Fittipaldi’s Monaco GP Mount Rushmore

The crown jewel of F1, the Monaco Grand Prix takes place this weekend and we sat down with motorsport icon Emerson Fittipaldi to talk about what makes this Grand Prix so special.

The two-time F1 World Champion raced 10 times in the world’s most famous race and shared his memories of the grand prix, his Mt. Rushmore of F1 drivers there as well as what he feels the future holds.

The best drivers in Monaco

The Brazilian raced with the who’s who of F1 and then has seen quite a few drivers make their mark. When asked about the finest drivers, in his opinion, in Monaco, the first name on his lips was compatriot, Ayrton Senna.

"It's difficult after so many years of racing in Monaco, but for sure Ayrton. He won so many times."

"He always was very aggressive and determined with his driving. Monaco was his style."

Fittipaldi also named the original King of Monaco, Graham Hill, specifically praising how he was able to adapt to the track.

"I'd say another one who was very impressive was Graham Hill who by some reason always adapted himself to Monaco. He won the GP five times."

Among his peers, Fittipaldi named Jackie Stewart and Niki Lauda and his final pick was Michael Schumacher.

"In my time, who I raced with, it was impressive to see Jackie Stewart drive in Monaco. For sure. Niki was very good in Monaco too."

"Then of course, the Schumacher era. He was very good. He won five times there. Very impressive."

Monaco’s glamour is unmatched

The Brazilian great thinks that Monaco will be the crown jewel of F1 because it’s glamour is unmatched. He shared his story of the first time he was racing there, as he was star struck by Princess Grace Kelly.

"I think the history of Monaco, the place of choice for jet-setting people, very international, the yachts, the marina, the royal family, they all give the glamour to Monaco."

"I remember the first time I went there, when Prince Rainier III and Grace Kelly were Monaco, and on a Saturday night they invited me to the castle, after qualifying for the first time in 1971."

"There were cocktails for the drivers, for the sponsors, for the people involved in racing.”

"And then I remember talking to international people from all the world, famous people, glamorous people and then there was a big silence in the room. Everyone stopped talking and started looking - the whole hall, you could hear a fly - and the reason was that Grace Kelly walked in."

"I met her and she was very nice and so was Rainier. And that's part of Monaco."

"Prince Albert who's grown up in the Formula 1 environment and he loves F1 and knows it's part of Monaco."

He also talked about how the race weekend in Monaco could be particularly demanding for the drivers but his experience with celebrities still stands out.

"Millionaires, rich people, famous people - all of them want to see the F1 race in Monaco."

"For us as racing drivers, it's a lot of work in a good sense. You cannot walk, people ask, there's a lot of demand."

"But, it's very glamorous. Monaco is unique in the world for sure."

"I met so many celebrities in Monaco. For a few years, David Niven was in my pits. He was a true British gentleman."

"Elizabeth Taylor, Sophia Lauren, Brigitte Bardot. I was a young guy at that time racing, and I went 'my god, I'm in Monaco'."

Difficult to supersede Monaco as F1’s crown jewel but bigger cars have made racing less exciting

The F1 legend believes that it will be hard to supersede Monaco as F1’s definitive grand prix but the increasing size of cars is making the races less exciting.

"I think it is difficult to supersede Monaco because it has the charm and glamour of the marina, the yachts. People fly from all over the world to be there. Italian fans and the tifosi are there."

"Monaco will always stay a part of F1 but it's getting less exciting because qualifying is 95 percent of the result."

"The cars are so long now and so big.”

Fittipaldi explains that the increasing size of the cars, coupled with the lack of opportunities for flying laps puts even more stress on qualification rather than the race itself.

“And not just that but you only have one flying lap on the tires." 

"Supposing I was driving in Formula 1 right now and I finish my flying lap and did my time, for sure I will go slower back to the pits. And then where do I put the car if someone wants to overtake me, coming faster on the qualifying lap."

"I think there will be a lot of strange, critical situations in qualifying that can help or can damage people's fast times. It could be luck, you know, to get a completely clear lap because you have no place to put your car if you're slow and have to make space for the other guy. Nearly impossible."

Photo by Matt Forfar