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J.Balvin performing at the 2024 Monaco GP | Image: Pierre Mouton

Inside TAG Heuer’s Star-Studded Monaco GP Experience


The proverbial jewel in Formula One’s already greatly-bedazzled crown, the Monaco Grand Prix is more than just a race on asphalt. For one fleeting weekend, the vibrancy of the sport’s dedicated fandom meets the intoxicating allure of the French Riviera region, giving way to a captivating feast for the ears, eyes and heart. As someone who had never visited this idyllic part of the globe, the Monaco GP always felt like a world far beyond my clutches, or even cognition. But somehow, after spending three days embroiled in the undeniable energy of the principality, at a time when exhaust fumes flow almost as frequently as Champagne, I finally understand the intrigue.

Set against a stunning backdrop of superyachts and casino lights, Monaco’s unique street-circuit track is visually unlike any other in the F1 calendar. Perhaps more remarkable, however, is the GP’s enduring driving legacy. Despite the number of F1 races increasing year-on-year, Monaco has maintained its mantle as the sport’s top event. Nonsensical though it may be, for drivers, winning at Monaco means more than winning anywhere else, even if the points are the same. In 2024, the sentiment rings truer than ever, so what is it about the Monaco GP that makes it so special?

Port Hercules in Monaco | Image: Rishi Jhajharia
Port Hercules in Monaco | Image: Rishi Jhajharia

History

With a rich history that dates back almost 100 years, the Monaco GP has long served as the premier date on the F1 calendar. First held in 1929, the Grand Prix was conceived through the support of the Automobile Club de Monaco and Prince Louis II and has since enjoyed a more luxurious and regal bearing than other GPs. During its run, Monaco has played host to some of the sport’s most iconic moments, from Ayrton Senna’s triumph in the rain-soaked race of 1990 to Max Verstappen’s dominant victory in 2021, and this year delivered arguably its most important result.

At the 2024 Monaco Grand Prix, Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc secured a famous victory, becoming just the second Monégasque driver to win the race. Monte Carlo-raised Leclerc snagged pole position in qualifying before going on to end a 93-year drought that started when F1 great Louis Chiron won the 1931 edition. Seeing the victory in person, there was an energy in the stands that I hadn’t observed at a sporting event before. Just as the Brits love to tout that ‘Football is coming home’, this GP win felt like a reunion long-overdue. A Monte Carlo-raised driver taking out the Monaco GP in one of the sport’s most iconic liveries; what could be more special than that?

Aryton Senna tributes at 2024 Monaco F1 Grand Prix | Image: Man of Many
Aryton Senna tributes at 2024 Monaco F1 Grand Prix | Image: Man of Many

Senna Tribute

Historically, the Monaco GP has been favourited by some of the sport’s most enduring characters and legendary drivers, with Michael Schumacher, Ayrton Senna and Lewis Hamilton all multi-time winners. Renowned for its somewhat chaotic nature, courtesy of the unpredictable weather conditions and the high propensity for crashes, the event is one of the most anticipated on the F1 calendar, but this year was special for a different reason.

Marking 30 years since the passing of F1 great Ayrton Senna, the Monaco GP was a proverbial tribute to the track legend. In his career, Senna won the Monaco event six times, including an incredible run of five in a row from 1989 to 1993. The entire principality was littered with messages of support and acknowledgements of the Brazilian’s contributions to F1, which added a wholesome and meaningful touch to the already emotional event.

McLaren Racing's Senna-inspired livery for the 2024 Monaco GP | Image: Man of Many
McLaren Racing’s Senna-inspired livery for the 2024 Monaco GP | Image: Man of Many

Even McLaren got in on the action, unveiling a new livery inspired by Senna’s Brazilian green, yellow and blue instead of the traditional papaya orange. CEO Zack Brown described the tribute as an honour and acknowledged the late F1 star’s profound impact on the sport.

“His impact on McLaren is enormous, not only through his racing record but also presence within the team, and now his legacy, so it’s an honour to race for him at his most successful circuit in his green, yellow and blue colours.”

