Nothing about the Monaco Grand Prix is what you might term ‘normal’. Since the first running in 1929 - long before the inauguration of the Formula One World Championship in 1950 - there’s been a ‘magic’ attributed to this race that’s more broadly documented than almost any other event in world sport.
It’s not without good reason. The impossibly unattainable (to the mere mortals amongst us, anyway) marina lifestyle; the spectacular Riviera backdrop; the perils of threading a car between those imposing barriers... it’s a special event, in every way. Far from normal, certainly.
But then, in a world where boundaries are pushed every day, what is ‘normal’? Hurtling through narrow streets at 300 km/h? Completely normal. Subjecting the human body to multiple times its own weight in gravitational force? That’s normal too. Pulling all-nighters in a cramped engineering room, just to find one thousandth of a second on track the next morning? Totally the norm.
The F1 paddock is full of extraordinary people doing extraordinary things. Likewise the numerous team factory sites dotted across the UK, Italy, France, Switzerland, Japan, the USA and beyond. From drivers and engineers to mechanics and truckies, hospitality crews and event makers to journalists and broadcasters. None of these people arrived in the sport by accident. They’re all... well, abnormal. And we wager none of them would argue with that term.
Take Toto. This is a man who, unable to sleep, spent the early hours of Monday morning pacing the Monte Carlo streets after this race last year, so concerned was he by the team’s performance - or relative lack thereof. Lewis will obsess over any fraction of a second lost through a corner (not that there are many of those) and cannot be separated from his headphones pre-race. Valtteri will criticise himself to the nth degree over the tiniest mistake and voluntarily plunges himself into sub-zero waters to relax. To a man and woman, two common traits can be found in the paddock: 1) Obsession. 2) Just a touch (more, in some cases...) of quirkiness.
It’s a crazy world, Formula One. It’s a bubble that you either get, or you don’t. You thrive in it, or you’re overwhelmed by it. You give it everything you’ve got, or you quickly fade away. And when this is the kind of company - and competition - you keep, success is damned hard to come by. Repeated success, even more so. Record-breaking success... well, you see where this is going.
A few headlines from the Spanish Grand Prix suggested that ‘normal service is resumed’ with a 1-2 for the team. But bringing two cars home at the front of the pack, at one of the toughest all-round tests of a racing car (as Barcelona is recognised to be), during one of the most hotly contested seasons in recent memory is no mean feat. To do so in Monaco... now that would be quite something. That’s why it doesn’t happen very often - it’s just not normal. Hats off to Ferrari for managing to do so 12 months ago.
Going into this weekend, consensus says it’s a three-way fight for the win. Others might narrow that to two. Some might dare to suggest that one team is set to dominate. But anyone who has been in the game long enough will keep their predictions muted.
Hundreds of weird and wonderful people; 20 drivers; ten teams; one iconic venue. None of them a regular proposition. None of them to be underestimated. None of them... normal. That’s the beauty of Formula One. That’s the beauty of Monaco. And that’s why this weekend is one to savour.
Who wants normal anyway?