The second set of back-to-back races greets us after a particularly interesting Spanish Grand Prix, with the Formula 1 circus packing up and making the short trip east to the principality of Monaco, home of round six of the 2010 season.
The Spanish Grand Prix brought up the season’s fourth different winner in Mark Webber, and the Red Bull was dauntingly superior on the Circuit de Catalunya. Could we expect more of the same on the tight confines of Monaco? Several of the rival teams fear this will be the case, but as ever in F1, it’s difficult to predict anything!
While the good and the great – the likes of Senna, Prost and Hill – have won countless times on the twisty streets of the Principality, the circuit’s long history also boasts a list of surprise results, and many drivers to have won here – Tritignant, Beltoise, Panis, Trulli – have won nowhere else in a Formula 1 car.
|2010 Formula 1 Grand Prix de Monaco
|Date:||16 May 2010||No. Laps||78|
|Lap Length:||3.340km||Race Distance:||260.520km|
|Lap Record:||1:14.439 – Michael Schumacher (2004, Ferrari)|
The Monaco Grand Prix has been a Formula 1 institution since its inception in 1929, and remains one of the most iconic circuits in the world of motor racing.
Described as “shady place for even shadier people”, the Mediterranean enclave oozes success, austerity, and all things over-the-top.
The confined nature of the barrier-lined street circuit presents one of the most unique driving challenges of any circuit for racing drivers, who either love or hate the place.
Passing is next to impossible, and the race is typically on the combination of a good qualifying result and keeping it off the barriers on race day.
While the track retains its historic routes and its layout has remained largely unchanged, even the most traditional of F1 circuits has had to be brought into line to keep pace with the modern age and driver safety standards.
A permanent pits complex was built in 2003, and the final sequence of corners were re-profiled – using land reclaimed from the sea – to make space for these alterations.
This same year saw many of the barriers – particularly around Ste Devote and through the Swimming Pool complex – moved back from the corner apices in the name of safety. However, in many respects this has allowed more room for driver error, and recent races have been far less incident-hit or attrition-hit.
You almost used to be guaranteed in races past that if a driver could make it through the first corner and keep it off the barriers for the rest of the race, that they would finish in the points. Now, the potential for a surprise result is considerably diminished.
The challenge behind a street circuit is that there should be no room for error, but this must be tempered with ensuring their safety in the event of an accident. While we would never question or wish to diminish the ever-present safety concerns, we’re also traditionalists at heart and are saddened that some of the challenge in Monte Carlo has been taken away.
That being said, the sequence of corners through Massenet and Casino Square is surely one of the best places to see a Grand Prix car at speed and close quarters, and the iconic Loews Hairpin is a favourite for the photographers.
It is truly a great circuit.
The History Bit
The Monaco Grand Prix has historically been a race of survival, and its inaugural appearance on the modern-era F1 calendar in 1950 proved as such – 10 cars were wiped out on the first lap in a multi-car accident.
Only five years later, and Alberto Ascari made history by crashing into the Monte Carlo harbour.
The 1960s saw Graham Hill (left) stamp his authority on the streets of the Principality, winning the event five times. Only one man, Ayrton Senna, has been able to eclipse this record, winning six times between 1987 and 1993.
Michael Schumacher is another driver who has tasted success many times in Monaco, winning the event five times so far. His bid for a sixth victory went pear-shaped when he was found guilty of attempting an ill-advised move to block the circuit at La Rascasse while pretending to have an accident. Quite how he escaped with just being sent to the back of the grid is another matter, but he defied the detractors who say passing is impossible in Monaco with a storming drive to finish in the points.
Despite years of trying, neither Nigel Mansell nor Damon Hill – men with over 50 Grand Prix victories between them – could win at Monaco. The closest Nigel came was in 1992, when a late pit stop saw him drop from the lead behind Ayrton Senna’s McLaren, where he set about an impressive, but fruitless, charge to wrest the lead from the Brazilian maestro.
