The Monaco GP is the most traditional race in F1 – it was actually created before the main category in the world of motor sports came into being. The first one took place in 1929, while the championship was only made official in 1950.
That’s why many of the GP’s traditions are still observed, 90 years later, which contributes to its mystique as a different race form all the others. And one of those unique features is the fact that the free practice sessions take place on Thursday – and not on Friday, like in every other Formula One race.
To understand why that happens, we must remember that the race’s date is chosen according to a Christian holiday: the weekend of Ascension Day, which celebrates Jesus Christ’s ascension to Heaven. It’s a holiday tied to Easter, with a variable date (like Carnival and Corpus Christi, for instance), which takes place on the 14th Thursday (sometimes the 15th) after Easter Sunday, which usually falls in May or at the beginning of July. The 1984 Monaco GP, Senna’s first one, for instance, took place on July 3.
Since Thursday was a holiday, it was easier to block the city’s traffic – since the circuit takes practically the whole area of the Principality. Then, on Friday, the track was free for tourists to wander. Some say that the Royal Family also wanted to have a day of rest, so they could better enjoy the Thursday-night activities.
Whatever the reason, the unusual tradition worked out: since the practice sessions are scheduled for Thursday and, several traditional off-track festivities can take place on Friday, such as dinners with drivers and events involving sponsors, family members and other personalities.
There’s another link between Monaco and Christianity which most fans know about: Saint Devote, the Principality’s patron saint. Her chapel stands in front of the track’s first corner, naming that stretch of the Monte Carlo circuit. According to Monegasque tradition, the bride of the Prince of Monaco must place her wedding flower bouquet at the Saint Devote Chapel after the ceremony even it didn’t take place there. The holyday is always celebrated on Friday, when there’s no F1 activity.
Saint Devote corner saw several renowned F1 drivers spin out, and our three-time champion was no exception. In 1993, during the Thursday free practice sessions, Senna lost control of his McLaren and crashed against the guard-rails on both sides.
Even with that setback, Senna went on to win the race on Sunday, beating Alain Prost and Michael Schumacher to become the “King of Monaco”, as the winner of six races at the track – a record that remains unbroken in F1 history.