Who’ll hit the jackpot in Monaco?

Monaco-Harbour-and-Skyline-2Monaco has defined Formula 1 since the inception of the World Championship. Its list of past winners reads as a veritable “who’s who” of Formula 1.

Juan Manuel Fangio won the 1950 Grand Prix, Sterling Moss and Jackie Stewart claimed three victories, Graham Hill five. Three of the most spectacular drivers in history, Jochen Rindt, Ronnie Peterson and Gilles Villeneuve, all were victorious before their deaths before the dominance of Alain Prost, Aryton Senna and Michael Schumacher. This trio carved out every Monaco GP from 1984 until 1995. In recent years Fernando Alonso, Kimi Raikkonen, Lewis Hamilton have all won around the streets.

Monaco is therefore one of the few race tracks where you can legitimately say that it separates the great from the good. Where talent can overcome a car and give a driver the opportunity to make the difference.

The Monaco Grand Prix circuit

Monaco-CastleLike Monza, Silverstone or Spa-Francorchamps Monaco is a Grand Prix steeped in history and tradition. It holds a unique place in Formula 1 and a unique schedule. Practice will get underway on Thursday with Friday a traditional “rest” day. With no margin for error Monaco is the ultimate test for drivers and each corner of the track comes with risks and a history of incidents.

The lap starts with Sainte Devote. Drivers weave their way through the pit “straight” before picking their braking point to the first corner. With the apartment complexes and buildings lining the track it’s difficult to find the braking point in the shadows and a quick lap can be over before it starts with drivers having to use the escape road. The first corner of the race is treacherous with drivers trying to find a way through the second gear corner and carnage, such as 1995, can easily occur.

Once through Sainte Devote the track rises towards Beau Rivage. Television does not do this section of the course justice; it is incredibly steep with drivers cresting the hill at 280 kmp/h on the entry to turn three. Scrubbing 120 kmp/h and four gears you hug the apex with the Hotel de Paris on one side and the world famous Casino on the other.

Romain-Grosjean-Casino-Square-Monaco-Qualifying-2012Shooting towards Casino Square and its fourth gear corner. The car will want to udnersteer towards the outside barrier due to the camber of the road so the challenge is to keep the car as close to the apex as possible. Once through the fast right hander one of the many unique challenges of Monaco is presented; the crown of the road towards Mirabeau.

Jinking from the left to the right and back to the left drivers will try and avoid the worst bumps on the track before braking into Mirabeau. The second slowest corner of the lap sees drivers hug the inside of the track and try and use the storm drain on the inside to force the car to keep its line towards the hairpin.

The slowest corner of the entire season, taken at just 35 kmp/h, the hairpin has seen it’s fair share of “activity” over the years with the 2000 race blighted by a mass pileup on the first lap that forced a red flag.

Narain-Karthikeyan-across-the-kerbs-Monaco-FP3-2012Once through the hairpin the next challenge is Portier. Michael Schumacher crashed at Portier 1 in 1996 and Aryton Senna at Portier 2 in 1988. Once through Portier the tunnel is the next challenge. Through the apex of the tunnel there is a bump in the road and if you hit it wrong you can easily be sailing towards the barriers with no chance of recovery. The biggest difficulty in the tunnel however is adapting to the changes in light. From the light to the dark to the light again is difficult for the drivers.

As they exit the tunnel the track falls down hill towards the seafront chicane. It was here that Alberto Ascari somersaulted into harbour. We’ve also seen drivers crash here in recent years with Jenson Button and Sergio Perez both having been hurt in heavy crashes.

Daniel-Riciardo-swimming-pool-Monaco-FP2-2012The final third of the lap sees drivers tackle two of the faster corners of the lap-Tabac and the Swimming Pool. Tabac requires drivers to thread the eye of a needle in fourth gear with the Swimming Pool chicane slightly faster. Drivers than enter the much slower second chicane that will take drivers towards La Rascasse, where Michael Schumacher famously “parked” during 2006 qualifying.

There might be a bar on the apex of the corner but there’s no time to waste for drivers before they enter straight away into the final corner Anthony Noghes. The race will be 78 laps on Sunday and any lose of concentration will lead to an instant retirement. The challenge is immense and the spectacle provided is Formula 1 at its very best!

Can Mercedes win in Monaco?

Lewis Hamilton Malaysia Qualifying 2013With three consecutive pole positions it is clear that Mercedes have the fastest car on Saturday in Formula 1….race day however has been a very different story. The team has been unable to find a way to maintain tyre life and Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton have fallen down the order at each race.

