FORMULA 1 MOTORSPORT NEWS

Debunking the Triple Crown Myth

FEATURE BY MIKE LAWRENCE

Instead of racing at Monaco, Fernando Alonso will be at Indianapolis and so could win one of the elements that comprise motor racing’s unofficial, and purely nominal. ‘Triple Crown’. It is now widely said that this comprises, the Monaco GP, Le Mans and the Indy 500.

This is PR piffle or, to use the correct technical term, utter bullsh*t.

Nobody had thought of a Triple Crown until Graham Hill won Le Mans in 1972 (with Henri Pescarolo in a Matra-Simca MS670). Out of affection for Graham in the twilight of his career, the term was invented and it referred to Le Mans, Indianapolis and the World Championship.

When Mario Andretti came out of retirement in 1988, to compete once more at Le Mans, it was widely said that he wanted the Triple Crown. Since he had not won Monaco, but had won the World Championship and was winner at Indianapolis in 1969, the Triple Crown was possible since Monaco did not enter the equation.

The Monaco GP is retained, allegedly at a favourable rate, for the benefit of sponsors. It carries no extra points, unlike Abu Dhabi a few years ago. It is true that it is uniquely demanding, but that is because it is, in essence, a 1920s street circuit.

It was not so long ago that every noted F1 correspondent complained that Monacowas an anachronism which should be dropped. Overtaking was almost impossible and so the circuit thwarted drivers. We are now told that Monaco is glamorous even though it is the Grand Prix that makes it so. The place is glamorous because of Formula One in the same way that Bahrain and Baku enjoy fleeting status.

Apart from the race, it is a cramped enclave of the wealthy the main attraction of which, apart from being a tax haven, is that it is handy for more exciting places in Italy and on the French Riviera.

What glamour it has is the Casino (now a complex) which has featured in the odd James Bond film, and the display of ostentatious wealth which is the display of yachts in the harbour, many of which are for hire. Head honchos of companies can feed their egos at the expense of their shareholders.

I bet that there is more money and influence at Indy, but Indianapolis does not have a marina.

Though the Casino has been presented as the epitome of style and privilege it is open to anyone for ten euros. The dress code is not evening wear from Paris, London or Milan, it is: no shorts, trainers or flip-flops, jackets are recommended after eight. I have known pubs more demanding than that.

The only people who may not play the tables are Monegasques, though they may work in the casino.

Monaco is a facsimile of glamour. For real glamour, a few miles away is the infinitely more elegant city of Cannes and its film festival. People are wined and dined at Cannes to persuade them to invest in films, at Monaco they are wined and dined in the pursuit of sponsorship. Around that hard fact, PR wallahs have built a fluffy story and they have become so successful that they are widely believed.

One story I read recently emphasised that Monaco was part of the first World Championship in 1950, as though that mattered. What the writer failed to say was that no World Championship race was then held until 1955, though there was a sports car race with the name, ‘Monaco Grand Prix’ in 1952.

The 1955 race was won by Maurice Trintignant in a Ferrari 625/555. That year the Mercedes-Benz W196s of Fangio and Moss each suffered an engine glitch and Ascari (Lancia D50), who inherited the lead, made a rare mistake and ended up in the harbour.

To compare a win at Monaco with winning the World Championship is absurd especially when you consider that winners have included Olivier Panis (1996) and Jarno Trulli (2004) and their wins were the only time they won a Grand Prix.

The status of the race was exaggerated to suit Bernie’s agenda. It is an ego massage for actual, and potential, sponsors and as such it has worked well. Many a CEO, accompanied, perhaps, by a niece he is putting through college, has fallen for the ersatz glamour.

‘The Man Who Broke The Bank At Monte Carlo’ was a catchy Music Hall number from 1892 and it spoke of enormous wealth legitimately acquired, like winning a national lottery today. It spread the fame of the principality which had merely copied some other resorts which had prospered though gambling. The ‘bank’ was actually the house’s float on a particular table, typically 100,000 francs, nobody bust the casino.

When a gaming table ran out of its float, a manager would cover it with a black cloth, for a while. It was the sort of histrionic gesture that feeds legends.

While the Casino presented itself as exotic, its success was because it was accessible to anyone. In most countries there were strict gaming laws and one had to be elected to a private club. Monte Carlo, by contrast, was Liberty Hall. What exclusivity it had was due to geography and the scarcity of open access gambling elsewhere.

One other thing counted and that was that women were admitted. Chaps playing cards against other chaps in a gentleman’s club was one thing. Women were admitted to the Casino, where they could display their frocks, and some were ladies of negotiable affection. If that is your idea of glamour, I cannot argue.

Before the Grand Prix became coated with BS, what counted was the Monte Carlo Rally. In the 1950s and 1960s, this had a status that surpassed the WRC today. It was essentially a reliability run, but competitors could start from up to eight cities in Europe.

For people in countries recovering from WWII, it was a fantasy (owning a car, for most people, was a distant aspiration.) In the middle of winter you could set off from, say, Glasgow or Stockholm, and arrive in sunshine. There was then little division between rallying and racing, there was only how one used one’s time and the cream of British racing took part.

One British newspaper offered a prize: the winner would be the third member of an entry in the Monte Carlo Rally (ie a sack of potatoes) and, in Monte Carlo, would be handed the keys of car.

Monte Carlo, at a time when few Brits holidayed abroad and you could take only twenty five pounds out of the country in any one year.

BBC TV’s weekly sport news programme, ‘Grandstand’, sometimes entered a car in ‘The Monte’. The rally dominated ‘Autosport’ for a month in a way no race has ever done.

A guy called Mike Couper wrote a book, ‘Rallying To Monte Carlo’. Couper’s incentive was to win the Concours d’Elegance where the judges considered the quality of the crystalware in his cocktail cabinet. Couper’s was the only book on rallying published in Britain in the 1950s.

When Grace Kelly married Prince Rainier in 1956, she brought Hollywood glamour to Monaco. Kelly became consort to a man who reigned over 480 acres, the size of a small farm, and, after the Vatican, the world’s smallest country, but she became a princess.

Americans may be republican to a man, but they go weak at knees when faced with a title. America makes endless movies about princesses, countries with monarchies do not.

Cinema newsreels covered the race because the guys in charge could swing a trip to the French Riviera and Grace Kelly giving out the trophies was the clincher.

That was the reality before the PR wallahs got involved.

One piece of history often presented skewed is that the great Monegasque driver, Louis Chiron, created the race. He did not, though he later did not demur when credit was handed out. Chiron missed the inaugural Grand Prix because of a prior commitment to race in the Indianapolis 500.

Does that sound familiar?

The idea that Monaco means more than other races is plain daft. How can Monacocompare to, for example. Monza? Monza is Alfa Romeo, Ferrari, Lancia and Maserati. It is also Ascari, Campari, Fagioli, Farina, Nuvolari and Varzi. It is the tifosi. Monte Carlo is merely a resort that runs a race to boost tourism, as many towns used to do. Monza is the beating heart of motor racing.

There is no official Triple Crown. The idea was mooted to honour Graham Hill and the Formula One element was the World Championship. PR wallahs have taken an affectionate gesture and corrupted it.

Mike Lawrence. Published in Pitpass.com