Preview 10: Monaco Grand Prix

  • Monaco is unlike any other Grand Prix. It’s got Europe’s largest collection of serious tax dodgers, and the majority of apartments remain vacant for most of the year. It’s also got one of the wealthiest organisers who refuse to put in a simple thing like a place to overtake. The circuit is the most unaltered in F1 history and has seen everything in its time (mostly great tales of misfortune) including cars in the harbour, the late great Sir Jack Brabham being overtaken at the last corner, Ayrton throwing it into the barriers and walking home, a fire in the hotel above the tunnel, an accident in the tunnel, Schumi parking his car after Rascasse after sticking his Ferrari on pole and races in the 1980s where virtually everyone in contention retired on the last lap and the lead changed hands several times.
  • With the new technical regulations for 2014 giving cars a lot of torque and a lack of downforce there are some – such as Fernando Alonso – who say that Monaco will re-order the pack. “This year I think Monte Carlo will be one of the few possibilities to challenge Mercedes, especially for Red Bull. In the corners they (Red Bull) are very fast but on the straights they seem to lose a lot of lap time.
In Monte Carlo there are no straights so Red Bull could challenge Mercedes there.”
  • However there are others, such as Jenson Button, who think Mercedes engine power will be crucial. “There’s far less of an aerodynamic influence here – it’s just about bolting as much downforce to the car as possible in a bid to find grip – so I think the engine’s influence will be greater.”
    And Rob Smedley: “Monte Carlo is always Monte Carlo – I don’t think it’s going to be much different to when we’ve been there in the past. It’s a very special place, Monaco, it’s the last of its kind.”
  • We will see the debut of the new Pirelli SuperSoft tyre because tyre wear and degradation is traditionally very low in Monaco. It’s possible to do the race with just one pit stop depending on how long the rear tyres last. The weather forecast is for sun and sunny intervals through the weekend. Wet weather and all that torque might be an interesting combination on the streets of Monaco.
  • Because of all that torque giving exit instability and the ever-present barriers, drivers are going to need to be very careful in keeping their cars out of trouble. The likelihood of a Safety Car is very high, but the possibility of a Safety car around the time of the tyre stops is what will be worrying teams the most. If we have a Safety Car just after some of the leading teams have pitted for their single stop, then those in front who haven’t could be in big trouble. Because all of a sudden the gap will be closed and they’re going to come out in traffic with little or no chance of passing. Vettel’s done 56 laps of Monaco on a set of softs before now.
  • Set-up time is vital in Monaco, so drivers who miss out in Free Practice are behind the game for the whole weekend as Mercedes’ Paddy Lowe explains: “Building momentum through each session is crucial and the unforgiving nature of the track can make even the smallest mistake a significant one relative to your weekend as a whole. Any track time lost around Monaco is a missed opportunity, more so than at any other circuit, so it’s crucial to get it right from the very first lap on Thursday.
  • Lewis Hamilton is looking to win five races in a row, something he’s never done before, but Nico Rosberg will be out to stop him. For Nico Rosberg it’s his home race, “It’s where I grew up and where I now live as an adult. But in sporting terms too, I have had some great moments here: in particular last year when I won here for the first time in my Formula One career.” Lewis won the race in 2008 so expect another titanic struggle.
  • It will be interesting to listen to the cars in Monaco, because with all the high buildings providing sound-reflective surfaces, the noise can be overwhelming. The Mercedes exhaust tests from Barcelona, where they tried to amplify the sound through trumpets, proved inconclusive. Monaco will be a big test of “reaction to noise” because it has the highest attendance of corporate guests, thus a great number of people who don’t particularly like 2.4 litre V8s revved at 18,000rpm and may prefer to hear the clink of ice in their martinis.
  • Because of the Red Bull dominance of late, Monaco race coverage on television has traditionally ended on the roof of the Red Bull energy station with everyone taking a dive – whether willing or not – into the swimming pool. “One year I remember we also ended up in the harbour,” said Sebastian Vettel. Will the camera crews be there this year to toast a new Aussie hero…?
  • Last year there was a bit of argy bargy between Sergio Perez and Kimi Raikkonen, with Perez damaging Raikkonen’s Lotus when the Finn closed him against the barriers in the braking zone for the chicane. Kimi had to pit, but produced an astonishing charge through the field to continue his points-scoring record. The onboard footage may resurface this year and it’s worth taking a look at Kimi’s last few stellar laps. With the Force India not so far off the pace of the Ferrari, they might get together in the race again…