Barcelona was a disaster for the team with Hamilton eventually finishing 12th while Rosberg raced well, with a three stop strategy, to finish sixth but it was obviously a day that had started with the promise of more than just a handful of points for the team. Finding a solution to their tyre woes is not going to be easy but Monaco is not a circuit that is traditionally tough on rubber and with overtaking so difficult a perfect storm may develop for Mercedes.

Hamilton said after the Spanish Grand Prix that it was one of the worst days of his career but Monaco should give him the opportunity to move on quickly from Barcelona:

Lewis Hamilton on trackJerez Test2013Whilst there hasn’t been a lot of time since Barcelona, we’ve been working hard to put the disappointment of the last race behind us and focus on the opportunities ahead,” said the 2008 world champion. “Monaco is one of my favourite races of the year and I love driving the streets there. As a driver, you know that you have to perform on every single lap and it’s a challenge that I really enjoy.

“It’s a real experience to see the barriers flashing past at high speed and I love the fact that the fans can get so close to the track making for a great atmosphere. Perhaps more than at many other tracks, qualifying and getting the best possible track position is crucial in Monaco, but we have to keep our focus on Sunday as well and keep working to improve our race pace.”

Lewis Hamilton Ross Brawn Jerez test 2013For Ross Brawn the focus will be getting both drivers comfortable on track rather than look to bring developments to the race. Knowing exactly what you have at your disposal is key in Monaco and building confidence through the weekend is the target. Brawn knows that his drivers are strong in Moanco and it is not beyond the realms of possibility team could spring a surprise:

“Both Nico and Lewis have historically been incredibly competitive in Monaco and this weekend will certainly allow their talent to shine,” said the Mercedes Team Principal. “The engineering team will be focused on getting the most from our car on the slow, bumpy layout and there will of course be particular emphasis on achieving tyre consistency and durability.

Lotus keen to continue early season momentum

Kimi-Raikkonen-Monaco-FP3-2012The coming races are crucial for Lotus. The team started the season with a victory in Australia and Kimi Raikkonen has finished second in each of the last three races. His Malaysian outing, finishing seventh, is the lone outlier for the Finn who has been arguably the most consistent driver in the field thus far.

Trailing Sebastian Vettel by four points in the championship it is already clear that the title will be fought between the duo and Fernando Alonso. For Lotus and Raikkonen to win the title it will be important to add another victory to his haul but continuing his consistent form will see him remain in contention.

Exceeding expectations is not enough for Raikkonen and he moved to dismiss any member of the team feeling satisfied with their start to the campaign:

“Well, we’re not in first place so we can’t be too happy,” commented the 2007 world champion. “For sure it’s not a nightmare, but we’ve still got a lot of races yet to come and anything can happen in Formula 1.”

“The Iceman” also went on to talk about the challenges of this weekend and how this weekend’s race is no different to any other race on the calendar even though Monaco is special.

Kimi-Raikkonen-Mirabeau-apex-2--Monaco-Qualifying-2012“It’s useless to put races in different categories, because all of them are as important as each other if you want to win a Championship. However, as a real special race there is nothing like Monaco; there is no better feeling than to get things going well there. To race in the streets of Monte Carlo is really different from everywhere else and it’s a challenge I look forward to every year. It is very, very difficult – almost impossible in fact – to have a clean weekend down there.”

While Raikkonen has had a consistent start to the campaign his teammate, Romain Grosjean, has had a turbulent season. His podium in Bahrain has been the highpoint but chassis and setup problems early in the season and a mechanical failure in Barcelona have left him seventh in the standings. Last year the Frenchman qualified fourth but an opening lap clash with Michael Schumacher saw his Monaco debut end within seconds.

Street fighter Webber needs to get back to top step

Mark-Webber-Massenet-Monaco-FP1-2012Mark Webber has had a difficult 2013. The rift that was made so public in Malaysia between the Red Bull drivers is obviously still a talking point but the controversy has died down and the championship shows Webber in sixth position and 47 points adrift of his teammate.

Webber had hoped that Barcelona would be the springboard of his championship challenge but even though there are 15 Grand Prix remaining it is difficult to see the Australian as a title contender. He is however a potential race winner on any given weekend.

Mark-Webber-Kimi-Raikkonen-Romain-Grosjean-Mirabeau-entry-Monaco-Qualifying-2012Monaco is one of Webber’s strongest tracks. He has won here twice in the last three years and he has always been quick in the principality. If Webber can focus on each race weekend and getting the most from the car he may still play a role in the outcome of the championship but this weekend will be very telling for his future.

