Home Featured Junior series in Monaco: From the sublime to the ridiculous

Junior series in Monaco: From the sublime to the ridiculous

by Peter Allen

Photo: Jerry Andre / LAT Images / FIA F2 Championship

With junior single-seater racers missing out on the chance to compete in Monaco in 2020, we look back at some of the highlights and lowlights of their exploits on the famous streets from previous years

The Monaco Grand Prix weekend is special not only in Formula 1 but also in junior single-seater racing. It presents an incredible opportunity for young drivers to prove their skills one of the toughest circuits around, but there’s also plenty of chances to get it wrong.

In lieu of any racing in Monaco this year, we look back at some of the sublime and the ridiculous from the modern era of junior single-seater racing in Monaco.

Sublime: Heidfeld?s era-bridging double

For over three decades, Formula 3 featured as the marquee support race for the Monaco Grand Prix, until it was replaced by Formula 3000.

Fittingly, the same driver won the final race of the F3 era and the first of the F3000 era, and it was one who seemed destined for F1. Backed by McLaren and Mercedes, Nick Heidfeld took the F3 win in 1997, in a year in which he claimed the German F3 title.

A year later, Heidfeld used his experience to run at the front on F3000?s Monaco debut, but it looked like he would have to settle for second until Jason Watt crashed out in Casino Square, gifting him the win.

Championship rival Juan Pablo Montoya finished sixth after a scrappy race, somehow dragging a punctured tyre around the final lap. But he bounced back a week later with a crushing win in the Pau Grand Prix when he lapped the entire field ? helped by a collision involving Heidfeld that blocked the track.

Montoya went on to win the title, with Heidfeld returning to claim the championship in 1999. He took pole in Monaco that year, but finished the race in seventh after a penalty for failing to slow for yellow flags.

Ridiculous: Wirdheim?s premature celebration

Bjorn Wirdheim was near unstoppable in F3000 in 2003, delivering a first drivers? title to Christian Horner?s Arden team. But if one moment sticks out from the Swede?s season, it was his embarrassing end to the Monaco race.

Wirdheim dominated the race from pole, helped by his rivals colliding behind him. Enrico Toccacello and Vitantonio Liuzzi had a sizeable coming together at Massenet over third place, before a lapped Ricardo Sperafico took out second-placed Giorgio Pantano. A safety car for the first incident did reduce Wirdheim?s advantage, but he led Nicolas Kiesa by nearly five seconds on the final lap.

At the finish, Wirdheim slowed to celebrate with his team, but did so too soon and too abruptly, perhaps not aware that he hadn?t yet taken the chequered flag, and Kiesa blasted past him to steal the win.

That would be Kiesa?s only F3000 win before he joined Minardi for the final five races of the F1 season. The error did little damage to Wirdheim?s title hopes, but he never got the chance to step up to F1. He did however return to Monaco in 2018 in a March 711 at the historic grand prix, and this time managed to visit the top step of the podium.

Sublime: Hamilton does a Heidfeld

Photo: Charles Coates/GP2 Series Media Service

1997 looked like the end of the road for F3 in Monaco, but the category did make a one-off return in 2005 as a round of the F3 Euro Series. This was the season that a young Lewis Hamilton dominated, winning 15 of the 20 races, and he swept both races in Monaco ? two weeks after doing similar on the streets of Pau.

One year later, Hamilton returned to Monaco in GP2 and took a dominant win from pole ahead of French duo Franck Perera and Alexandre Premat ? a result that put him into a championship lead he would never surrender.

Hamilton has since added three more Monaco wins in F1 ? perhaps not quite as many as you might expect for a six-time champion who looked so at home in his earliest races there.

Ridiculous: Maldonado earns a ban

Photo: Andrew Ferraro/GP2 Series Media Service

Pastor Maldonado would later become something of a Monaco master, but not before he was disgraced on his debut in 2005, when he crashed under yellow flags during Formula Renault 3.5 practice, hitting and injuring a marshal.

As a result, he was excluded from the meeting and suspended from the following four events of the championship. The stewards also threw three others out for yellow flag indiscretions in the same practice sessions.

Furthermore, Maldonado is said to have received a lifetime ban from ever competing in Monaco again in any series. However, thanks allegedly to some pressure from back home in Venezuela, Maldonado would return just a year later?

