Book Review: The Life: Monaco Grand Prix

Today’s Post by Joe Farace

As a young automobile enthusiast I was crazy about Formula 1 racing and attended several F1 races at Watkins Glen during the sixties and seventies, when they were held uninterrupted from 1961 to 1980. Thanks to Olympus America I was able to attend the penultimate F1 race at Indianapolis in 2006, where I had a chance to meet Michael Schumacher. But these days I’ll confess that my interest in Formula 1 racing has diminished to almost zero, except for the Grand Prix of Monaco.

Which brings me to The Life: Monaco Grand Prix, a new book by Stuart Codling from Motorbooks.

The opening section of the book focuses on how the state of Monaco came to be beginning with the sixth century BCE but this section is far from dry, setting the political and social tone for what follows.

The organization that would ultimately be known as the Automobile Club de Monaco’s first event (surprise) was not the Grand Prix but instead was the Monte Carlo Rally. But the ACM was not able to get the event internationally sanctioned because the rally was not held totally within the tiny principality, hence the Grand Prix of Monaco was born, which ushered in a golden age of race drivers, such as the legendary Louis Chiron. For those who thought the romantic subplots of John Frankenheimer’s film Grand Prix, also featured in the book, were far-fetched, the reality of those early racing days were even more unbelievable and the portrait of Chiron is as someone who’s incredibly talented, dashing and a bit of a rouge.

The book takes on the enormity of grand prix racing in Monaco in a non-chronological way, instead focusing on different features of the race and the many personalities and non-racing aspects of Monaco itself, such as…

Moss vs. Fangio: Here are two truly legendary drivers who competed while one was in in ascension and the other in the latter part of his career and when I was young Juan Manual Fangio was the man. In 1957, the two squared off for what was their last time at Monaco and the brief paragraphs are as lively as play-by-play from TV announcers on today’s F1 races. In the end it was Fangio for the win by 25 seconds and then going on to take his fifth world title, a record that stood for 50 years.

Hill vs Stewart vs Clark: I never got to see Fangio on the track but I did watch these three legends race at Watkins Glen. Sadly only Jackie Stewart, a pioneer in demanding that F1 improve their safety standard, is still with us. While this story could take a whole book to explain in depth, the authors takes us behind the scenes to look at these men as vital, breathing heroes and how they affected racing in Monaco.

But there’s more here than just people and history lessons. Students of the sport of racing, will enjoy sections like “Circuit Evolution” that explain how the racing course itself has changed over the years for many reasons, including safety. And then there’s Chapter 10: The Presence of God that includes a few pages honoring the late Ayrton Senna, using his own words, talking about the Monaco Grand Prix and illustrated with a heartbreaking portrait of this brave young man. And then it’s off to the races again with Chapter 11 about racers who are also cyclists.

There’s so much more here. The writing is engaging and insightful and the many wonderful photographs add to what is truly a “you are there” experience of being on track, in the pits and the entire milieu of Monaco. If you’re like me and find that the Grand Prix of Monaco is the last truly great race in the world, you owe it to yourself to pick up a copy of The Life: Monaco Grand Prix.

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Motorbooks
  • ISBN-10: 0760363749
  • ISBN-13: 978-0760363744
  • Size: 7 x 1 x 9.1 inches
  • Weight: 1.9 pounds
  • Price: $17.69, as I write this.