Will Liberty Media ‘do the unthinkable’ and axe Monaco from F1 calendar?

Sam Cooper
F1 signage for the Monaco Grand Prix. Monaco May 2023

F1 signage for the Monaco Grand Prix. Monaco May 2023

Damon Hill has pondered whether F1’s owners Liberty Media may “do the unthinkable” and axe Monaco from the calendar.

The Monaco Grand Prix finds itself in a difficult spot of being one of the most historic and recognisable races in the world but also currently being one of the dullest.

The width and length of a modern day F1 car combined with the narrow streets of Monte Carlo mean the racing action in 2023 is far away from what it was back in the early days of F1 with the cars now two metres wide and most of them north of 5.5m in length.

While other circuits have changed to match the modern demands of F1, Monaco simply cannot with its street circuit being placed within one of the most built up and busiest areas on the planet which has led to some asking a question which many would have thought would never be asked: Should F1 no longer race at Monaco?

The Monte Carlo circuit is one that holds a special place in the Hill family for while Damon never won there, his father Graham was dubbed ‘Mr. Monaco’ following his five wins at the circuit.

Damon Hill said it would be “unthinkable” to get rid of Monaco but could be an option that owners Liberty Media are considering.

“It would have been heresy, not so long ago, even to suggest a Formula 1 World Championship without the race that every driver most wants to win,” he wrote in his Telegraph column. “Monaco is, after all, part of the very fabric of the sport, like Ferrari.

“First run in 1929, its history is littered with the legendary names and deeds of our sport.

“I only ever saw my father win it once and never made it to the event while he was alive. But the image of him rounding the Gasworks hairpin waving to the crowd in 1969, despite poor reception on our portable black and white TV back in England, is still clear as day in my mind. As is the shaky onboard footage of Ayrton Senna’s legendary qualifying lap in 1988, where he experienced an ‘out of body’ moment that freaked him out so much he had to come into the pits to have a think about it.

“Increasingly, however, you hear it suggested that it has slipped over the line that divides ‘unique’, and ‘charming’ from ‘anachronistic’, and ‘anomaly’. Could Liberty Media, the sport’s American owners, do the unthinkable? After all, the contract they signed last year only takes us up to 2025. If they saw Monaco as that crucial to the World Championship, surely they would have wanted to nail it to the calendar for the next 10 years?”

Hill is right to point towards the short deal handed to Monaco for it is far off the contracts handed to Qatar, Bahrain and Australia which all stretch into the 2030s. Ultimately though, Hill believes that Liberty Media get the need for Monaco and that it still provides the ultimate challenge for a driver.

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“Liberty are no fools,” the 1996 World Champion added. “They know very well what Monaco brings to the party. It is incredibly glamorous. It is in the South of France. You can watch it from your own yacht. It has a long and very important association with Formula 1. It is where many of the drivers live. They get all that. In fact, the Netflix ‘Drive to Survive’ marketing-led Liberty executives probably get it better than Bernie Ecclestone ever did.

“But the one thing they don’t like is a boring race. And this is Monaco’s weak suit.

“Fans do not like this. And when I say fans, I mostly mean new ones who have joined since Netflix. And that means Liberty does not like it. Because, why watch a race where nothing happens?

“Well, I get that. I do. But I would argue — and I accept that this is quite a personal viewpoint — that that is to miss the point entirely of Monaco. To a racing driver, Monaco is quite simply the ultimate test. It’s between you, your car, and the track. It is the most technically difficult, courage-invoking, concentration-sapping, eye-widening roller coaster ride in our sport. Yes, the race is sometimes boring to watch on a Sunday but that is because the real race is on a Saturday.”