F1 Monaco Grand Prix: Complete Guide
The Monaco Grand Prix is a Formula One motor race on the Circuit de Monaco — public roads turned into a race track. It’s visceral drama that combines the energy of the Super Bowl, the pomp of Wimbledon, and the split-second, doom-avoiding calibrations of the Kentucky Derby—then hits fast forward.
The race takes place on a narrow course laid out in the city streets of Monaco, passing in front of the port and the Monte Carlo Casino. It is one of the premier events on the French Riviera and packs more than 100,000 spectators into Monaco.
Run since 1929, it is the most important and prestigious automobile race in the world, and the jewel of the three races that form the ‘Triple Crown’ of Motorsport. For four days, Monaco becomes a universe of sensory overload: engine notes pierce the salty air; grease and burning rubber permeate hair and clothes.
It’s the glamorous jewel in the crown of the Formula One circuit, the famous open-cockpit racing series for teams such as Aston Martin Red Bull, Ferrari, and Mercedes-Benz. If you want to reach driving immortality, you must triumph here. “Winning the Monaco Grand Prix is the highlight of any racing driver’s career,” said Nico Rosberg, who won three years in a row and then retired, as there was no further pinnacle achieve in racing.
Held during the last weekend of May, the race starts with two practice sessions on the Thursday before a qualifying round on the Saturday and the race itself on the Sunday at 2pm. The racer who wins on Saturday gets to be at the front of the line on Sunday and therefore normally also wins the Grand Prix, as it’s very difficult to overtake on this track, making both days races very important.
Tip: While exploring the town, keep your eyes open, as many of the drivers have apartments in Monaco, and with the Cannes Film Festival just down the coast, Monaco will be packed to the gills with celebrity spectators.
History of the Monaco Grand Prix
Here’s a great overview of why this race is so special:
The first race took place in 1929, organized by the Automobile Club of Monaco and Antony Noghès. Since all Grand Prix races must happen within the host country’s borders, the only way the race could be held was in the streets of Monaco. It began as an enthusiast’s car rally and was attended by invitation only. By 1933, the race had gained a prestigious reputation and was known worldwide. In 1955, the race became part of the Formula One World Championship.
A Dangerous Track
The 2.094-mile Circuit de Monaco course winds directly up and down the narrow switchbacks carved by the city streets, making it impossible for even pedestrians to traverse any main arteries. With many elevation changes and tight corners as well as a tunnel, it is one of the most demanding tracks in Formula One. You never know what’s going to happen as this track leaves little margin for error.
The drivers piloting these 1,000-horsepower rocket ships must abruptly shift speeds here, going from 185 mph to just 30 mph as they combat the gravitational force of up to five Gs on tight curves. “To achieve anything,” 1961 Grand Prix winner Stirling Moss famously said, “you must be prepared to dabble on the boundary of disaster.”
The last fatality in the Monaco Grand Prix was in 1962, when Italian driver Lorenzo Bandini died from burns that resulted from crashing his vehicle. Due to the track’s many safety issues, the 1969 event saw the use of barriers placed at certain points. Before then, there was little or nothing to prevent a car from crashing into what was next to the track. That could be trees, lamp posts, buildings, glass windows, the train station or the harbor water.
In spite of the relatively low average speeds, it is still a very a dangerous place to race and often involves the intervention of a safety car. Thus, it is the only Grand Prix that does not adhere to the FIA’s safety standards. The average driver changes gears 3,666 times during the 90-minute race, and there are often inferno-inducing crashes—particularly coming out of the course’s tunnel.
Overall, the average speed that you will see on any given race is around 80 to 90 MPH and you can expect a race to last somewhere in the three-hour range. Each race on the Circuit de Monaco consists of 78 laps and the fastest speed ever on the track was in 2007 when it was won with an average speed of 96.654 MPH. The slowest winning speed ever recorded on the Monaco F1 track was just 61.329 MPH and that came at the very first race in 1950. The fastest lap time for the Monaco Grand Prix track was set in 2004 by German racer Michael Schumacher, who finished with a time of 1:14.439.
Here’s three-time Monaco Grand Prix winner (and Monaco resident) Nico Rosberg explaining the ins-and-outs of the track:
While it may seem like the Monaco Grand Prix would be great for kids, there are several downsides you should be aware of. The sound of the car engines is positively deafening –even with earplugs– and often too loud for kids sensitive ears. There’s a lot of waiting between races, which kids find very boring. You can’t bring anything bulky into the Grandstands (like a diaper bag or baby carriage). Also, it’s not easy to find a bathroom or snacks (unless you’re spending the whole time at your hotel). And unless you brought your nanny, you’ll be stuck babysitting and miss out on all the evening fun.
