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Grit and glamor: The magic of Monaco

updated 1:24 PM EDT, Wed May 23, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Formula One's Monaco Grand Prix will take place in the principality on Sunday
  • The race around the narrow, winding street circuit is one of F1's most famous
  • Seven-time Michael Schumacher won the race on five occasions between 1994 and 2001
  • The German can equal the late Ayrton Senna's record of six Monaco wins this weekend

(CNN) -- Put simply, there is no other Formula One race to match the glamor and sophistication of the Monaco Grand Prix.

It comprises 78 pulsating laps around the principality's tight streets, with the region's wealthy inhabitants taking in the action from expensive yachts moored at the Mediterranean port which provides the circuit with its unique, picturesque backdrop.

For one weekend each May, Monte Carlo's customary chic and class is replaced with screeching brakes and the smell of burned rubber as drivers bid to write their names in the history books.

"It's always been a special race," F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone told CNN. "It's a street race. People are right near the action and it's happening right in front of them, so it's a little bit special."

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The Monaco Grand Prix was first held in 1929 when safety was not as prevalent in the minds of organizers as it is today.

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Seven-time world champion Michael Schumacher won in Monaco five times between 1994 and 2001.

The Mercedes driver explained how Monaco's unique layout sets it apart from other, more spacious, tracks.

"Honestly, it is crazy to drive there because if you look at the safety aspect you think why are we racing here?" said the 43-year-old. "At the same time if you go through these roads and tunnels it is fascinating."

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Schumacher's record in Monaco is only bettered by the legendary Brazilian Ayrton Senna, who won the race six times before his tragic death at the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix.

The German puts his own success down to feeling at home on the course, having lived there.

"I lived in Monaco for quite a few years together with my wife," he explained. "Enjoyed the time, It was a kind of home race for me and I still feel very passionate about going there."

The large sums of money on offer to Formula One's top drivers means many can afford to base themselves in Monte Carlo, a location with a reputation as a millionaire's playground.

"You can see the big boats arriving and the small fishing boats getting moved out of the way," said former McLaren driver David Coulthard. "It's the race track that the CEOs want to be at and where all the big parties are held."

I think amongst the drivers they'd like to say they've won Monaco, that is the pearl
Stirling Moss

Britain's Coulthard won in Monaco in 2000 and 2002, and he described how being handed the trophy by Monaco's head of state is one of the biggest honors in F1.

"I am really proud to have a picture with Prince Rainier after winning the grand prix knowing that he had sat next to so many of the better drivers than me, the greats of the sport. That's what makes it so special."

Stirling Moss is widely regarded as one of the finest racers to have never won a world championship.

But the Briton, who raced between 1951 and 1961, won at Monaco three times.

"I think amongst the drivers they'd like to say they've won Monaco, that is the pearl," said the 82-year-old.

And it is a view supported by Moss's modern counterparts.

Schumacher's teammate Nico Rosberg enjoyed the first grand prix victory of his career early this season in China, but the German said a win on Sunday would be extra special.

"Monaco is the history, the track itself, the atmosphere. It is the highlight of the F1 season," said the 26-year-old. "It's spectacular."

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