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Talking Point: Is Monaco safe to race on?

THIS weekend sees the hosting of the ultimate jewel in the crown of Formula One, the Monaco Grand Prix.  The late team boss Enzo Ferrari once said that ‘winning Monaco is worth half a championship.’  It isn’t quite like that but after the unpredictable start to 2012, with five different winners in the first five races, Monaco could turn out to be a pivotal event when it comes to momentum for the rest of the championship.

Many of the greats have won around here.  The late Ayrton Senna won six times between 1987-1993 and was almost unbeatable at his peak.  2001 might have been his last success in the principality but Michael Schumacher didn’t win Monaco by accident on five separate occasions.  Graham Hill is another five time winner and the ‘Professor,’ Alain Prost triumphed four times.  Out of the current crop, Fernando Alonso, Schumacher, Kimi Raikkonen, Mark Webber, Jenson Button, Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton have all won around the principality.

However with the radical advances in modern day technology, especially in the car industry – have the streets of Monaco outgrown Formula One and is it time to stop racing there for good?

Last season’s race weekend had some lucky and frightening shunts that brought the safety around Monaco argument up into the mould again.  Nico Rosberg was incredibly fortunate to escape a nasty connection with the barriers on Saturday morning last year when he crashed his Mercedes on the approach to the Nouvelle chicane.  In qualifying, Sergio Perez wasn’t so lucky and missed the race following an even worse shunt at the same corner.  Perez was concussed, bruised and admitted later on that it took him at least three races to get over the accident psychologically.  In the race, a multiple accident triggered by Adrian Sutil clattering the wall at Tabac saw Vitaly Petrov hospitalised with bruising on his ankles and caused the race to be suspended.  It was the busiest weekend for the F1 medical team since the 2001 Australian Grand Prix.

The officials have listened and made some safety changes for the 2012 event.  The barriers where Perez crashed last season have been moved back in the hope of restricting a sudden impact should a car lose control at the fastest part of the track.  Like in 2011, the use of DRS has been banned from use in the tunnel and more of the corners will have the impact-absorbing barriers that no doubt saved Perez from even more serious injury.  The tunnel area has come in for criticism as a hotspot for potential serious shunts.  Karl Wendlinger crashed in 1994 and fell into a deep coma from his injuries.  Jenson Button was concussed and missed the 2003 event following a similar shunt in practice and Alexander Wurz escaped without injury after a huge smash in the 1998 race.  However the only fatality at the Monaco Grand Prix has been Ferrari’s Lorenzo Bandini, way back in 1967.

Michael Schumacher told BBC Sport last week that the risk of racing in Monaco is justifable as it is just once a year; “For so many years we have successfully campaigned for more track safety and then we race in Monaco but in my view this is justifiable once a year – especially as the circuit is so much fun to drive.  Every time you go there, you just look forward to finally getting out and driving the track.”

I asked the opinion of some F1 fans through the Planet F1 forum about this subject;

Laura23: “Schumacher says it’s worth the risk because it’s once a year.  I’m sure all the other drivers, Petrov excluded perhaps, share the same views.  If they don’t go to Monaco because of the risk then I’m afraid F1 won’t be F1 anymore, it’ll be a nanny stated sport.  The real reason they should stop going to Monaco, if they ever do, is because it doesn’t exactly provide good racing unless it rains.”

JohnnyGuitar: “Monaco is probably safer now than it’s ever been.  The top speeds the cars hit around the circuit has been pretty similar for two or three decades probably but trackside barriers have improved and the safety of the cars themselves has increased immeasurably.  If it was safe to race there throughout the 70s, 80s, 90s and 00s – I see no reason why there should be any talk of stopping the event on the grounds of safety now.”

Lt. Drebin: “Not safe but safer than before.  Still, the possibility of a disastrous crash is enormously high in comparison with any other race track.”

j man: “Personally I love Monaco, precisely because it is a laughably unsuitable setting for an F1 race.  It presents a totally unique challenge for the drivers, provides a totally unique setting for the fans and the race’s rich history means that it should never be removed from the calendar.”

slide: “No , it seems dangerous to race there but thats the draw.”

The Monaco Grand Prix is the most prestigious event on the calendar and still king of the street circuits, despite the glamour of night racing in Singapore.  If you’d say Monaco is dangerous, what about faster tracks with average speed like Spa, Suzuka and Monza?  Fingers crossed that the weekend goes through peacefully without any serious accidents but the risk has always been there.  It isn’t a deathtrap and as far as I’m concerned, if the race in Monte Carlo disappeared ever – there wouldn’t be much point of holding a Formula One World Championship.

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