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On The Pit Wall: The Monaco Circuit Guide

On The Pit Wall: The Monaco Circuit Guide

Paddy's Perspective

"We’re very pleased with the result in Barcelona. It’s an amazing achievement to take five wins in a row and even more so to have four consecutive one-two finishes. It’s a tremendous endorsement of all the hard work from everyone at Brackley, Brixworth and Stuttgart. Another highlight was to once more see a great demonstration of the level of competition between our two drivers. To be separated by just six tenths at the flag proves once again just how evenly matched they are. Monaco, of course, is a very different prospect. It’s a tough event both logistically and practically for the team and also highly demanding for the drivers. 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. We won there last year with Nico which was a fantastic result at the time and Lewis has also been impressive there in the past, including taking a victory of his own in 2008. It’s a driver’s circuit and both Lewis and Nico are on top form, so we’re expecting an exciting contest. The circuit itself is so unique that it’s difficult to predict which teams will be strong at this race. Certainly, we wouldn’t expect to have the same margin of advantage as we enjoyed in Barcelona. But we’re nonetheless hopeful of another good performance."

Monaco: On the Pit Wall

Timetable

Monaco is the gem which shines within Formula One. It’s the one every driver want to win and those who achieve that feat are long remembered for doing so. It’s a fabulous event: one of the great tests of driver skill in world motorsport. As an event, it is completely different to any other in a number of aspects. The first is that running begins on Thursday, as opposed to the traditional Friday at every other Grand Prix. This gives teams more time to look at data between practice and qualifying. If anything, this is a disadvantage to those teams who are most efficient in terms of analysing data and translating those findings into a strong setup. It levels the playing field somewhat for those outfits that perhaps don’t have the same resources available to them. It’s a very different way of working.

Qualifying

A race weekend in Monaco must be approached in a logical and progressive manner. The crescendo is qualifying, which defines the weekend. This is where the work carried out by both team and driver throughout each practice session shines through, as it is where those who can get the maximum from their car without making a mistake will prosper. This is what makes Monaco such a special and unique challenge. There are a number of things a team can do to maximise the potential of the car. During the final qualifying sessions a driver will realistically have just one, possibly two clear laps to make an impression and it’s not uncommon to see a surprise name caught out during Q1. With 22 cars enclosed on a very short circuit, each driver must find clean air in which to put together a complete lap. A combination of yellow and sometimes red flags, coupled with traffic, makes it very easy to be caught at the wrong time on the wrong part of the track. Approaching Monaco requires significantly more diligence towards mitigating risk than at any other circuit.

Track Evolution

In reality, the Monte Carlo circuit is not a circuit. Even Melbourne, another street circuit, sees enough action aside from Formula One to make track evolution reasonably minor over the course of a weekend. Again, unlike any other venue, the Monaco circuit is open to the public throughout the race weekend: running times aside, obviously. Between qualifying on Saturday and race day on Sunday, with thousands of people streaming through the streets clutching drinks and so on, the track will have changed dramatically. It’s predicting that, understanding it and getting it right, that enables you to have the best possible result in the race. It’s been the case time and time again that tyres may behave one way on a Thursday but completely differently during a race. This is why it’s such a special event for both drivers and engineers.

Tyres

As per last season, the soft and super soft are allocated for Monaco. This comes as no surprise and is common practice for a street course, as the tarmac is not of the same type as that found at a permanent circuit. Fundamentally these are still public roads. Monaco is superb in terms of the care and attention put into the roads, with around a third of the road surface used during the race resurfaced each year. The quality of the tarmac is far superior to that seen on any average road, hence the need for such frequent work, however it is still very smooth. There isn’t the sort of damaging abrasion that can be expected from a more normal track surface. Hence, the softest allocation of tyre possible is required to give the greatest level of adhesion on the low-grip track surface. The downside of this is that there is a high probability of tyre graining – damage to the tyre surface that causes shearing and tearing across the top of the rubber. This is particularly common on Thursday when the track is at its lowest grip. Again, this furthers the principle that you may experience a very different engineering challenge during practice to that of the race.

Cooling

Achieving effective levels of cooling is a very difficult task around Monaco. Often, teams struggle with both engine and brake temperatures. This is mainly owing to the fact that, with the exception of the leader, almost every car will find itself in traffic for the majority of the race. No matter if you expect to have a performance advantage or not, every car must be set up under the assumption that it will be running in traffic. Furthermore, the low-speed nature of the circuit layout is an obstacle to cooling. The way to cool a car down is to travel at speed but there simply isn’t sufficient space around Monaco to do so. Teams therefore have no choice but to run higher than average cooling levels.

Weather

Weather is not too difficult to predict in Monaco, with rain normally arriving from one direction. There is a cloud that sits behind the mountain and if it comes over there will be rain. If the cloud is low-lying and does not clear the mountain, however, it will stay dry. That said, it’s entirely possible that the first time the drivers experience wet weather running will be during qualifying. There is a relatively high probability of rain in Monaco which takes a situation that was already complicated and makes it far more so.

Safety Cars

Safety cars are historically extremely frequent around Monaco, for obvious reasons. The cars run close to the barriers and there is very little area from which to recover a stricken vehicle without the need to neutralise the race. Having said that, the Monaco marshals are amongst the very best in the world and are extremely efficient. If a car is in what is referred to as a ‘good state’ – i.e. the clutch is disengaged and the ERS systems are safe – it’s entirely possible that it can be removed by crane within 60 seconds: so around one lap. In that circumstance, a safety car will not necessarily be required. However, if there is more than one car involved or there is debris on the track, this will almost inevitably result in a safety car. Of course, this depends on the severity of the incident, but around Monaco it is rare for just one car to be involved. Monaco must be treated with a different level of respect. Far from being able to push flat-out from the very beginning, drivers must build their momentum through each session of the weekend. Aside from the first corner and the chicane following the tunnel, which feature a certain degree of run-off, a single mistake anywhere around Monaco will lead to damage and quite easily retirement. All teams will, of course, be fully aware of their safety car procedures. But it’s always useful to revisit these before Monaco just to make sure everyone is up to speed.

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