Pedal flat in Riviera paradise

2013-05-22 14:02

MONTE CARLO, Monaco - More than 200 clutch/brake inputs, 130 steering movements, 60 gear shifts (one every 54m), two or more kers activations, one DRS deployment: those are the headline numbers of a typical 3.34km lap of Monaco in a Formula 1 car.

Factor in the tunnel, capricious weather and back-markers galore; then multiply the whole lot by 78 and add in three each free practice and qualifying sessions spread over four days, and the scale of the task facing GP stars as they race through the streets and along the harbour front of Monte Carlo becomes abundantly clear.

Watch a Monaco GP lap

Each lap demands 12 braking events, six of them ultra-heavy, with Turn 8 – the Harbour Chicane – seeing drivers shed 200 clicks from 280km/h in 100m with deceleration hitting 5.2g. Twice during the preliminary runs in recent years has the corner seen serious accidents from which drivers mercifully emerged due not only to the (water-filled) Tecpro barriers enforced by the FIA but also due to the incredible safety standards engineered into contemporary F1 cars.

However, in each instance, they were unable to race in F1’s Blue Riband event on the Sunday.

Ironically, given the place’s inherent dangers, Monaco has the lowest full-throttle stretches of all 19 circuits on this year’s F1 trail, with full power being used for only 39% of each 1min15 lap and the longest single foot-flat stretch lasting only eight seconds.

The circuit, bounded by the Alps Maritimes on one side and Mediterranean on the other, has 19 corners (8L/11R), eight of which are taken at less than 100km/h and just two at faster than 250 to deliver an average qualifying and race speeds of around 160km/h and 150km/h respectively.


However, Monaco’s track surface is the least abrasive of all circuits; conversely, track evolution (the rate at which it ‘speeds up’ through cleaning by passing cars and laid-down rubber) is the fastest of the year – off a high ‘green’ base due to civilian traffic and dirtying it 360 days a year.

To give you an idea: last year the difference between Thursday FP1 and Saturday’s Q2 (generally the fastest of the three sessions due to most cars being on the softest rubber) was almost three seconds (4%).

Taken in conjunction with its relatively low average speeds, Monaco’s surface has extremely low tyre wear factor – in fact, precisely the opposite of the Spanish GP where the winner (Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso) a fortnight ago stopped four times despite running Pirelli’s Medium and Hard compounds.

Thus Pirelli has specified its Supersoft (red sidewall) and Soft (yellow) compounds. The latter specification is able to last 50 laps or more, making a one-stop strategy entirely realistic as per 2012 - when the (then) 24 cars made just 25 stops between them by coaxing one-third race distance out of their Supersofts. Winner Mark Webber (Red Bull) - also victor here in 2010 - pitted on Lap 29 for his only stop, switching to Softs.


This proved to be the universal strategy and is likely to be adopted this year – weather permitting. Long-term forecasts indicate weather similar to the Spanish GP, namely cloudy but dry and 20C ambient, but the region’s geography endows it with a unique micro-climate which is anything but predictable. Swirling clouds regularly dump rain without notice.

Although two DRS zones generally operate at most circuits, there will be a single zone in Monaco. The detection point will be 44m after T16 and the activation point will be 18m after T19, i.e. before the pits entrance and after the final turn. The distance from pole to the braking point for T1 is not sufficient for kers deployment at the start; further back it is…
The tight and twisty confines of the circuit and lack of extended run-off areas equals high rates of incident, which invariably bring out the pace car. In the last decade seven races have featured a total of 13 such deployments to provide an overall incidence of over 80%, with the last 10 years featuring 14.

During the same period the winner has started from the pole eight times, while just three of the past 30 race in the principality have been won by a car starting outside the top three – proving just how crucial qualifying is to a strong result. The highest winning grid position between 2003-2012 was P3.

Thus teams need to ensure strong qualifying form while remaining flexible in their tactics to best adapt to changing circumstances, particularly as the pits lane time - without stopping - amounts to an excruciating 20 seconds at a mandatory 60km/h. All these factors result in a wide approach to strategy, making this most prestigious of races arguably the toughest to win.


Current form is very much rewarded at this venue: only three times in the past decade has the Spanish winner failed to win either the preceding or subsequent race (or both), and with Sebastian Vettel having won in Bahrain, Alonso statistically stands the best chance of taking a third win in the principality – thus becoming the only driver to do so with different teams – but Ferrari’s qualifying form has not been the best this year.

However, much depends on Mercedes – the silver team has taken three consecutive poles so far in 2013 (with Michael Schumacher last year setting the standard for the team, his only pole during his come-back career), yet each time tumbled down the order with tyre woes.

With pole here being crucial and tyre wear being low the silver cars must be odds-on favourites, particularly as Lewis Hamilton is stellar here. But, there is that caveat called degradation…
Going into this race Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull) leads the championship with 89 points to the 85 of Lotus' Kimi Räikkönen, with Alonso third on 72.


If the event is different to other GP's so is its timetable: in a throwback to days when Monaco ran its race ran during Ascension Day weekends, formalities commence with two practice sessions on Thursday, followed by normal Saturday/Sunday service.

F1 does not run at all on Friday - an open business day in Monaco - but there are support events through the morning and the pits open after noon to enable fans and autograph hunters to get close to their heroes and mobile objects of desire.

Sunday’s race will start at 2pm with qualifying at the same time on Saturday.

  • Agent - 2013-05-23 14:02

    Are we to view another Pirelli economy run? Love the technology but the racing format is so boring.

      Cobus Fenwick - 2013-05-23 22:11

      It is for all the same! The less the downforce, the more the topspeed. The less the fuel, the the lighter the car. The softer the tyre, the sooner to replace. What is new? The better the driver, the more he achieves. It is the best combination of the team that makes the results. Did we realy think Vettel was better than Alonso last year? His combination was, but not this year. If you can't see the whole picture, don't critisize the amount of colours used.

  • Cobus Fenwick - 2013-05-23 22:12

    Let the race begins, and all the action with it. KICKA$$ALONSO!!!!!!!!!!!!

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