Damon Hill too snatched defeat from the jaws of victory in 1996, when his Williams’ engine blew exiting the tunnel while he held a commanding lead.
The 1996 Grand Prix also gave a thrilling example of of how rain can really turn a Monaco Grand Prix into a lottery. The combination of a damp track, painted surfaces and the magnetic attraction of the barriers makes a wet Grand Prix one that few cars will finish. That year, just three cars were circulating by the end of the race which saw Olivier Panis take is only (and Ligier’s last-ever) Grand Prix win.
The 1984 race saw the remarkable rise of one Ayrton Senna who, in his debut F1 season, rocketed his unfancied Toleman around the circuit like a seasoned pro to challenge for the lead, only to be denied when the race was red-flagged (right).
The 2008 race another to be sullied by wet weather, and it saw Lewis Hamilton demonstrate his mastery of the conditions to take an emphatic victory.
What to expect?
The confidence of the other eleven teams and their drivers must have taken a hammer blow when the pace of the Red Bulls was unleashed in almost every session of last weekend’s Spanish Grand Prix, but they need to take comfort from the fact that Monaco could be completely different.
One of the keys to Red Bull’s success in Spain was its ability to retain grip through the long, high-speed corners on the Circuit de Catalunya. Monaco is the antithesis of the Barcelona track: its tight, bumpy corners are hardly a test of a car’s aerodynamic efficiency, but of its traction, low speed grip, and ability to nurse its tyres.
The 2009 Monaco race was actually one of Red Bull’s least competitive showings that season, where the RB5 was found wanting in its ability to manage its tyres, and Sebastian Vettel unsurprisingly came to grief against the barriers.
Teams like Ferrari, McLaren and Mercedes GP (who won here comfortably in 2009 under their previous name, Brawn) must take comfort from history possibly repeating itself in Monte Carlo, and will looking to use this weekend to close the gap to Red Bull.
However, if Red Bull maintains is total domination of qualifying – no other team has taken a pole position in qualifying so far in 2010 – then hearts will sink, as this will confirm that the RB6 can run on any circuit.
But again, qualifying up front is one thing, getting to the finish line seems to be the bigger challenge for Red Bull, which has thrown away a lot of points in lost victories and podiums by dint of mechanical failures during the races.
However, if the team qualifies well and remains reliable, then Mark Webber (left) is going to be a huge factor this weekend, and this will be one of the best opportunities he will have to take a coveted victory on the street circuit. He has always performed well here, but never had the luck to really make his mark here.
With track position being paramount in Monaco, teams aren’t going to want to sacrifice their advantage by pitting too often, and the focus in Monte Carlo is going to be on the crucial art of tyre management and trying to stretch out the two soft-compound tyre types to last as long as possible.
This will greatly benefit the smoother drivers in the field, such as Jenson Button, but it could adversely affect those who are less judicious in their tyre management, such as Lewis Hamilton.
Another crucial factor is the larger grid size in 2010 and the appearance of the three smaller teams, whose off-the-pace cars could pose a huge traffic hazard for drivers tyring to post quick laps times.
I actually disagree on this point. With Monaco being less aero-dependent than virtually any other circuit, this could actually close the gap for the smaller teams, who might be abler to spring a few surprises with some genuinely pacey performances in qualifying. Watch for Jarno Trulli in the Lotus in particular, as he’s very much a Monaco qualifying specialist and could be a shock contender for a Q2 berth.
Trulli isn’t the only Monaco specialist; there are plenty of others in the field who would happily consider Monaco as one of their better circuits.
The driver many will be most keen to see tour the circuit will be Michael Schumacher (right), fresh on the comeback trail and riding the crest of the small wave: a season’s-best fourth place in the Spanish Grand Prix last weekend.
The German has taken victory in the Principality on five separate occasions (but not winning again after 2001), he needs just one victory to join Hill and Senna as the third person to achieve six victories here.
I just can’t wait!