Monaco GP track | Image: TAG Heuer
Monaco GP track | Image: TAG Heuer

Track

Forget what you heard about bigger being better; at just 3.337 kilometres in length, the Monaco GP circuit is the shortest in the championship. However, what Monaco lacks in length, it makes up for in difficulty. The 78-lap event snakes its way around the iconic Monte Carlo casino and through the twisting and tightly wound streets of the Riviera principality. It’s a unique perspective for both fans and drivers, with the barriers essentially ending at the edge of the track, bringing spectators closer to the action than any other GP. That’s not to say you have to put yourself in harm’s way to catch a glimpse of the drivers making their way past the fabled casino steps.

Like many regions on the French Riviera, Monaco is surrounded by rolling hills that flow down to the central port area. Historically, this geographic profile has provided protection against invading forces from the sea, however, in recent years, the abundance of hills has served as a perfect vantage point for F1 fans. Importantly, however, the circuit isn’t without its challenges.

Oracle Red Bull Racing driver Max Verstappen at the Monaco F1 Grand Prix | Image: Eric Alonso/Getty Images
Oracle Red Bull Racing driver Max Verstappen at the Monaco F1 Grand Prix | Image: Eric Alonso/Getty Images

Monaco is the only race on the F1 calendar that does not adhere to the FIA’s minimum track width regulations, making it a true test of skill and precision for the drivers. Speaking with ESPN before the event, four-time winner Lewis Hamilton described Monaco’s unique setting as a confusing cocktail of fear and intrigue.

“I always feel when you look into the harbour, you look over this place and you think about the history, it just blows you away,” Hamilton said. “I remember watching on TV as a kid, dreaming of going through that tunnel where Ayrton was. It is very, very surreal to think today that I’m one of the 20 to do it. Even though it’s been so many years and I’ve been doing it for so long, I think I was really grateful for that moment this morning to feel that.”

Cultural Appeal

From the moment I stepped foot in Monaco, the stories I’d heard about the Grand Prix started to make sense. Where other races on the F1 calendar feel very much catered to die-hard sports fans, Monaco perfectly walks the line between cultural phenomenon and athletic pursuit. In a way, it’s much closer to the world of horse racing, evoking the same level of quality and prestige that we’ve come to expect from ‘Fashions on the Field’ and the pre-event showcases.

Notably, the region’s propensity for wealth and luxury has made the event a grandstanding spectacle in the worlds of high fashion, style and celebrity, attended by some of the biggest names in popular culture. This year, stars like Alexandra Daddario, Nicholas Galitzine and J. Balvin made their way through the famous streets of Monaco and down onto the race-track, eager to catch a glimpse at the automotive display on offer.

J.Balvin performing at the 2024 Monaco GP | Image: TAG Heuer
J.Balvin performing at the 2024 Monaco GP | Image: TAG Heuer

For the lucky ones with an invitation, however, the real spectacle happens at night. A globally-recognised centre for nightlife, Monaco comes alive once the sun goes down and there was no bigger party this year than on the TAG Heuer cruise ship. The Oracle Red Bull Racing partner hosted an exhilarating celebration for the 81st edition of the iconic event, taking place aboard the majestic Le Bougainville ship.

“Tonight is all about celebration. From our incredible drivers Max Verstappen and Sergio Pérez to the 20th season of Oracle Red Bull Racing, it is a weekend that keeps on giving and we could not be more enthusiastic to be here all together, in this iconic setting that is Monaco,” Julien Tornare, CEO of TAG Heuer.

Alexandra Daddario, Oracle Red Bull Racing driver Sergio Peréz, TAG Heuer CEO Julien Tornare, Oracle Red Bull Racing drivee Max Verstappen and Nicholas Galitzine | Image: TAG Heuer
Alexandra Daddario, Oracle Red Bull Racing driver Sergio Peréz, TAG Heuer CEO Julien Tornare, Oracle Red Bull Racing drivee Max Verstappen and Nicholas Galitzine | Image: TAG Heuer

Perhaps the Monaco Grand Prix’s most famous attendee, however, is the Crown Prince of Monaco himself, Albert II. The monarch has made regular appearances at the Grand Prix for decades, helping to reinforce a degree of prestige to the already impressive calendar event. This year proved to be an important showing, with hometown hero Charles Leclerc scoring a debut victory, after claiming pole position in qualifying. The Monaco-born Ferrari driver accepted the Grand Prix trophy from His Majesty and even from the stands, the emotion on both of their faces was clear to see.

