Monaco: What You Need to Know

So here we are, the ultimate blue ribbon race, the jewel in the F1 crown, the only race outsiders know of. Yeah, yeah, it’s the annual trip to Monaco, where the great and the good of the scary non-F1 world traverse the globe to get their picture taken with some of the best drivers in the world. A flute of champagne in one hand, and the handful of caviar in the other…it’s hard to fight that overwhelming feeling of jealously at times. Having a race through the streets of Monaco was the bright idea of Anthony Noghès, the president of the Monegasque car club. Not only content with possessing the most inconvenient paddock known to the F1 world, it also takes over a month to build the temporary circuit, and a little less to return the streets to normal.

But at least the weather is looking good, following the Spanish GP there was a brief moment of panic when it seemed the teams would be driving into the rain. Maybe the extensive volume of fake tanning going on in preparation for the race has burned through the clouds, and has offered a paddock pass to the sun. And if you get too hot, you could always go for a dip with last years winner, Mark Webber.

Fact File: Monte Carlo, Monaco

Image credit: Will Pittenger

Laps 78
Circuit Length 3.34 km (2.075 miles)
Race Length 260.52 km (161.879 miles)
First Race 1950
Fastest Lap M Schumacher 1:14.439 (2004)
2010 Winner Mark Webber (Red Bull)

Layout and Approach:

The track they will be racing on is the fifth incarnation of a circuit that began life in 1929, it features elevation shifts, tight and twisty corners, and is very narrow. This lends itself to being a ‘driver’ track rather than one that relies on the outright power and strength of the car, skill and the application of it will prove the key to success. Although a bit of grip in the corners won’t go amiss. And talking of corners in Monaco we see drivers tackle the slowest and one of the quickest, the former being the Loews hairpin (50 km/h) and the latter being the tunnel (260 km/h). But overall the average speed along the designer boutique lined streets is around 90 km/h…positively pedestrian.

With it being a high downforce circuit, teams configure components specifically for the Monaco circuit. The cars will have to be finely balanced and smooth to find a good rhythm, stiff cars will find it harder to negotiate the tight corners and bumpy circuit. Once you’ve got the set-up nailed, drivers can push themselves to the limit, just as long as they stay clear of the armco. This non existent margin for error, and constantly being in a corner does not allow the driver to relax, so this will be a huge test of mental and physical strength.

Right, let’s go for a lap. Off the start/finish line the drivers have a short run to the first corner, St. Devote is an almost 90º right hander and has been the cause of many incidents. Then they head towards the skies on a long run to Massenet, which is a long lefty. Drivers pass the casino on their way towards Casino Square. Just a short sprint towards Mirabeau and they are on their way towards the slowest corner and one of the most famous across the season.

Loews is an extremely tight hairpin, which has forced teams to rethink their car setup (steering and suspension). A double right hander leads the cars to Portier, and then they are steaming through the tunnel. They exit into the Nouvelle Chicane, which is somewhere they can try to overtake and it’s only a short hop to the sharp left turn of Tabac. Piscine is a fast left and right, which leads them straight past the swimming pool. At the end of another short straight they have to negotiate a quick left/right before entering La Rascasse, another full lock corner. This leads into the constant feature of a short, cambered straight, and then they are on the final, tight right corner, the Virage Antony Noghes.

Overtaking and Strategy:

Even with the addition of KERS and DRS overtaking will be at a premium, the narrow course, and tight and twisty corners don’t create the opportunities for safe passage. But don’t expect to see a procession, as we’ve seen in every race this season, the tyres will be the focus and therefore pit calls will be of the utmost importance. So without a plethora of places to gain position, there will be an even bigger emphasis on where you start on the grid on Sunday. This will buck the trend that has emerged where teams are reserving that extra set of options during qualifying, don’t think we’ll be seeing that this weekend. Although those supersofts might prove irresistible in getting that pole position.

Is there any chance to overtake? Low grip levels, and minimal run-off areas increase the likelihood of mistakes of which drivers will be taking advantage of. The braking zones tend to be fairly bumpy, so you’d have to be brave to make a move there. It will also take a ballsy move to stray off the racing line and away from the valuable grip.

Tyres:

Pirelli are bringing the red-tagged ‘supersofts’ to Monaco, and they are reported to have an expected lap-life of 10. Yes, 10 laps. As this is their first outing, practice will be fraught with data collection in order to understand where they will leave them on Sunday.

Why Monaco Rocks:

Come on, it’s the most glamorous weekend in the Formula One calendar! It’s when the guys and girls who spent years slaving away at university, and years tucked away in garages and factories get to mix it up with the celebrities that turn up to ‘enjoy’ team hospitality. Some may simply look up Monaco as ‘just another race’, the prestige of winning it is hard to ignore, the glitz and glamour elevates it above the rest (rightly or wrongly). It may not be the fastest, but when the drivers have the nimbly thread their way through the narrowest of streets it doesn’t feel that way, and that what makes it the standout event of the season. It’s also what allows it to rank alongside the likes of Indy 500 and 24hr Le Mans.

5 Key Points:

  • Tight, twisty and unforgiving
  • Slowest track of the year
  • Glitz, glamour and girls
  • No running on a Friday
  • Physically and mentally demanding
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