HERITAGE Monaco, the Most Glamorous Race in the World

A History of the Monaco Grand Prix

5 min

Join us for a wild ride through the streets of Monte Carlo, as we take a closer look at this legendary race, from lights out to the chequered flag.

Passing at the 1932 Monaco Grand Prix.

The second smallest country in the world contains Formula 1’s most famous – and, arguably, most challenging – racetrack. With a fiendishly complex and tightly twisting route (compared by driver Nelson Piquet to ‘riding a bicycle around your living room’), the Monaco Grand Prix might be F1’s shortest track, but its lap time is the longest – so dangerous that it leaves no room for error. This jewel in the Triple Crown of Motorsport, more on this later, is not only an “exceptional location of glamour and prestige” (according to none other than HSH Prince Rainier of Monte Carlo) – but an unparalleled challenge in the Formula One season, demanding exceptional performances from the world’s best drivers. As we introduce the TAG Heuer Monaco Titan Special Edition, we’re bringing you a brief history of this race on the razor’s edge, in celebration of the dazzling spectacle that is the Monaco Grand Prix.

A Very Royal Rally

The tiny, densely populated country of Monaco is nestled by the sea on the French Riviera, where the ruling Grimaldi family castle has stood for centuries atop an ancient rock known as the ‘Rocher de Monaco’. And nowhere is Monaco’s reputation for glamour and luxury more justified than in its most famous quartier, Monte Carlo; this is a land where superyachts and supercars are the transport of choice, the famous casino has a strict dress code, and champagne is the national beverage! But how did this stunning destination come to be not only a playground for the super-rich, but the home of F1’s biggest and ‘baddest’ competition? 

In 1911, Monaco resident Alexandre Noghès organised the first ever Monaco Rally, a race that would evolve into the Grand Prix we know today. In the 1920’s, his son Anthony Noghès became president of the Automobile Club de Monaco (ACM), and in 1928, the ACM applied to change the Rally into a national race. But the application was refused, as the rally used roads that entered other European countries – it would have to be contained entirely within the principality of Monaco to pass muster. Noghès junior proposed a race confined to the twisting streets of Monte Carlo, and (with the blessing of Prince Louis II and Grand Prix driver Louis Chiron), set to work organising the design of a new track – the ‘Circuit de Monaco’. 

Monaco Grand Prix

A Race Unlike Any Other

Held every year since 1955 without exception, the Monaco Grand Prix is laid out across the glittering streets of Monte Carlo. It traverses tight turns, elevation changes, and even a tunnel – requiring lower-than average speeds and formidable skill to avoid collisions; it even requires the occasional intervention of a safety car. The only Grand Prix that doesn’t follow the FIA 190-mile minimum F1 race distance, it is nonetheless a gruelling test of precision, skill, and speed, unparalleled in the F1 universe. The circuit has been revised several times since 1929, but still retains the same basic layout.  Along with the Indianapolis 500 and the 24 Hours of Le Mans, it now forms what is widely considered to be the most important and prestigious trio of automobile races in the world, known as the ‘Triple Crown of Motorsport’.  Follow the links to discover more about these epic races in our previous articles. 

Slower speeds mean that Monaco is the longest F1 race in terms of time, and if wet weather confounds conditions it can run right up to the full two hour limit. Narrow streets mean that overtaking is nigh on impossible – the only approach is to throw all caution to the wind and pray for a lucky break. What’s more, lethally tight confines mean there is no margin for driver error, with nearly 5,000 gear changes over the course of the 78 lap race. In fact, so devilish are its challenges that the Monaco Grand Prix holds an odd all-time F1 record: the least number of cars to finish a race! In both 1966 and 1996, only four cars (out of 16 in 1966, and 21 in 1996) made it to the end of the race. Drivers who have fought their way to fame on the Circuit include Ayrton Senna  – who won in Monaco more times than any other driver, with six victories and an impressive eight podium finishes out of ten starts. In 2018, Max Verstappen narrowly overtook Michael Schumacher’s previous record for the fastest lap time – with a mind-bending 1:14.260. 

During practice for the Monaco Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit de Monaco on May 26, 2016 in Monaco, Monte-Carlo. (Photograph by Vladimir Rys)

Famous Faces –the Birth (and Rebirth) of an Icon

When Heuer first launched its Grand-Prix-inspired ‘Monaco’ design in 1969, a radical icon was born. Its daring square case, housing the first-ever automatic chronograph movement, was unlike anything seen before in horological circles. But the connection between our Maison and the most glamorous of races didn’t stop there; TAG Heuer has been Official Watch of the race for over 10 years now, and the official timekeeper of the classic Grand Prix de Monaco Historique. 

 

Jean Campiche timekeeping at Monaco race in 1979.

Today, the story continues, with a cutting-edge interpretation of the original design: the TAG Heuer Monaco Titan Special Edition.

CAW218B.FC6496

With a case in feather-light Grade 2 Titanium, sandblasted for a contemporary matte finish, this model features a vivid silver dial, elegant black sub-dials, and bright red accents that evoke the thrill of the track. 

CAW218B.FC6496

A sporty anthracite strap recalls the tire grooves of racing cars, and an updated Calibre 11 automatic chronograph movement is sure to keep your lap-times (or your time in the casino…) impeccably.

CAW218B.FC6496