As an event, Monaco has the unique position of being close enough to the Riviera that the world’s wealthiest can simply tow their superyachts in and watch from the upper deck. The result is a visual spectacle that is unlike any other in world sport, making for some interesting social media fodder. Each year, images of the watercraft lined up at Port Hercules are regularly beamed across the globe, sending video views (and jealousy levels) skyrocketing. But for all the celebrity, style and substance of the Grand Prix, there is one thing Monaco has over all other events; a timepiece.

Steve McQueen wearing the TAG Heuer Monaco in the 1970 film 'Le Mans' | Image: TAG Heuer
Steve McQueen wearing the TAG Heuer Monaco in the 1970 film ‘Le Mans’ | Image: TAG Heuer

Luxury Watch Connection

As a playground for the rich and famous, Monaco has no shortage of dazzling timepieces on display. However, when it comes to F1, TAG Heuer owns the game. The brand debuted its now-iconic square-shaped Monaco model in 1969, introduced by Jack Heuer to align with the adventurous spirit and boundary-pushing nature of the European racing event. While it did enjoy moderate success, it was Steve McQueen’s 1971 film Le Mans that transformed the watch into an icon of both screen and circuit.

“At the time, we immediately knew this was something special,” Jack Heuer famously said upon the watch’s release. “The revolutionary square case would be the perfect housing for our avant-garde Monaco.”

TAG Heuer Monaco Chronograph | Image: Supplied
TAG Heuer Monaco Chronograph | Image: TAG Heuer

For 2024, TAG Heuer again revisited the classic design, unveiling the new Monaco Chronograph. The refresher timepiece features a striking dark blue hue that TAG Heuer CEO Julien Tornare revealed to me was a nod to the Principality of Monaco’s racing tradition. As he explained, the colour choice is a nod to the Mediterranean coast, with the yellow touches on the hands and hour markers providing a vibrant contrast that evokes the sparks that fly from racing cars at high speed.

TAG Heuer CEO Julien Tornare (L), Oracle Red Bull Racing driver Max Verstappen (M) and LVMH Watches CEO Frédéric Arnault (R) with the new TAG Heuer Monaco Chronograph | Image: TAG Heuer
TAG Heuer CEO Julien Tornare (L), Oracle Red Bull Racing driver Max Verstappen (M) and LVMH Watches CEO Frédéric Arnault (R) with the new TAG Heuer Monaco Chronograph | Image: TAG Heuer

“It’s another way to express Monaco in a very modern and contemporary way,” Tornare told me. “Again, we keep the proportions, the design of the iconic piece, and that’s often the most difficult part – how you balance bringing new things on a shape and design that has become an icon over the years. With this one; it’s a very cool dark blue that references the sky in Monaco. Of course, we like to kick off this Grand Prix with something special.”

Even the ever-evolving case material speaks to the F1 connection. The new model arrives in a black DLC-coated grade 2 titanium, which has been utilised for its lightweight and shock-resistant properties, very much in keeping with the motor racing theme. As we noted we the watch was released, just as Red Bull Racing’s Max Verstappen and Sergio Pérez are attempting to reduce the weight of their cars and shave a few seconds off their lap time, Tornare and his team are attempting to reconfigure the boundaries of modern watch design.

Monaco in a Minute

There is no event in world sport quite like the Monaco Grand Prix. A symphony of vibrant colours, sounds, and luxury plays out in perfect harmony against the backdrop of one of Europe’s most pristine locations. With a healthy dose of celebrity culture, high fashion and even a touch of royalty thrown in, it’s little wonder Monaco has become the most important race day on the F1 calendar.

After spending a weekend here and seeing the intensity of the fandom up close, it’s no exaggeration to say the mark that Monaco has left on me is indelible. If only there was a way to mark this unique and irreplaceable moment in time. Say, perhaps with a square-shaped timepiece that bears a familiar nameplate?

Disclaimer: The author of this article, Nick Hall, was invited to attend the 2024 Monaco Grand Prix as a guest of TAG Heuer.