With his return to Sportscar racing looking more and more imminent Monaco could be seen as a litmus test of Webber’s hopes for the remainder of 2013. If he is soundly beaten by Vettel it will fuel the fires that believe that Webber will struggle for the remainder of the year. If however he can perform to the level of recent years he will show that he is still quick enough to play a role in the championship.

McLaren aim for points

Jenson-Button-Massenet-Monaco-Qualifying-2012The Barcelona upgrades offered little improvement for McLaren but Monaco is a unique opportunity for the team to make a stride forward. Jenson Button, winner of the race four years ago, could make a major difference this weekend for the team. If he can find a setup that allows him to be comfortable on track he might be able to challenge for a top five finish.

Finding that setup will be difficult however. The McLaren has been poor in slow speed corners and over bumps so Monaco is, theoretically, the epitome of an anti-McLaren track in 2013. Drivers however can make the difference in Monaco and Button is aiming for points:

Jenson-Button-hairpin-entry-Monaco-Qualifying-2012“Monaco is unlike any other racetrack in Formula One you need to be inch-perfect for 78 laps in order to win the race,” said Button. “It’s a great challenge. We’re not yet where we want to be in terms of competitiveness, but I’m confident that we can make another small step forward in Monaco. We’ll continue to chip away at the performance of the MP4-28 until it’s capable of challenging at the front; there’s no other agenda for a winning team like McLaren. The aim for Monaco is to get both cars home in the points, as we did in Barcelona.”

Sergio Perez has had a difficult relationship with Monaco to date. His hefty qualifying crash in 2011, at the chicane, forced him to miss two races and last year, again in qualifying, the Mexican crashed at the Swimming Pool and damaged the car leaving him with an uphill task in the race.

Sergio-Perez-wall-Monaco-FP1-2012The Mexican spoke about the challenges of Monaco:

“Monaco is a great challenge for the drivers,” said Perez. “It’s the only circuit on the calendar where you have to build up your speed during practice, rather than going flat-out on lap one. You push a little bit harder with every lap, getting a bit closer to the barriers each time. Last year was my first Monaco Grand Prix. I missed out on a World Championship point by one position and I’m looking to change that this year.”

McLaren have enjoyed tremendous success in Monaco over the years, 15 victories, but the chances of adding to that total are remote. Simply getting the most from the car and improving is the target for the team.

Force India building something special in 2013

Paul-di-Resta-Portier-Monaco-FP3-2012Force India is currently fifth in the Constructors’ Championship and finding a rich vein of form.

In Bahrain Paul di Resta was fourth, having looked set for a podium at one point, and the Scot has been driving exceptionally well over the last three races. The team has developed a strong package that is working well on a wide range of circuits and Monaco should allow them to continue scoring points.

Speaking ahead of this weekend di Resta said:

“Having more time to optimise the car with the upgrades should allow us to extract even more performance from it,” said the Scotsman. “Monaco was a rewarding race for us last year and we will try to go there and continue our run of points finishes.”

Paul-di-Resta-MassenetMonaco-FP1-2012The fight with McLaren for fifth in the Constructors’ standings will get intense over the coming races and di Resta is keen to keep fighting with McLaren and the rest of their midfield rivals this weekend as the team builds on their opening quarter to the season.
McLaren is a strong team and they will keep improving, but in the races so far we have been fighting them and we’ve often been quicker. Realistically, though, we are doing a great job regularly beating our direct rivals – Sauber, Williams and Toro Rosso. Our strength has been our consistency – we have been performing well in each of the races so far, and we are now looking forward to the Sundays with confidence.”

Adrian Sutil closeup Barcelona test 2013On the other side of the Force India garage sits Adrian Sutil. The German started the year with a superb comeback at the Australian Grand Prix but has suffered from bad fortune and accidents of late. The German however continues to be optimistic that better results are around the corner:

Despite everything that has happened during the last four races, I remain positive,” said Sutil. “Most of the things that happened were out of my control, but still I believe we can improve certain things to avoid mistakes in the future. We as a team have to stay confident and work on solving these small problems. The car is fast and if we have a perfect weekend I’m sure the podium will come soon.” 

Setup challenges facing the teams

Pastor-Maldonado-Portier-Monaco-Qualifying-2012It is not just the driver who faces a difficult task this weekend. The nature of the track evolution means that engineers are constantly chasing the best setup throughout the weekend. The track is at it’s fastest on the last lap of the weekend so what works during Thursday’s practice sessions could be mostly irrelevant on race day.

