The 75th Monaco Grand Prix takes place this year on Sunday 28th May, where the world’s greatest drivers will tackle 78 laps of one of the most challenging and exciting Formula 1 tracks, whose striking setting and tight turns have made this race the Championship favourite.

Studying the evolution of artistic style in its adjacent contemporary context can often form an interesting pictorial history; such is it that a fascinating insight into the antecedent Monaco Grand Prix’ can be explored by a study of the promotional posters. Created every year since the inaugural race of 1930 – each seemingly reflective of the contemporaneous artistic style – these posters capture the very essence of the sport in each subsequent era, as well as offering a captivating evolution of race car design.

The precedent of the Monaco Grand Prix poster design was set by French artist Robert Falcucci, the simple arrangement of a prominent car against a symbolic and schematic backdrop of the Principality, as well as the now evocative “Monaco” font. All three of his posters, designed for the 1930 – 1932 races, channel a certain spirit of the Futurist artistic movement that originated just a decade or so before; the emphasis on speed and dynamism, as well as the simplified blocks of colour, are all reminiscent of this striking style, and fit perfectly with the poster’s intention.
The mantle was passed to French illustrator, and car enthusiast, Georges Hamel [Geo Ham] in 1933, the first year that the starting grid of the race was decided by qualifying times.

Known as the “Prince of Motion” from his expressive sketches of motor car races, as well as his caricatures of the drivers, Hamel stayed on a similar track as Falcucci in the general arrangement of the poster, but there is more of an Art Deco feel to his design; originating in Paris from the 1925 Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes, the popularity of the style increased during the 1930s where it was considered to represent luxury and glamour, the combination of various artistic styles united by the want of appearing modern – everything that the Monaco Grand Prix was.
The 1930s was also an era of engineering innovation, and nationalistic rivalry between car manufacturers was at an all-time high, intensified by the increasingly dangerous disposition sweeping through Europe at the time. The international racing colours of Blue (France), Green (Britain), Red (Italy), and Yellow (Belgium) helped to intensify this on the track, creating an easy visual of who was in the lead.

The dominance of red cars on the posters, in fact throughout the history of Grand Prix posters, however, is sometimes misappropriated for the supremacy of the Italian-made cars (indeed, the races of the 1930s were dominated by Bugatti and Maserati). Yet the choice is somewhat more obvious, the use of red to reflect the Monegasque flag.
Fast forward to 1952; the Art Deco lettering and colouring has been simplified and subdued, and there is a distinct difference in the appearance of the car. This was the golden age of motorsport, the days of Juan Manuel Fangio and Stirling Moss. Only Ferrari could fund a Formula 1 car for Monaco – indeed, it is the stunning Ferrari 225S with its innovative V12 engine depicted on the poster – in comparison to Alfa Romeo having to withdraw completely.

The first major change in Monaco Grand Prix poster design came in 1959, the Pop Art works of Andy Warhol clearly proving an influence, the inverted white/red colours of the two cars cleverly forming the Monegasque flag. This year also marked a major change in car construction with a complete change in the car’s basic layout, which remains to this day; the prior successes of the compact four-cylinder engine led to BRM, Vanwell, Lotus, Ferrari, and Cooper all moving their engines behind the driver to mark a new era of rear-engine race cars.
Rear-engine design has its origins in the early C20th, the most successful being the 1923 “tear-drop” Benz, however it was only in 1957 that the rear-engine car design started to truly gain traction due to a change in Formula 1 regulations, with the Cooper factory leading the engineering innovation – leading a very frustrated Ferrarri to refer to them as “Garage-owners”.

The J. Ramel design of the poster is the first to offer a near-realistic rendering of the race, clearing depicting the buildings of Monaco, the Port, and even the Ferrari logo on the bonnet of the car.
During the late 60s / early 1970s, the advent of video games brought about a massive cultural phenomena. 1969 saw the release of Kasco’s “Indy 500” and, more importantly, Sega’s “Grand Prix”, bringing with it that famous pixelated and linear artistic style. The 1973 Monaco Grand Prix poster – another superb design by J. Ramel – released at the same time as Taito’s “Speed Race”, can be said to follow this style, the depiction of four cropped racers reminiscent of an opening sequence of a racing video game.

Further wing evolution can be seen on the 1980 poster, designed by Frenchman Jacques Grognet, with an enhanced front wing, again, to assist with the handling of the car against the various downforces exerted on the car. There was a ban, however, on ground-effect aerodynamics in 1983, although these were no longer required with the onset of the turbocharged engine. There is even more of an obvious videogame / cartoon influence here, with the mixture of bright colours and semi-realistic rendering of the car. Even more cartoon-like is the 1988 poster by Grognet, a much more simplistic approach, following also the contemporaneous neo-expressionist style of the 1980s.

Influenced by the vast increase in advertising and sales-focused media of the 1980s, a new generation of artists sprung up in reaction and rejected the traditional standards of previous movements. Becoming more ambivalent in their design, with a lack of concern for pictorial idealization and composition, the Neo-Expressionists concerned themselves with vivid colour and a playful, primitive, depiction of objects.

It is unfortunate, then, that the subsequent posters from the early 1990s up to today have become more commercial in appearance, taking on their own generic formula, no longer being considered as works of art in their own right. Tweaks to the car design become less obvious, although nonetheless increasingly impressive.