Tuesday | 26 Jan 2021

View from the service park: Monte-Carlo

Rallye Monte-Carlo is spectacular. It’s just what it does. From every angle, every aspect, the FIA World Rally Championship’s traditional season opener is special.

Just over six weeks after crowning Sébastien Ogier and Hyundai Motorsport as champions at ACI Rally Monza, the service park was transported west from Milan, through the Alps, over the border and into Gap for the start of a new chapter in WRC history.

Christmas and the New Year might have intervened, but at times it genuinely felt like we’d never been away. It was fantastic.

And familiar. The mountains above Monza are geologically intertwined with the ones we were in last week – which might have something to do with the result: another Ogier win.

Video: Rallye Monte-Carlo review

Monte-Carlo is the WRC round with the biggest back story – a 110-year backstory to be precise – and year-on-year the journey south from those mountains to the beautiful Côte d’Azur reminds us how and why this event started: to take people from the snowy winter to the sunny seaside.

Admittedly, the sunny seaside still demands a jumper, but seeing the sparkle of the famous harbour shortly before enjoying a hot chocolate in the Café de Paris in Casino Square is a special moment every season.

The snowy side of things was well in evidence in the service park and never more spectacular than just after five each afternoon when the sun descended to bounce the most astonishing orange glow off the towering Alps which surrounded the teams.

Good as the view was from Gap and Monaco, it was nothing compared with what was going on when the cars were dropped into stage mode.

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The late-week warming of temperatures added spice to what many had predicted would be a reasonably consistent snowy rally after the recce. Suddenly crews had to deal with rain and mud being thrown into a mix which already included black ice, snow and, occasionally, dry asphalt.

Those changing conditions are a total nightmare for the crews, but a dream for fans watching around the world.

Take Sunday’s run from Briançonnet to Entrevaux, for example. From the first corner to the last, it was a nightmare mix of everything. But watching the likes of Ogier and co deal with what lay before them offered a real insight into what the best of the best are capable of.

Only Rallye Monte-Carlo can produce this absolute swing in grip level and last weekend delivered in terms of aesthetics and action. In fact, it delivered on every level.

• Photograph: ACM / Olivier Caenen