That said, if you want to bring your kids, they are allowed at the Monaco Grand Prix. Children under 5 can attend for free throughout the weekend, though unless they have their own ticket will not have a seat and will need to sit on the parent’s lap. Children 6-15 can access the circuit free of charge with an adult ticket holder on Thursday, Friday is free for everyone, and there are child ticket discounts on Saturday and Sunday.
How to Watch
Any seat’s a good one, with the ocean as the backdrop, the city and mountains rising behind you, and cars flying by so close you can feel the ground rumble as they approach. Every balcony, hotel suite, yacht deck and possible patch of the Principality is inhabited by those eager to watch the action. Not surprisingly, tickets for the Monaco Grand Prix are among the hottest in the Formula 1 season, so book as far in advance as you can.
Tip: To avoid getting scammed, make sure to buy from the official organizers, or go with a well-known broker/concierge, preferably one based year-round in Monaco, like Monaco Star Events, who can arrange your entire trip for you, from hotel to viewings to parties.
Bring: Make sure to bring enough cash for refreshments (although all the restaurants take credit cards), earplugs (yes, you’ll need these!), snack bars or trail mix, a phone battery bank (as you’ll have a hard time finding a place to plug it in, and you’ll be using it to take lots of video and photos), plenty of sunblock, sunglasses and a hat for the sun and wind.
Want to watch the race on a screen? You can stream live via YouTube (just search for Monaco Grand Prix live), or select one of these options to watch on live TV.
Here are your viewing options, from least preferable to most luxurious:
General Admission Areas
Two General Admission viewing areas (without a reserved seat) are available at the Monaco Grand Prix. The small Z1 area is located next to Tabac and sells out quickly, while the Secteur Rocher area is located on the hill leading up to the Prince’s Palace and offers distant views of the circuit.
Tickets for the Rocher are the cheapest option for race days, but come with some serious caveats. To get a spot you’ll need to get there very early (no later than 6am!) In fact, quite a few fans camp out over night the Wednesday before the Grand Prix then stay put for the entire four days so they don’t lose their spot. This is general admission (basically, you’re just hanging out on the dirt slope overlooking the port), so bring your own camping-style foldable chairs, and realize that the downside is this: it’ll be crowded, you’ll be surrounded by possibly rowdy hardcore fans, and the cars will look tiny (so bring binoculars). Only go if there is a group of you so there is always someone to look after your place.
If you don’t have a large budget or friends in high places, then you’ll likely be watching from the grandstands (outdoor seating similar to the type you’d find in a stadium). Tickets for unreserved grandstand seats are between €70 and €80 and provide a good view, but you’ll have to get there extremely early to get a good spot.
Many visitors rush to buy tickets in the grandstand facing Casino Square, although the scope of the race is relatively limited from this admittedly glamorous viewpoint. If you really want to enjoy the festive atmosphere, buy a grandstand ticket in one of the areas in the port from the Tabac corner to La Rascasse , where the race is most exciting.
Here’s a guide to the differences between the grandstand areas. Whichever grandstand seat you get, bear in mind that you’ll be either on a bench or a backless seat, so you might want to bring a cushion, earplugs, water (but not in glass), and snacks. None of the seats have shade, so bring a hat and sunscreen. Keep in mind that bulky items like overnight bags and suitcases are not allowed in the Grandstands and there are no lockers for you to stash your stuff.
If you have bought a 2 day or 3 day ticket for the same grandstand, or Gold and Silver packages, you will qualify for a pit lane walk on Friday. Check with circuit representatives on the day and be advised that there will be a long queue.
This is the most social option. The Paddock Club has multiple areas where you can lounge, snack, and mingle with other guests. Located in the Monaco port, the Paddock Club is close to the Pit Lane. While the views aren’t as good as other options (you can only see one bend), tickets include Pit Lane passes, giving you the opportunity to meet the drivers, and the hospitality suite offers bottomless champagne, gourmet luncheons, and F1 earplugs. Tickets to the Paddock Club & Pit Lane cost a minimum of €6,700 per person.
Many people pay to watch from an apartment with a terrace overlooking the track (Monaco residents often rent their apartment out for this). Usually this rental is just for the hours of the race, and is catered. Apartment terraces offer the most sweeping views, if you choose a well-situated terrace.
