Monaco’s the one they all want to win. Formula 1’s ‘Crown Jewel’, it just carries that extra bit of prestige on the racing record.
Even podium finishes are that bit cooler in the Principality, where drivers ascend a few steps to the royal box and receive their trophies from Prince Albert, with their cars parked in front of them on the pit straight.
And at Honda we’ve been fortunate enough to reflect on some good memories of trophies and champagne in Monaco, ones we are determined to add to this weekend.
As a constructor in the 1960s, Monaco didn’t treat us particularly well, but then we were teased by two fourth places as an engine supplier courtesy of Keke Rosberg and Nigel Mansell for Williams in 1984 and 1986 respectively. Fortunately, we were about to break our duck in spectacular fashion…
In 1987, as supplier to both Williams and Honda we had two cars capable of race-winning performances, and we duly locked out the top three in qualifying. It was Mansell on pole for Williams ahead of Ayrton Senna in the Lotus, with Nelson Piquet third in the other Williams.
That’s the order they ran in early on, with Mansell leading the way before retiring on lap 30, but Senna came home to deliver Honda’s first victory in the principality - picking up the fastest lap as well - while Piquet made it a Honda one-two.
And that kickstarted quite a run at the iconic circuit, where a Honda-powered car won every grand prix we entered for six straight years.
1988 was the scene of one of the most incredible performances in F1 history, as Senna took pole position by over 1.4 seconds in a stunning display around the streets. He was comfortably leading a McLaren-Honda one-two when he crashed at Portier, leaving Alain Prost to take the win.
Senna managed to redeem the error a year later, taking pole once again and this time converting it into victory ahead of Prost for another McLaren-Honda one-two, as Prost set the fastest lap of the race.
By 1990, Gerhard Berger had joined McLaren-Honda in place of Prost, but Senna continued his outstanding form in Monaco with a clean sweep of pole, fastest lap and victory. Berger enjoyed a strong result with third place, just two seconds behind Senna at the chequered flag to ensure it was another double podium celebration.
You might be noticing a theme by now, because the following season once again saw Senna on pole, with the mercurial Brazilian converting for what was his third win in a row at the venue.
The run was capped by another stunning drive from Senna, who didn’t have the quickest car in 1992 but managed to get ahead of one Williams at the start after qualifying third. Then when leader Mansell made an emergency pit stop, Senna took the lead and delivered a masterclass in defensive driving on a circuit that is notoriously tough for overtaking, providing the iconic images as he held off Mansell by just 0.2s.
After four wins in a row for Senna, we weren’t a supplier again until the 2000s and it was in 2004 that Honda next got to celebrate a podium finish in Monaco.
In a sort of role reversal of the Senna v Mansell race 12 years earlier, Jenson Button started from second and was putting the pressure on race leader Jarno Trulli in the latter stages of a chaotic race. For lap after lap, Button reeled in Trulli but the BAR driver could not find a way to overtake and in the end had to settle for second, less than half a second away from what would have been his maiden victory.
We’ve come close since then, with Fernando Alonso finishing fifth in 2016, and the two Red Bull Racing cars of Max Verstappen and Pierre Gasly fourth and fifth respectively the last time we raced here in 2019. On that occasion, Max was second on the road and fought Lewis Hamilton for the win, but a five-second time penalty for an unsafe release in the pits saw him drop out of the top three due to how close the finishing positions were.
So despite crossing the line in second, that means it has been 17 years since we could celebrate a Honda podium in Monaco. This weekend feels like a good time to change that.