Why don’t they have Friday at Monaco?
Of course, they have Fridays. They don’t have a six-day week that goes – Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday, Sunday. That would be daft. But to new fans of Formula One, it’s quite a common question and one that we experienced afficionados are accustomed to.
It sounds like a silly question but it makes perfect sense to us.
You see, when the Formula One extravaganza arrives for its annual race in Monaco, it doesn’t follow the same schedule that we see in every other country, and at every other circuit, in the world.
The normal schedule is, working backwards, that the race is on the Sunday, qualifying on the Saturday and practise on the Friday. Ah ha! Now you can see what the question means.
The day Friday exists in Monaco, of course. It’s rather like that corny old question that we English like to pose to Americans to show how detached they are from the rest of the world:
Q. Do they have July 4th in England?
A. (From the American}: No of course not.
Response from the English person is, naturally ‘Of course we have July 4th in England. Do you think that our days just go straight from July 3rd, and then to July 5th? Do you think that we skip dates like that? Naturally, we have July 4th. What we don’t have, of course, is Independence Day that you lot celebrate (if that’s the word) on July 4th every year”.
It makes us feel smug and self-satisfied. Sad, I know.
The practice always takes place on Thursday and hence, if a F1 afficionado says, or hears ‘there’s no Friday at Monaco’ we know exactly what that means. A day off.
There are a few reasons put forward and the first one is a ‘well, sort of, a little’ one. The Friday before the race (which is held on the last Sunday of May) was traditionally a religious holiday in Monaco. This is, bizarrely, because the day before, the Thursday, is Ascension Day which, if you know your bible, is the day on which his followers celebrate the occasion of Jesus arising from the dead and ascending to heaven.
Now, this doesn’t, and didn’t, always fall on that Thursday because Ascension Day is 39 days after Easter which, as we know bobs around the calendar. But when it did, we have to bear in mind that most countries and powers-that-be tend not to give holidays to workers when the holiday falls on a Thursday.
What invariably follows is that the worker, spying a long weekend in his near future, calls in sick, or fabricates a grandmother’s funeral or whatever so that he won’t have to work on the Friday, thus achieving four consecutive days off work.
To foil this dastardly scheme, when these holidays fall on a Thursday, as Ascension Day (otherwise known as Ascension Thursday) invariably does, those powers-that-be proclaim the Friday to be the holiday. Thus the bosses achieve a workforce that doesn’t have sneaky days off and the workers still get their long, albeit shorter, weekend.
So the habit developed in Monaco to have Thursday as the practice day so that the local population would have an uninterrupted religious break. This evolved further into Thursday remaining as the practice day even when Ascension Day fell in a different week.
Which was all very long-winded, I know, but that’s the Monegasques for you. Delightful, stylish, generally pretty wealthy and sometimes charmingly illogical.
THEN THERE’S THE COMMERCIAL ASPECT
Which, let’s face it, is probably a little more like it. The race is run through the streets of the small centre ville of Monte Carlo. These streets, for the rest of the year, are where bakers’ vans tootle along taking their wares to the local shops and market.
Trucks carrying beers, wines and spirits trundle along the streets supplying the cafés, bistros. bars and hotels with liquid refreshment. Laundresses collect and deliver linens. Chefs, cooks and caterers deliver buffets and finger foods. Charladies and cleaners bustle.
Street cleaners remove the debris from the previous night’s revelry. Painters and decorators follow their trade. Window cleaners precariously balance their ladders on their 2CVs and hurtle through the streets. Okay, that last one is a bit picturesque but still. You get the picture. Life, quite simply, goes on.
If the roads that make up the circuit were closed for practice, who would replenish the wine supplies at the bars? Or deliver the fine foods to the hotels and luxury yachts? How would the world’s motorsport journalists get around? And what about the Paparazzi on the trail of the ‘celebs’?
There are fewer than 20,000 people who live in Monte Carlo year-round – then Formula One comes into town. It’s not just the racing drivers and the teams, It’s not just the spectators. There are the journalists, the TV crews, the photographers, the marshals, the rich and famous… suddenly, and for just a few days, the population explodes.
It’s bad enough in the few days before Sunday’s race but the crowds really start to arrive on the Friday. If the roads were closed that day, the whole occasion would be complete mayhem.
Furthermore, holding the practice on the Thursday is a great way for the organisers, and the principality of Monaco itself, to extend the ‘Grand Prix period’ and therefore the length of time people stay and spend money.
So, a religious festival or a celebration at the altar of the love of money? You decide.
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