Another option is to book a hotel room with a view of the track. This is the easiest and most comfortable option. There are two hotels worth booking for the Monaco Grand Prix (both hotels offer special 4-night Grand Prix packages):
- At the Hotel de Paris you can book a room with views over Casino Square (the most beautiful view of the race), or have a small terrace overlooking both the sea and a small section of the track. If you book a non-track-facing room then you can still have free access to the track-side garden terrace for exceptionally up-close race viewing. If you want a high-end experience coupled with the ability to be social in a refined way, this is the place to stay. This hotel has three restaurants and one bar, all with unbeatable views of the track.
- At the Fairmont Monte Carlo you can book a room facing the track (you’ll get a view of one hairpin turn). If you book a sea-facing room then you can watch the race from the roof. If you want to drink and party with a younger crowd, this is the place to stay. You’ll get free access to their rooftop lounge, which hosts a ‘Nikki Beach’ DJ pool party and has a decent view of a tight turn on the track.
There are temporary structures put up alongside the track by the port — close to the action. These structures are divided into small rooms, which are called VIP boxes. You can buy access to VIP boxes directly from the organizers of the Grand Prix, for €5,250 per person for weekend access. This gives you access to a great view, buffet-style catering, an open bar, and a social atmosphere.
Weekly Monaco Grand Prix superyacht charters cost upward of €500,000 (and good luck finding a place in the Condamine to dock it, where you’ll pay up to €128,000 a day to moor during Grand Prix week). Luckily, a superyacht “experience” can be a lot more social and bought for a fraction of the price of a charter; a weekend VIP yacht experience is available from the official organizers for €4,900 for 2 people.
While it’s a great place to watch the race from, nothing epitomizes the beau monde of Monaco’s envious nightlife more than partying under the stars on a superyacht, with the lights of the palace and the Monte Carlo Casino acting as twinkling bookends in the backdrop.
This is the secret that only locals know, and a tip you’ll only find on Iconic Riviera… The way that locals watch (when they’re not watching from their yacht or apartment terrace) is by booking a table for lunch at one of the restaurants that overlook the track. Expect to pay at least €100 to €300 per person, but then you can be served, drink, relax, and watch the race from close-up.
- Hotel de Paris: By far the best restaurants and vantage-points are at this hotel. Treat your taste buds to the menu of a starred chef at the Hotel de Paris’ Louis XV while watching the race up-close from their terrace on casino square. Have lunch track-side at the Salle Empire, which is just elevated enough to give you a perfect view. Get a bird’s-eye view of the track in both the casino square and the port from The Grill. After lunch, head to the famous Bar Americain and watch the race while you sip €30 signature mixed cocktails (or splurge on a €15,000 Dom from 2003) and slowly sink into the soft, padded terrace sofas.
- Have lunch at the Café de Paris Monte-Carlo in the middle of casino square. The barriers block some of the view, but it’s still a fun place to be.
- Watch the race from above while enjoying L’Hirondelle restaurant’s special menu and go swimming or indulge in luxurious spa treatments during race breaks.
- Hôtel Hermitage: The starred restaurant Yannick Alléno and the terrace of the Crystal Bar are also prime locations to enjoy dinner or a drink with a good view of the circuit.
- If you have a lower budget, you can catch the roar of the engines as they speed by La Rascasse (a casual restaurant near the Paddock Club). Ask to be on the 2nd-floor terrace in the far North-East corner.
- Here’s a list of restaurants with pricing and deals (but make sure you reserve well in advance!)
Companies (such as NetJets) also rent out huge rooftop terraces so they can invite their best customers. If you’re lucky enough to be invited to one of these, you can expect incredible views of the city and the race, free-flowing champagne, gourmet catered meals, DJ sets, and branded gifts (like jackets and caps).
An invite to The Yacht Club De Monaco (where movie stars mix with drivers) is one of the hottest tickets in town. You’ll need to know a member of this club. It’s one of the best places in Monaco to watch the race from, as it’s on the harbor with incredible views of the track and the surrounding yachts.
Even more exclusive is the private team owner and major sponsor viewing rooms above the pits. You’ll need a special invite for this (and some serious earplugs), and you’ll get this view of the cars as they stop in for maintenance:
Wondering how to really go all-out? Here’s our recommendation for doing the Monaco Grand Prix in Billionaire style:
- Wake up in your suite at the Hotel de Paris (between €22,000 and €44,000 per night).
- Watch the early races from your suite’s massive terrace or private pool.