As a result the biggest challenge for teams is to engineer a solid, comfortable setup at the start of the weekend and allow their drivers to gain confidence before evolving the setup towards the track conditions.

Monaco may be one of the shortest tracks of the year, but it’s the most demanding, especially for the driver,” commented Mike Coughlan, Technical Director of Williams. “Although the corner speeds are the slowest on the calendar, you have to use as much of the track as possible and the closer the driver can put his car to the barriers the faster he will go.

Bruno-Senna-Porter-rear-Monaco-FP3-2012“As it is a street circuit the grip levels change the whole weekend so it’s important to give the drivers as much time on-track as possible in order for them to gain confidence, particularly for Valtteri who has never driven here before. Due to the bumpy nature of the track, a good mechanical platform is required. We need to raise the ride-height and increase the steering angle capacity for the tight, twisting corners. We also run with maximum downforce there.”

Tom McCullough, Sauber’s Head of Track Engineering, also spoke about the difficulties facing engineers to get the most from their car around the twisty streets of the Principality:

Kamui-Kobayashi-crests-Massenet-Monaco-FP1-2012“The circuit in Monaco is a real challenge for the drivers and the team,” said the Englishman. “The track improves throughout the weekend and it’s important to give the drivers a set-up that gives them confidence as the barriers are very close. For Esteban it will be his first experience in a F1 car in Monaco, but his GP2 experience has given him a good reference.”

From an engine perspective Monaco places a premium on acceleration rather than power. Having a stable engine that is responsive is key to finding the best performance. Remi Taffin, Renault’s head of operations, spoke about this earlier in the week:

Monaco has the lowest average speed on the calendar: just 160kph,” said Taffin. “With low speed corners punctuating the lap the challenge is to deliver a highly responsive engine through the lower rev limits of the engine (around 15 – 17,000rpm) to give response on the entry and exit to the corners. Another key area to get right is the cooling. With so little time spent at full throttle and so much in ‘dirty’ air, the engine can run very hot.”

Rookies look forward to the challenge of Monaco

Timo-Glock-rear-wall-Monaco-FP3-2012Monaco is the toughest test for a driver in their rookie campaign. The streets of the principality are lined with challenges. Whether it is braking into Ste Devote, tackling Casino Square or crossing the crown of the road the Armco barrier is always close…and for many rookies it becomes too close at some point over the weekend.

Getting up to speed in Monaco requires confidence and just five races into their Formula 1 careers will any of this season’s crop of rookies have what it takes to make an instant impact? Or will they simply have impact with the barriers?

When Free Practice gets underway on Thursday the rookies will give the edges of the track a wide berth but as a result they’ll leave a lot of lap time on the track. At Monaco, more so than any other circuit, we see drivers edge their way towards the limit. Instead of braking deep and trying to find the limit with only the risk of a locked wheel or a run across the run off Monaco bites back.

Bruno-Senna-blurred-Casino-Square-Monaco-Qualifying-2012Any mistake in punished and will likely cause damage to the car and cause time to be lost in the pits as cars are repaired. Losing track time at Monaco is a huge penalty. It forces drivers to race with their hands tied behind their back because with the track evolution the changes from one session to another are huge and could require very different setups.

Caterham’s Giedo van der Garde knows that with the possibility of Monaco being a lottery there is the chance for unfancied drivers to have strong results-Olivier Panis winning in 1996 or Rubens Barrichello finishing second 12 months later-and the Dutchman is looking forward to testing himself this weekend:

“It takes a few laps for the car to really to come in and of course for me this year it will be another new experience with the F1 car, but I’ll get the flow back quickly and I have a good team around me so everything should go well. Monaco’s also a place where the smaller teams, like us, can do something special. It’s a shorter lap than many of the other tracks we race on, and everyone has to run as much downforce as possible, so outright speed isn’t the key. You need good traction to really attack the exits of the corners. With a bit of luck we can come close to the top 10.”

Jules Bianchi leads F1 rookie Australi Race 2013Jules Bianchi is probably the rookie of whom most is expected this weekend. The Frenchman has had a superb start to his career in Formula 1 and constantly looks primed for strong results.

The Marussia still leaves a lot to be desired in comparison to the established midfield runners but Bianchi has transcended it at times and Monaco could give him a great opportunity to put himself firmly in the shop window for next season:

“When I was nine or ten years old and used to go to watch the Monaco Grand Prix, I could never have imagined that one day I would be racing here myself,” admitted Bianchi. “So much of this season is a dream come true but next weekend is certainly one of the highlights for me.”

