The Monaco Grand Prix is a bore. You know it. I know it. We all know it. The iconic race is no longer the trial of man and machine that it used to be, and it’s not exactly the most compelling event to watch on your Memorial Day Sunday. But there’s a way to solve this conundrum. There’s a way to solve Monaco. And that solution comes straight from NASCAR Cup Series driver Denny Hamlin.
I’ve been banging on this drum for years, but I don’t think that Monaco should be a points-paying F1 race anymore, but I do think we should pay our respects to the event’s history. So, instead of the Monaco GP being part of the official calendar, I think we should transform it into an exhibition event. And I think Denny Hamlin has figured out a pretty compelling format.
Last month, Hamlin pitched something like a bracket challenge for NASCAR, and I’ll let the Daytona Beach News Journal sum it up real quick:
This past week, he pitched the idea of a single-elimination tournament, played out within the confines of five Cup Series races on five consecutive weekends. At a designated cut-off point in the schedule, the top 32 drivers — via the points standings — get on the bracket for a five-week run that starts with Driver 1 vs. 32, Driver 2 vs. 31, Driver 3 vs. 30, etc., with 16 surviving for next week, eight for the following week, and so on.
Within each race, whichever driver finishes ahead of the other in each head-to-head matchup, survives and moves on.
Now, I don’t think F1 should implement the idea in full, but I do think the basic concept is right on the money.
The most fascinating part of Monaco in the eyes of many fans has been qualifying. The push to set the fastest lap is often way more compelling than the race itself. Qualifying preserves that “man and machine vs. race track” ethos that originally made the narrow streets of Monte Carlo such an entertaining prospect, and it also gets rid of the procession-style racing we’ve seen now that F1 cars have continued to grow in length.
So let’s scrap the concept of a “race” entirely and opt for a series of time-trial eliminations in the style of Formula E’s qualifying duels. Pit two cars against one another. The driver who sets the fastest single lap moves on to the next round to compete against another driver. Hell, I’d even be willing to opt for a mini-sprint race between two cars, similar to what we’d see in the Indy 500's four-lap qualifying process, in which case the slowest driver over an average of four laps is nixed from the event.
Maybe we find a way to keep the eliminated drivers entertained by letting them race in some other machinery (perhaps Spec Miatas, as my good friend Alanis King suggested). At the end of the event, we’ll have still seen all 20 drivers battle on the ragged edge of control, which is easily the best part of the Monaco weekend. We’ll have still seen some racing. But instead of napping through a series of parade laps, we’ll have the chance to perch on the edge of our seats waiting to see what happens next.
Yes, there’s a good chance the Red Bulls will still be faster than everyone else. But respectfully, I don’t think we need to sit through 90 minutes of thumb twiddling to get there. Let Max Verstappen bust out a few quick laps and come home with a trophy and some extra money, but don’t make us pretend we’ve just watched some master class of endurance and performance when the Grand Prix is no longer founded on those concepts. Celebrate the heritage of the race and its place in motorsport history, by all means, but don’t make us pretend that the race is the same exact challenge it used to be. Motorsport has evolved. Let the Monaco Grand Prix evolve with it.