- Each day, pick a different one of the three hotel restaurants for lunch, all of which are overlooking the race track (€300 to €1500 per person).
- After lunch, sip €30 cocktails at the Bar Americain at the Hotel de Paris while watching the race.
- Go to a yacht party and mingle with other billionaires, supermodels, and race car drivers.
- Go out for dinner at Sass, Song Qi, Coya, Maya Jah, or any of the many glam and lively restaurants in Monaco.
- Get a table with friends at one of the Grand Prix parties (for between €3,000 and €15,000) and stay up until 4am partying with fellow billionaires.
- Start over the next day.
Check out our guide to experiencing Monaco like a Billionaire for more…
Watch a Race – for Free!
Not a billionaire? No problem! Here’s a secret… It’s not publicized and most locals don’t even know about it, but the Friday morning before the big race is always free, with all of the same noise, smells, vibrations, sensations, crashes, and excitement… but no ticket required. Okay, you won’t see any Formula One cars on the free day, but you will see the Porsche Supercup as well as GP2‘s.
To attend, just show up and pick a seat in any of the grandstands. Races start at 8am. The streets reopen to the public at 2:30pm, and then you are free to walk along the track and even peek into the pits. While you’re at it, take a stroll on the docks to check out the mega-yachts in for the races.
If you insist on attending with children (which we don’t recommend), this is the day to go, as it’s less hectic and crowded.
Where to Party
Arguably the biggest draw to Monaco during this time are the epic, decadent parties. This is possibly the most exclusive party scene in the world (apart from film-related events like the Oscars). This is where you can mix with royalty, race car drivers, rock stars, Olympians, actors, supermodels, billionaires, business leaders, and other celebrities.
The ideal way to experience Grand Prix nightlife is to start out with dinner at a glam restaurant, followed by a yacht party, and ending up at one of the many glamorous DJ parties. There’s a lot of choice when it comes to where to party during the evenings of the Monaco Grand Prix, but unless you’re a well-connected supermodel, you’ll need deep pockets to attend.
It’s not unusual to see high-rollers blowing hundreds of thousands of euros in a night on booze, table and entry fees for themself and their entourage.
From yacht parties to nightclubs, make sure to plan –and book– ahead of time, as the last-minute door charge (if you can even get in) can be as much as €5,000 a head. And get ready for an intense experience — the vibe is 100% decadence with a sprinkle of burlesque (unfortunately, it can feel a bit outdated as there are no male dancers).
The most famous nightclub in Monaco is Jimmy’z. In the Grand Prix evenings, it is host to a thousand Super-VIPs inside with another 1,500 lining up outside. Anybody who is anybody has happily plunked down a ridiculous amount of money for the opportunity to party with F1 drivers, team owners, and supermodels during the F1 weekend.
The most well-known Grand Prix DJ parties are Amber Lounge (a pop-up party where you can drop up to €27,000 on a table — per evening), Jimmy’z (the largest nightclub, where a table costs between €3,000 and €15,000), Twiga (another night club), Nikki Beach (rooftop poolside lounge at the Fairmont Hotel), Buddha-Bar (lounge and restaurant), and –our favorite– Sunset (a party outside on the Meridian‘s private beach).
Money, Money, Money!
It’s not just the parties and the tickets that are expensive! Learn about the enormous cost of cars, prize money, and economics of the F1 Grand Prix:
Just for fun, here’s a clip of the race from Iron Man 2:
And this is from a film in 1966:
2021 Program & Dates
Event Type: Car race (F1)
Date: Thu, May 20 to Sun, May 23, 2021
Website: Check the Official Website
Location: The streets of Monaco, from the port in the Condamine to Monte Carlo and back. Getting around in Monaco with so many roads blocked off can be complicated (and you can’t trust Google Maps to help!), so make sure to ask your broker/concierge for a detailed map of what routes you should walk to get from place to place.
Transportation: View our Monaco transportation guide for more info and transit booking details.
Warning: Do not bring the following things, which are banned: glass bottles and cans; pets; bulky items such as: suitcases, pushchairs, bikes, scooters, helmets, camera tripods, etc.; any object that can cause harm to another spectator: firearms, knives or blades, and generally any blunt object that can be used to cut whether metal or otherwise. There are no lockers or luggage facilities.
Check out the virtual F1 simulation (immersive video game) where you can pretend you’re a driver on the Monaco track.
Love supercars? Check out our guide to where to see supercars and car races in Monaco.
For more events, check out our complete Monaco & the French Riviera events calendar.