Image via USA Today
Last month, the Monaco Grand Prix began like all other races—with Crofty saying his infamous line, “And It's lights out and away we go!” Despite the delay for rain, the race went as smoothly as any other, capping off another race weekend for the Formula One season. But, off track and behind closed doors, the future of the infamous race was and still is, hanging in the balance.
Monaco has enjoyed the status of the most prestigious race on the F1 calendar since the first ever world championship in 1950. In the past several decades, the street race, essentially fully encompassing the eight-tenths-of-a-mile city-state of Monaco, has gained an opulent and unique standing in the world of F1 and beyond, with worldwide celebrities in attendance, a marina full of mega-yachts, and one of the most technically challenging and visually thrilling qualifying sessions of the entire F1 calendar. With a pedigree as strong as Monaco’s, it comes as a surprise to most that Monaco has no contract to hold a race beyond this year. While this seems almost unconscionable on paper, the issues underlying the continued existence of the Monaco Grand Prix are complex and multifaceted, casting a genuine shadow of a doubt as to whether F1 will return in the future, or what that return might look like.
As a fan of Formula One, it’s no secret that the racing in Monaco has become, to put it nicely, boring. Modern F1 cars are meters longer and wider than the cars that first raced on the narrow, winding street circuit which has remained largely unchanged since 1950. Overtaking and on-track action has become extremely rare in the race. Today, the only real chance to gain a position is through the cycling of pit stops, with on-track passes essentially extinct. Despite the lack of excitement during the race itself, qualifying at Monaco is one of the most exciting sessions of the season and works to somewhat redeem the poor quality of the race itself—the precision required at Monaco is unparalleled, and to top, the time sheets in Q3 drives have to place their cars perfectly, literal millimeters from brushing the barriers. However, F1, its fans, and the drivers all understand that something needs to change if Monaco is going to remain on the calendar.
The largest obstacles to the continued existence of a Monaco Grand Prix essentially come from the same source—the Automobile Club de Monaco [ACM] butting heads with Formula One and its parent organization, Liberty Media. The ACM is the promotor of the Monaco Grand Prix and is responsible for negotiating contracts with Formula One as an organization for hosting fees, scheduling of the race, potential changes to the track, etc. Before Formula One was purchased by Liberty Media, a U.S. sports and entertainment company, Monaco and the ACM were given broad discretion and enjoyed strong bargaining power to get what they wanted. The ACM wasn’t having to pay a fee to host or was paying one substantially lower than that of other races, and was afforded control of the weekend that was unparalleled by other promoters.
Since acquiring Formula One in late 2016, Liberty Media and the ACM haven’t seen eye-to-eye over a number of issues that threaten the future of the race.
First, the ACM has control of advertisements around the track, as well as the rights to have their own TV directors for the race. These long-held benefits have been sore points of contention at the negotiating table. F1 wants control of the TV direction—which, after years of missing out on key action when it (rarely) does occur, is welcomed in my opinion. As for the advertisements around the track, this shouldn’t be as big of a deal—that is, until the ACM signed a contract with Tag Hoyer to be the “Official Watch of the Monaco Grand Prix” while knowing the worldwide partner with F1 is Rolex. This creates a noticeable and uncomfortable clash between advertisements for the two brands all weekend and is proof that the ACM is stressing their relationship with F1 already.
The ACM isn’t just hard to deal with for sponsorship and TV direction rights, they also don’t feel like they need to negotiate and deserve to have special treatment. F1 as an organization has made it clear special treatment won’t exist going forward, and as a result, the ACM has again made things difficult. The ACM claims that F1 is asking for “too much money” as their licensing fee, maintains the stance that no changes are needed to the track, that Monaco must maintain its traditional calendar spot in May, and that Monaco will maintain tv directing and advertising rights. When looking at F1’s requests to change the track layout, move the weekend of the race to accommodate a growing schedule, their desire to improve the tv viewing experience, and remove an uncomfortable sponsorship clash, they don’t really seem that unreasonable—but Monaco and the ACM think their pedigree demands special treatment and think that F1 “needs” Monaco and will be forced to bargain.
However, as F1 expands the calendar to new destination tracks such as Las Vegas, Miami, Singapore, etc., their “need” for Monaco is waning, and its “special” status is quickly fading. Current rumors suggest that F1 might not “fully” remove Monaco from the calendar, but that it might fall to a race held every other year to make room for a more cooperative promoter or commercially successful race, but unless the ACM changes its tune on at least some of the contentious issues present, we could very well have just witnessed the last of Formula One in Monaco.
Zachary Bryson is a graduate from Wake Forest University with B.A. in Economics and a Minor in Entrepreneurship. He is currently JD candidate at Elon University School of Law, Class of 2023. You can connect with him via LinkedIn.