His teammate, Max Chilton, has struggled to match Bianchi so far this year but with so little experience under his belt prior to the start of the season it was expected that he would struggle. Over the course of the next four races-Monaco, Canada, Silverstone and Germany-Chilton will need to make a marked improvement in his form if he is to be viewed as a long term Formula 1 driver.

Max Chilton China Race 2013The Englishman though has his eyes firmly focused on Monaco and getting the most from his car:

“I can’t wait for my first Monaco Grand Prix experience at the wheel of a Formula 1 car,” said the Marussia racer. “It’s a fascinating track and everything can turn on a knife-edge because of factors like the close proximity of the barriers and the importance of qualifying ahead of our immediate competitors. I have been preparing in the simulator this week and I’m feeling positive about our potential there.”

Esteban Gutierrez will have the most competitive car of the rookies at his disposal this weekend and the Sauber driver made a strong step forward in Spain. The Mexican set the fastest lap of the race and led briefly as the early race pitstops were made. He was mistake free throughout the race and brought the car home a respectable eleventh and unfortunate to miss out on scoring points.

Esteban Gutierrez China 2013Gutierrez has experienced Monaco in a GP2 car and he is looking forward on building on his Barcelona momentum:

“Driving on the limit through the narrow streets of Monaco is something special that I am really looking forward to,” said Gutierrez. “It’s one of my favourite tracks. I’ve driven there in GP2 twice and competing there in a Formula 1 car will be even more challenging and interesting. After the positive race in Barcelona, I am focusing on building on my performance there.”

Valtteri Bottas is the only rookie without experience of Monaco having eschewed a season in GP2 last year in favour of becoming Williams’ development and reserve driver. Getting his first taste of Monte Carlo will be a baptism of fire for the Finn but he’s in a positive frame of mind about his chances this weekend:

Valtari Bottas Barcelona Test 2013“This will be my first time racing in Monaco and I’m really looking forward to it because it’s such an iconic track,” said the Finn. “It’s definitely the most challenging race on the calendar for the drivers, being an old school street circuit with no room for mistakes and I’m looking forward to the challenge of being on the limit at all times while being so close to the walls.”

Formula 1 revolves around Pirelli tyres

Pirelli will once more be the focus of much attention at Jerez

Pirelli will once more be the focus of much attention at Jerez

In many ways Pirelli has been incredibly successful in their return to Formula 1. We have had some of the best racing ever seen in the sport because the tyres are not durable enough to last the majority of the race and therefore we see drivers scrapping with one another and overtaking on track as opposed to in the pits as we previously experienced.

Barcelona however was the nadir for the Italian manufacturer. Fans clamored that Formula 1 one was now too reliant on tyres and that Pirelli had gone too far in 2013. The truth is more likely somewhere in the middle. We have to balance having great racing with tyres that are safe. In the last few races we have seen too many failures and punctures from the tyres. Some of these are obviously as a result of debris on the track and the new tyre construction but we are past the point of statistical anomaly with regard to the volume of failures.

The push to make Pirelli change their tyres should have been made to ensure that driver safety was the key reason. The call for compound changes was made as a knee jerk reaction to a disappointing race in Spain. The bigger picture has shown Pirelli’s tyres produce terrific racing but that they need to reign in their tyres to avoid failures.

Vitaly-Petrov-Monaco-FP2-2012Paul Hembery, Pirelli’s motorsport director, spoke about what to expect from his tyres this weekend:

“In Monaco we’d expect an average of two pit stops per car, because in complete contrast to the last race at Barcelona, Monaco has very low tyre wear and degradation,” commented the Englishman. “This doesn’t make the race any less strategic however, as in the past we have seen drivers trying completely different strategies yet ending up very close to each other at the finish.

“The last race in Spain was won from lower down on the grid than it has ever been won before, so it will be interesting to see if this pattern can repeat itself in Monaco: a track that is renowned for being difficult to overtake on. Because of this, strategy will become even more important than usual, with teams trying to use tactics to improve on their starting positions.”

Weather for this weekend

Portier-bridge-Monaco-Qualifying-2012Rain has a habit of following motorsport around the world and with the majority of Europe having been blanketed with rain over the last week there are no guarantees of sunshine in Monaco. The forecast for the weekend is for overcast weather but thankfully the chances of rain are put at 10%.

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