Does F1 need to change up Monaco format after dreary race?

MONACO -- The worst fears of Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso came true on Sunday as the Monaco Grand Prix produced the most processional race in Formula One history. For the first time since the championship started in 1950, the top 10 finished in the same position they started.

The feel-good story of Ferrari's Charles Leclerc finally winning his home race after years of heartbreak was a glorious end to what had otherwise been a dire event at the most famous race venue on this side of the Atlantic.

Emotions were contrasting. While Leclerc was fighting back tears of joy late in the race, championship leader Max Verstappen, uncharacteristically running down the order in sixth position, had been fighting back tears of a different kind.

"F--- me, this is so boring," he said in a radio message to the Red Bull pit wall in the opening stage of the race. "I should have brought my pillow!"

Ahead of the weekend, Verstappen's old title rival Hamilton had asked the media how they stayed awake watching the Monaco Grand Prix every year. That same day, Alonso had said Monaco was the standout F1 week of the year, until race day.

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Hamilton and Alonso are in the camp of drivers who simultaneously agree that F1 would not be the same without the Monaco Grand Prix and that something might need to be done to improve the spectacle of the championship's most famous race.

Verstappen had his own suggestions of what needed to change by Sunday evening. The championship leader spent much of his race behind Hamilton's Mercedes teammate George Russell, both drivers operating well below the limit of their respective cars in a bid to get their tyres to the end of the race.

Russell's radio comms were equally damning about the race that was unfolding.

"At this stage, we gain nothing from driving fast," he told Mercedes with 68 laps still to run. Hardly something you expect to hear from someone competing in motor racing's pinnacle series.

The narrow, twisty streets of Monte Carlo and the ever-growing size of F1 cars have bolstered the race's reputation for monotonous races in recent years, but even by the standards of the Monaco Grand Prix, this one was horrendous in terms of quality. One extenuating circumstance turned the dullness dial up to 11.

The red flag on Lap 1, caused by a collision involving Sergio Pérez, Kevin Magnussen and Nico Hülkenberg, prompted the race to be suspended. Due to a quirk of F1's rules, teams could change tyres during the wait. This meant that when the race resumed more than a half hour later, every driver had made the one change of tyre compounds mandated in the rulebook and, in effect, could go to the end of the race without stopping again.

"It was a very static race," Red Bull boss Christian Horner said. "The top 10 is as it started. ... The red flag effectively killed the race, because everybody just was going to run to the end."

It wasn't just Russell and Verstappen who were driving slower than they could. A little further down the road, RB's Yuki Tsunoda was dropping even further back in eighth. Early on, three groups had formed: Leclerc and the chasing three behind him, then a group of Russell, Verstappen and Hamilton, then the rest behind Tsunoda.

Williams driver Alex Albon, who claimed his team's first points of the season in ninth, was the driver stuck directly behind the RB for the entire contest.

"It's annoying because he had pace, he had so much pace," Albon said about Tsunoda after the race. "I was like, we can all manage, I'm happy to manage. We don't need to manage this much. We were managing so much. I was like, 'Man, I could get out and drive my Vespa around here.'

"I mean, it was so slow. It was so painful. It's actually hard to stay focused when you're driving that slowly because you're just not even near anything. You're not near any limit. He absolutely cleared off at the end of the race, and I was like, 'You could have done this the whole time!'"

Asked whether the rule about changing tyres under a red flag needed to be looked at in the future, Albon said: "We need to figure [something] out. Or maybe if it's a Lap 1 red flag maybe have a mandatory pit stop or something.

"It worked in our favour, to be honest with you, so I'm not complaining about it, but that is part of it. The medium guys at the start of the race were just ... I do think they could have kept up with the pack on the first few laps."

The fact that the pace did pick up toward the end highlights another issue with Monaco. Verstappen was one of the few who made a pit stop, which he could do thanks to the huge gap Tsunoda had created, but after easily catching Russell with fresh tyres, he got stuck immediately again and did not even have a sniff at moving up to fifth position.

Russell and Verstappen have not always seen eye to eye, but they appeared to share a bonding moment over how little they had enjoyed the race, a topic of conversation that is likely to pick up traction in the 12 months until F1's next race in Monte Carlo.

The transcript of their interaction, captured while Verstappen was being interviewed by ViaPlay, went as follows:

Verstappen: I think George and I are going to go for a run now, because we didn't really have any exercise. My God! That was terrible. So boring! Yeah, anyway.

Russell: At least a bit more interesting at the end. I was scared we were going to lose the tyres by driving so slow.

Verstappen: It's OK. You can't pass, so ...

Russell: We need to do something. They need to change something for Sunday. Mandatory pit stops, I don't know.

Verstappen: Like five or something!

Russell: Yeah, five!

Interviewer: Refuelling?

Russell: Refuel, yeah. `

Verstappen: Mandatory nap! I don't know.

Russell: One lap on foot!

Interviewer: Toilet break?

Verstappen: I needed to go to the toilet, yeah. It was bad. I went, luckily, so it was all good!

While there was clearly a tongue-in-cheek element to some of the suggestions, the prospect of a format or circuit tweak for the next Monaco Grand Prix surely has to be considered after how the 2024 event unfolded. Horner suggested the prospect of improving Monaco's main event should be high on the agenda of F1's decision makers.

"It's something that we should collectively have a look at," he said. "It's not racing as such when you're just driving around three or four seconds off the pace because the other car hasn't got any chance of overtaking. Monaco is such a great place to come racing, but the cars are so big now that we just need to look at, 'Can we do something that introduces an overtaking area?' Or at least the potential of an overtake? Because the top 10 is exactly as it started on the grid and not a single overtake in the top 10."

F1 will have to consider any changes to Monaco carefully, though.

One statistic that went around social media in the hours after Leclerc's win: In the Formula E race around a slightly different version of the Monaco track earlier this year, there were more than 200 overtakes. That's evidence that F1's bigger cars are to blame, some said, while others said it is proof the circuit can be tweaked to accommodate better racing.

But Formula E's race at Monaco should provide a cautionary tale. It is nowhere near the world-famous event the F1 equivalent has become. Part of that will be down to the fact that Formula E is a new series without the history to match the Monaco Grand Prix, but there is another reason fans do not flock en masse to watch the all-electric cars around the streets of Monte Carlo: they just don't look very good. The cars do not inspire awe in the same way an F1 car does around the narrow streets and, in the process, the kind of mystique F1 can generate at different points of the weekend is not there.

There is a prevailing school of thought in some corners of the paddock that the sport can always have dull Sunday races at the Monaco Grand Prix so long as Saturday's qualifying event is standout. And, as noted ahead of the week, the spectacle of one flat-out lap in Monaco is still one of the greatest things you can see in modern Formula One.

"We keep the extra excitement for qualifying as everyone knows that's a really important session," Tsunoda said on Sunday night. "Probably more than a normal race, qualifying has more value and we ended up in the top 10. Obviously the race is hard to overtake and maybe less overtaking for the spectators or whatever, but I think this is Monaco, and this is why qualifying is extra special compared to other tracks."

Whether that is enough for everyone remains to be seen.