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Magnificent in Monaco

As this year’s Monaco GP approaches, we look back at some of Ferrari’s more famous victories in F1’s most prestigious race
Words: Gavin Green

Ferrari is the most storied and successful of F1 teams. And the Monaco GP is the most glamorous and famous of F1 races. So, perhaps it was serendipitous that it was back on 21 May 1950 that Scuderia Ferrari made its Formula One debut in Monaco, Alberto Ascari piloting his 125 to second place in the race. 

Since then, Ferrari victories at Monaco have a special place in Formula One folklore. In all, Ferrari has won the race around the Principality’s narrow streets on 9 occasions, including three out of five races from 1997 to 2001 (all by Michael Schumacher). 

The Scuderia’s most recent win was in 2017, after a dominant performance by the red cars: they qualified 1-2, led every lap, and saw Sebastian Vettel win from Kimi Räikkönen. It was Ferrari’s third 1-2 finish at F1’s most prestigious race. 

We revisit some of Ferrari's classic performances at the prestigious race in the video above

But let’s examine, in greater detail, some of the Scuderia’s more famous Monaco wins. 

At the 1955 Monaco GP, Mercedes-Benz was expected to dominate. It had the biggest budget, the fastest car and probably the two best drivers in Juan-Manuel Fangio and Stirling Moss. After dictating the 1952 and 1953 seasons, Ferrari was going through a rough patch. The Scuderia won only two races in 1954 and had lost its best driver and double world champion Alberto Ascari to Italian rivals Lancia.

The first race of 1955, in Argentina, was won by the home favourite Fangio. Ferrari was a distant second. At Monaco, the second race of the season four months later, Fangio was on pole. By half race distance he comfortably led Mercedes teammate Moss. 

The opening lap of the 1950 GP saw an unexpected wave of water hitting the track at Tabac corner which retired Giuseppe Farina, Juan Manuel Fangio and nine other drivers

Unfancied Frenchman Maurice Trintignant, in a Ferrari 625, had qualified a distant ninth and was running well back. Then Fangio retired, and so did Moss. That left ex-Ferrari man Ascari in the lead, before he overran the chicane coming out of the tunnel and – in the most spectacular accident in Monaco history – his Lancia crashed through the straw bales and sandbags into the harbour. The car immediately sank in a cloud of steam. The driver, thankfully, swam to safety. (Poor Ascari would be dead four days later, when he crashed while testing at Monza.)

With Ascari out, a surprised Trintignant in his unfancied Ferrari inherited the lead and went on to win his first F1 race. (He would win again at Monaco in 1958, his second and final GP victory in a 14-year F1 career – astonishingly long for such a dangerous era. He died, aged 87, in 2005.)

Ferrari would not win again in Monaco for 20 years. Its 1975 triumph was the first race win of Niki Lauda’s title winning season and it was the first win for the new Ferrari 312 T. With upgrades, the 312 T-series would notch up 27 race wins, three driver championships (1975, 1977 and 1979) and four constructors’ titles.

Villeneuve was already having an excellent season by the the time he reached the Spanish GP. His win at Monaco showed the promise of both driver and new powerful Ferrari turbo

At that memorable Monaco, Lauda led from start to finish, apart from his pitstop. He was never seriously challenged.

In 1979 Jody Scheckter in the Principality led from the first to the last lap having also set the pole position. In his memorable season with the 312 T4, the South African took advantage of Jacques Laffite's retirement to take the championship lead. He would never lose it again going on to win the title with the historic one-two at Monza, when he crossed the finish line first, closely followed by teammate Gilles Villeneuve.

Gilles Villeneuve’s 1981 Monaco win was far less assertive and, by the little Canadian’s exuberant standards, one of his least spectacular victories. Rather, it showed the intelligence of Villeneuve – one of Enzo Ferrari’s favourite drivers – and it would also prove a watershed: the first GP victory for a turbocharged Ferrari.

Back in 1981, a turbo was a hindrance not a help on a circuit like Monaco. Turbos were powerful but temperamental; they were difficult to drive, particularly on tight, slow circuits such as Monaco. The dominant naturally aspirated Ford Cosworth-powered cars, with their extra tractability, were hot favourites.

2018 saw Sebastien Vettel battle for first, through dirty air and frustrating pitting decisions from teams behind. He was able to to take second place with fractions of a second in it

Villeneuve started from a surprise second on the grid in his new Ferrari 126 CK. After early leader Nelson Piquet crashed, the Canadian found himself dicing with reigning world champion Alan Jones for the lead. 

The turbo Ferrari may have been harder to drive than Jones’ Cosworth-powered Williams, but it also had more power. Villeneuve made full use of it as he sped past the hapless Jones – in trouble with low fuel pressure – with four laps to go. 

It was not just the first win for a turbo Ferrari, it was the first time a turbocharged car had won at Monaco. The following year, the 126 C2 powered Ferrari to the World Constructors’ Championship. Ferrari would win that title again in 1983. It was the beginning of a six-year period of F1 domination by turbos, until they were banned in 1989.