Mastering Monaco

Chris Medland
May 25, 2011

ESPN F1 Weekly: Monaco GP Preview

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The entertaining Spanish Grand Prix has shown that the 2011 rules are a recipe for exciting racing on any circuit on the calendar. The one unknown that remains appears to be the crown jewel event that is the Monaco Grand Prix. Overtaking is not going to be easy by any stretch, but the tyre degradation and undercut available to earlier stoppers mean we should see positions changing and another intriguing race unfolding around the streets of the principality.

The drivers are all still chasing one man: Sebastian Vettel. While the close race in Barcelona will have heightened hopes of another McLaren challenge, Red Bull still have by far the quickest car in qualifying trim, and that could be crucial on what is likely to be the most important Saturday of the season.

In Form

Sebastian Vettel’s form doesn’t look like dipping anytime soon, and Lewis Hamilton matched him in Spain with an excellent drive, but Jenson Button put in an impressive performance that shouldn’t be overlooked. His only error was a poor start, and having been 10th after the first lap Button soon found himself 20 seconds off the lead as he had only made up one place by the first round of pit stops. His three-stop strategy was not a reaction to his position though, it was planned all weekend, and Button made it work beautifully to climb through the field to take the final podium position. He may have finished half a minute down but the number of cars he had to dispatch means he would have been right in the hunt but for the bad getaway.

Out of Form

He may have had an encouraging start to the season, but Vitaly Petrov turned in a surprisingly below-par performance in Spain. Having climbed to fifth off the line, he was running solidly until the first pit stop, after which he displayed no pace at all to slip backwards. He was passed by Nick Heidfeld – who had started last – after two-thirds of the race, and proceeded to finish 38 seconds behind his team-mate. While you can argue that Heidfeld had many new tyres available to him after qualifying, the fact that Kamui Kobayashi comfortably beat him to the final point despite a first lap puncture displayed how slow he was.

Kamui Kobayashi has finished in the points at four of the five races he’s been classified in this season 

© Sutton Images

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One to watch

Kamui Kobayashi has put in excellent recovery drives in the last two races, displaying the pace that would make him a contender for serious points. While his drive up from the back in Turkey was helped by a number of fresh tyres, in Spain he didn’t have the same luxury and a first lap puncture cost him a set of softs and left him well adrift. He climbed as high as fifth in Monaco last year in a less competitive Sauber before a gearbox failure ended his race prematurely.

Talking Points

DRS – It’s been a talking point at many races this year, but the drivers seemed pretty united on one front for Monaco: it’s too dangerous and should be banned. The FIA doesn’t agree, and Charlie Whiting has said that it would be wrong to outlaw an overtaking aid where it could be needed the most. There is talk that drivers may be prevented from using it in the tunnel, but anyone who misjudges a braking point having used it will be heading for the barriers, and probably for a moan at the governing body.

Diffuser protest – The pre-Barcelona row rumbles on, but has taken a new twist ahead of this weekend. After the FIA gave the teams a reprieve by delaying a planned ban on the use of exhaust gases off-throttle to blow the diffuser, HRT team principal Colin Kolles believes that the practice is clearly illegal, and has asked the FIA to prohibit it immediately. If it doesn’t respond to his request, he says he will be forced to protest at some point during the race weekend, and claims his team is not the only one willing to do so.

Traffic – It’s always been notoriously difficult to pass around Monaco, and the relative lack of competitiveness from Virgin and HRT is no real surprise either. However, both have shown improved reliability compared to last year, and are fighting each other closely. In qualifying drivers will struggle to find clear air for a lap around the tight circuit, and the upshot in the race could be a lot of squabbling backmarkers for the leaders to overtake, especially when you take in to consideration the fact that every car up to and including fifth-placed Fernando Alonso was lapped at least once in Barcelona. Although such a difference in performance is not expected in Monaco, one bad in or out lap could have a major influence on the outcome of the race.

Soft tyres – It could hardly be a talking point section without mentioning the Pirelli rubber which has been such a focal point this year. The soft and supersoft compounds are going to be used in Monaco, as the lack of high-speed corners should see tyres wearing less rapidly. While drivers have been able to use the difference in tyres to make relatively simple overtaking manoeuvres, the tight confines of the street circuit will make it much tougher to pass even with tyres in superior condition.

Weekend Timings

  • May 26 Free practice 1 0800 GMT / 1000 Local
    Free practice 2 1200 GMT / 1400 Local
    May 28 Free practice 3 0900 GMT / 1100 Local
    Qualifying 1200 GMT / 1400 Local
    May 29 Race 1200 GMT / 1400 Local

Fast facts

  • This will be the fifty-seventh consecutive Monaco Grand Prix
  • The man on the grid with the most victories around the streets is Michael Schumacher, who has five. He’s level with Graham Hill and one shy of Ayrton Senna’s record of six
  • Michael Schumacher holds the lap record with a 1:14.439 set in 2004
  • Six of the last 10 Monaco Grands Prix have been won from pole position

Trivia

  • Monaco is renowned for its safety car periods as almost any accident requires one. In 2010 alone there were four occasions that the safety car was called upon, and historically there is a 60% chance of a safety car period in each race
  • Olivier Panis secured his one and only grand prix victory in Monaco in 1996, and in doing so set the record for winning from the highest grid position having started the race 14th
  • Two drivers have ended up in the harbour as results of crashes at Monaco – Alberto Ascari in 1955 and Paul Hawkins in 1965
  • A loose manhole cover last year caused Rubens Barrichello to have a major crash on the climb up to Massanet, and saw the race continue under the safety car for a few laps while stewards decided if it was unsafe. In his anger Barrichello threw his steering wheel out of the car and it was runover by Karun Chandhok’s HRT

Circuit

Monaco is worlds apart from the last track in Barcelona, and is the circuit where driver performance has the greatest influence. The tight and twisting slow speed corners require good traction and mechanical grip, while the length of the circuit – just 2 miles – means there are few straights of any note, with 180mph the top speed reached exiting the tunnel. The slowest corner on the circuit is the Loews hairpin, which is taken at just 30mph, and the quickest is the first chicane section of the swimming pool at 130mph. Being a street circuit the track surface is not overly abrasive, but cars need to be able to ride the bumps and undulations well. Overtaking is possible on the run out of the tunnel down in to the turn 10 chicane.

FIA driver steward

Former Toyota driver Allan McNish makes his debut on the steward’s panel as a late replacement for Alain Prost.

© ESPNF1
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Weather

Thursday’s running will be done on what looks likely to be the highest track temperatures, so the teams should be in for no surprises with the tyres. Rain isn’t unheard of in Monaco but the chances of the wet weather tyres being required on race day are almost non-existent. Good for those planning to watch from the deck of a yacht in the harbour, as you do.

Betting

Sebastian Vettel’s odds seem to get shorter by the day, and he’s favourite once again at 10/11. Mark Webber is reasonably priced at 9/2 alongside Lewis Hamilton, especially taking in to account his win last year. Nick Heidfeld is a good outside bet at 20/1, while his team-mate Vitaly Petrov’s poor race in Barcelona sees him out at 33/1 but still worth an each way look.

ESPN prediction

Sebastian Vettel was once again standing on the top step of the podium in Spain, but for the first time this season he didn’t start the race on pole. Mark Webber is closing in on his team-mate, and was untouchable when winning in Monaco last year as he seems to be able to get more out of the Red Bull in the more technical sectors, so ESPNF1 keeps it fresh by backing the Australian to pick up 25 points.

Chris Medland is an assistant editor on ESPNF1.

© ESPN EMEA Ltd.

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