Sublime: Maldonado also does the double

Photo: Andrew Ferraro/GP2 Series Media Service

Maldonado could hardly have bounced back better from his 2005 indiscretion. In 2006, he took the Formula Renault 3.5 victory after leader Christian Montanari made contact with the barriers. He went on to finish third in the standings.

On his arrival in GP2 in 2007 he impressively picked up where Hamilton had left off the year before to dominate from pole, pulling away from Giorgio Pantano on two safety car restarts.

He took pole again in 2008, only to concede the lead to Bruno Senna at the start. In 2009 he won the sprint race, and in 2010 came second to Sergio Perez in the feature race ? his run of victories on the way to the title would only begin from the following round in Turkey.

Sublime: Ricciardo?s first Monaco wins

Photo: Red Bull

Hamilton aside, it?s difficult to find anyone on the current F1 grid who enjoyed a particularly strong record in Monaco in the junior categories. The only other stand-out is Daniel Ricciardo, who won both Formula Renault 3.5 races he contested in the principality in 2010 and 2011.

Just a few hours before Mark Webber took the first of two Monaco wins in 2010, another Australian took the chequered flag in Red Bull colours as Ricciardo claimed his maiden FR3.5 win ahead of his title rival Mikhail Aleshin.

In 2011, Ricciardo dovetailed more racing in FR3.5 with test and reserve duties for Toro Rosso (and later a race seat with HRT). In Monaco, he did both in one weekend, driving in F1 practice on Thursday morning before taking another win from pole in FR3.5, this time holding eventual champion Robert Wickens at bay.

Ricciardo has since shown his Monaco mastery wasn?t limited only to FR3.5, cruelly denied an F1 win in 2016 before making amends in 2018.

Ridiculous: Qualifying carnage in GP2

Photo: Alastair Staley/GP2 Media Service

In Monaco, the Formula 2 field is split into two groups for qualifying – a decision that followed a particularly chaotic session in 2011.

That year?s champion Romain Grosjean was involved in much of it, and finished up last in the times after encountering traffic at the end of every flying lap and launching himself over team-mate Pal Varhaug?s car in a desperate attempt to get past at Rascasse.

It wasn?t just the DAMS drivers at it though, with Marcus Ericsson running into the back of iSport team-mate Sam Bird when he arrived at speed into the Swimming Pool section.

Sublime: Bird and Bianchi battle

For many years, Monaco provided the unique chance to see GP2 and FR3.5 racing together on the same weekend. At the peak of the rivalry between the two series in 2012, it was the two big-name drivers that defected from GP2 to FR3.5 over the winter that put on a thrilling show as Sam Bird held off Jules Bianchi.

The pair were grouped together in qualifying, but Bianchi got the jump on Alexander Rossi at the start to get up to second, and then pursued Bird to the chequered flag as the duo pulled half a minute clear of the rest.

In a last-lap attempt to make something happen, Bianchi braked as late as he could at the chicane, only narrowly missing his rival. Bird?s victory gave him the championship lead after Robin Frijns collided with Kevin Magnussen at the first corner.

Ridiculous: Daly gets launched

Photo: Daniel Kalisz/GP3 Media Service

In 2012, GP3 joined the Monaco support package for the first time. Finding physical space for the paddock had been as much a barrier as finding room in the weekend schedule. But it would be driving standards as much as anything that contributed to this being a one-off appearance.

Fighting through the midfield from the rear of the field, Conor Daly came together with Dmitry Suranovich, initially at the hairpin, removing the Russian?s rear wing. Suranovich carried on despite the damage, with a back of cars forming behind him.

Daly got the run on Suranovich through the tunnel, but the Marussia Manor driver seemed determined not to let him past, and moved right and then left in his extreme defence. Daly was left with nowhere to go and was launched skywards and into the top of the catch-fencing.

Ridiculous: Cecotto causes a pile-up

Photo: Alastair Staley/GP2 Series Media Service

Johnny Cecotto Jr took after his compatriot Maldonado by being remarkably quick in Monaco ? which was something of a home race for the second-generation racer. In 2012, he won the GP2 feature race for Addax, and claimed pole again a year later for Arden.

