By Alan Baldwin
MONACO (Reuters) - A lap of Monaco is much more than muscling a car round a twisty track, at breakneck speeds and millimetres from the metal barriers without crashing.
With its harbourside backdrop, confined Casino Square, tight hairpin turns and tunnel stretch, Monaco is a blast from the past that allows the best to show off their skills and express themselves.
"It's an incredible feeling, making a car dance through those streets," says Mercedes triple world champion Lewis Hamilton. "It's one of the purest thrills you can have in a racing car."
Mexican Esteban Gutierrez, driving for the U.S.-based Haas team after previously racing for Sauber, agrees about the dancing.
"I love this track," he said. "Everything is about improvising...you don't have time to think. It's pure driving and all the focus and concentration is really going into driving.
"You have the car dancing and you make it dance."
The late Brazilian triple champion Ayrton Senna, a six-times winner in the Mediterranean principality, famously compared his qualifying lap with McLaren in 1988 to an out of body experience.
"I suddenly realized that I was no longer driving the car consciously," he said in a later interview.
"I was kind of driving it by instinct, only I was in a different dimension. It was like I was in a tunnel, not only the tunnel under the hotel, but the whole circuit for me was a tunnel.
"I was just going, going. More, and more and more. I was way over the limit but still able to find even more. Then, suddenly, something just kicked me. I kind of woke up and I realized that I was in a different atmosphere than you normally are."
Known as the Jewel in the Crown of the Formula One championship, Monaco has always been the race that drivers want to win but it also requires finesse to avoid the unforgiving barriers.
Brazilian Nelson Piquet's comment that racing around Monaco was like riding a bicycle in your living room has become a well-worn cliche, but the sense of balance and poise remains as crucial now as then.
"It’s a course where speed is not terribly important," three-times winner Stirling Moss told Reuters at the recent Monaco Historic race. "It’s just how good the car is, how well you can handle the car.
"It really is a fabulous race."
(Editing by.Ed Osmond..)