not be practical, “Adjusting the track is not easy, because it’s the second-smallest country in the world, and so we don’t have a lot of space there.”

The focus at Monaco has always been qualifying, and many of the drivers find it to be the most exciting on the calendar for that reason alone. Leclerc has said that,

“In terms of qualifying, there are no places I enjoy as much as here, and where the driver can make as much difference… I agree in the races there are maybe some things we could change here and there to help overtaking. But in terms of challenge for the drivers, it is one of the toughest challenges of the year and a track like this should stay on the calendar.”

Alpine’s Fernando Alonso doesn’t even think the lack of overtakes even matters, “Before 2011 or whatever, there were no overtakings in Budapest or in Barcelona or in Singapore, and they were not talking about removing those races.”

Alonso’s response seems to hint that really it is the commercial situation rather than the quality of racing that is the real issue. Christian Horner, Red Bull team principal touches on this and pays lip service to the lacklustre racing, “I think that if Monaco was a new circuit coming onto the calendar now and they said, ‘Well, you’re going to have the lowest fee of every single circuit, you’re going to go there and you can’t overtake’ it would never be accepted on the calendar.”

Will Monaco’s History Save It?

Horner also seems to suggest that the only reason Monaco is still around is because of its historical significance. As he said in Miami, “… we accommodate Monaco because of its heritage and because of its history. That’s it. I think that you’ve got to evolve. If you stand still, then you’re going backwards, and I think that applies to all aspects of this sport.”

Monaco is part of the F1 identity. It’s part of the Triple Crown alongside the 24 Hours of Le Mans and the Indianapolis 500. There’s more value here than numbers but is that heritage coming at a cost to the sport?

F1 CEO, Stefano Domenicali, believes that it is a balancing act between history and the future of the sport. Domenicali said of the situation, “… we have to balance the arrival of new races with historic grands prix, and tracks that must continue to be part of our calendar.”

But once again, money pops up, “The arrival of new offers from new promoters has an advantage for the F1 platform, and that is to force the organisers of traditional grands prix to raise their level of quality, in terms of what they offer the public, and infrastructure and management of the event. It’s not enough to have a pedigree anymore. You also have to demonstrate that you are keeping up.”

F1 is still a business and it seems that the invisible hand of the market is forcing change in the calendar and amongst the requirements for hosting. Its history may not be enough to save it entirely as there have also been suggestions that Monaco will simply take turns and possibly become a bi-annual event.

All hope is not lost, however, as Automobile Club de Monaco president, Michel Boeri, directly addresses this conversation so I will leave you here with his words.

“I’d like to refer to what has been read in the press, where it is said that we may struggle to keep organising grand prix races beyond the 2022 event, so as early as next year. It was implied that the fees required by Liberty [Media] were too excessive for Monaco and the grand prix would no longer be held. That’s untrue. We are still in talks with them and must now seal the deal with a contract. I can guarantee you that the grand prix will keep taking place beyond 2022. I don’t know if it will be a three- or five-year contract, but that’s a detail.”

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