But at the start of the race he got a heap of wheelspin off the line, immediately losing the lead to his rookie team-mate Mitch Evans. Desperate not to lose second too to Fabio Leimer, Cecotto braked far too late for Sainte Devote and went straight into the barriers, taking Leimer with him. That narrowed the track for everyone else following, triggering a pile-up and a red flag.

Cecotto?s driving was already under the microscope at the time after he?d barged Bird off track in qualifying in Sepang and done similar racing Sergio Canamasas in Barcelona. This time, the stewards took real action and banned him from taking part in the sprint race.

Sublime: Rowland?s audacious charge

Photo: Florent Gooden / DPPI

In 2009, Racing Steps Foundation driver Oliver Turvey claimed his only FR3.5 victory on his first visit to Monaco, proving the street circuit prowess that is serving him well in Formula E today.

Six years later, his namesake and fellow RSF ace Oliver Rowland shone in Monaco in a very different fashion. He was fastest in practice and his qualifying group, but lined up behind polesitting team-mate Jazeman Jaafar ? something of an unlikely Monaco expert.

Rowland made a better start to the race and edged ahead on the outside. Jaafar almost did a Cecotto as he locked up and went deep, but somehow made the corner. Rowland was slowed and then hit by rival Matthieu Vaxiviere, and forced to pit with a puncture.

On rejoining he produced a remarkable fight back to sixth place. OK, this was hardly the deepest FR3.5 field (now in its final year of Renault backing), and those he overtook were far from illustrious names, but what made it special were the places in which was pulling the moves, including Mirabeau and the Swimming Pool.

With just one race that weekend, Monaco was the only circuit Rowland didn?t claim a victory at on his way to the title. But he would get to win there in F2 in 2017?

Sublime: Leclerc?s home pole

Photo: Zak Mauger/FIA Formula 2

Charles Leclerc’s debut on his home streets during his one and only F2 campaign?was long-awaited, and he didn?t disappoint with his speed from his first flying laps.

He duly claimed pole, despite being in the usually-slower first group, where he outpaced Rowland by two tenths of a second. Just as impressive was another Monaco debutant Alex Albon, who topped group two and was just 0.012s short of Leclerc’s time.

Leclerc controlled the feature race until his pit stop, after which he was foiled by a safety car that delayed him and allowed others to make their stops and rejoin ahead. A suspension issue then ultimately forced him to retire.

His luck in Monaco hasn?t got any better in F1, with his brake failure in 2018 and the botched Ferrari qualifying strategy in 2019. In 2020, he doesn?t even get to race on his home streets ? at least not in real life.

Ridiculous: Albon and De Vries tangle at pit entry

Photo: Zak Mauger / FIA Formula 2

Albon was rapid again in Monaco one year later, and edged out Nyck de Vries for pole position by just 0.01s after running in the first group.

The pair ran one-two through the early part of the race, until the safety car came out on lap 14. That?s where disaster struck, when they collided trying to get into the pits at the same time.

De Vries had committed to pitting on the exit of Rascasse and pulled alongside Albon, who he assumed was carrying on. Albon dived right relatively late, not knowing his rival was there, and was spun around. Both resumed after a delay, but later retired, with Artem Markelov picking up the win.

With no pit entry line on the Monaco track, both drivers said they took their normal lines. Albon was declared at fault for the collision and penalised for the sprint race, but it was a missed opportunity for both drivers in the title race, with George Russell struggling after a lack of practice running on his Monaco debut and Lando Norris in the wars.

Ridiculous: Red flag confusion
FIA Formula 2

Photo: Jerry Andre / LAT Images / FIA F2 Championship

Red flags are incredibly common in junior racing in Monaco, but that didn’t stop race control from messing up the procedure in last year’s Formula 2 feature race.

The track was blocked when Mick Schumacher collided with Tatiana Calderon at Rascasse, and the race was resumed with the field in race order – with the leaders at the front and those held up by the incident at the rear, having completed one lap fewer.

The regulations state that lapped drivers should be released before the restart, but this wasn’t done, leaving half the field a lap down. Afterwards, stewards found an error had been made, but left the result as it was, to the frustration of those affected.

It did little to take away though from a deserved victory for eventual champion de Vries to make up for 2018.