Next stop: Monaco. The historic circuit has graced the calendar since 1950, and while overtaking is next to impossible, there’s always a special vibe at the most glamorous event on the calendar.
Rewind the clock back a year, and it’s incredible to look at how much has changed in such a short space of time, and yet how much they stay the same. Red Bull took a brilliant 1-2 on the streets of the tiny Principality, and Mark Webber will be looking to defend his win on the streets last year, at least if anything to atone for a lacklustre race a week ago in Spain.
Let’s have a look at all of the action that lays ahead for this weekend’s Monaco Grand Prix…
|FORMULA 1 GRAND PRIX DE MONACO 2011
|Date:||29 May 2011||No. Laps||78|
|Lap Length:||3.340km||Race Distance:||260.520km|
|Lap Record:||1:14.439, Michael Schumacher (Ferrari) – 2004|
This has to be the most iconic Grand Prix circuit in the world, and the Monaco Grand Prix has been a mainstay on the sporting – and social! – calendars since its inception in 1929.
Held on the tiny principality, Monaco was once described by author Clive James as “a sunny place for shady people”, and it’s certainly true that the glitterati flock to this hugely popular event. It’s a place for fresh to be pressed, deals to be struck and sponsors to be schmoozed – simply put, there is no other place like it.
The barrier-lined street circuit is impossibly narrow and its tight confines present a unique challenge to drivers, who either love it or hate it.
The track is a completely different beast. Iconic corners just roll off the tongue: Casino Square, Loews, Tabac, Swimming Pool – all are well-known turns on one of the most thrilling pieces of tarmac on the sport’s calendar.
Overtaking is next to impossible and it’s a track that rewards patience, accurate driving and plenty of luck along the way. It’s a drivers’ track: plenty of great drivers have managed to haul seemingly-impossible results from bad cars in the years gone by. And it’s also a car-breaker: there are inevitably few finishers and a car still circulating at the end of the 78-lap race is likely to be in the points.
The inaugural modern-era Monaco Grand Prix set the pattern that hasn’t changed since: ten cars were wiped out in an opening-lap pile-up caused by a freak wave washing onto the circuit!
The list of winners reads like the ultimate roll call of Formula 1: Ayrton Senna is the outright record holder with six wins, while Graham Hill and Michael Schumacher took five wins apiece.
After winning the Spanish Grand Prix just a week before, last year’s race saw Mark Webber make it back-to-back victories with a lights-to-flag display on the Principality.
But he was given a stern challenge during qualifying with a shock performance from Robert Kubica in the Renault, who secured a front-row berth. But the Pole was beaten off the line by Webber’s team-mate Sebastian Vettel, and when the race finished with the same top-three, it was Renault’s first clean sweep of a podium since 1997.
The race ended under Safety Car conditions – the fourth interruption of the race – after a late collision between Jarno Trulli and Karun Chandhok.
Felipe Massa finished fourth, ahead of Lewis Hamilton, whose McLaren team-mate Jenson Button retired after just a few laps when his engine overheated. Massa’s team-mate Fernando Alonso climbed to sixth from the back of the field after wrecking his car in a crash before qualifying.
A controversial moment from the race came when Michael Schumacher used a creative interpretation of the Safety Car rules to pass Alonso in the final lap. The stewards took a dim view of this enterprising move, and he was penalised 25 seconds and dropped out of the points. The top-ten was therefore completed by Nico Rosberg, Adrian Sutil (his best finish at Monaco), Vitantonio Liuzzi and Sebastien Buemi.
With Monaco being one of the most historic and iconic circuits in the sport’s history, there are plenty of memorable moments at the Principality. These are some of our six favourite Monaco moments…
1955: The race’s first return to Monaco since 1950, and it was a thrilling race of 100 laps lasting close to three hours. Fangio and Moss each took turns in the lead in their dominant Mercedes-Benz entries, but both retired. When Moss retired with a blown engine, Alberto Ascari was seemingly distracted by the Englishman’s blown engine and crashed at the Harbourfront Chicane, flipping over and landing in the harbour! Fortunately he bobbed up to safety, but fate would intervene when he was killed just days later in a testing accident at Monza.
1972: Appalling weather conditions greeted the drivers for this year’s race, and it was a surprise when Jean-Pierre Beltoise took the lead at the first corner in his BRM. The impossible conditions saw several drivers clobber the barriers or slide up escape roads, and the Frenchman took his only win – BRM’s last – by half a minute from the era’s rain master, Jacky Ickx.
1984: The race where Senna first made his mark in F1, using a Monaco downpour to great effect to haul his little-fancied Toleman up the order during the race. Early race-leader Nigel Mansell crashed his Lotus and Alain Prost assumed the lead, only for Senna to reel him in. But fate would intervene before Senna could take an incredible win, when the race was red-flagged at mid-distance…
1992: Nigel Mansell had won each of the opening five rounds of the season, and it finally looked like he would break his Monaco hoodoo when he planted his Williams on pole and skipped off into a comfortable lead. But a late pit stop to correct what was believed to be a puncture unexpectedly gave Ayrton Senna the lead, and the Brazilian took a brilliant win after a thrilling dogfight with Mansell in the closing laps.
2004: A scintillating qualifying lap by Jarno Trulli saw the Renault driver start from pole at Monte Carlo, leading the field to take an emotional maiden – and so far, only – F1 victory. Behind him it was all action – Schumacher and Montoya collided behind the safety car in the tunnel, of all things! – and Trulli hung on to win from a fast-closing Jenson Button.
Monte Carlo Talking Points
What are the three big talking points of the Monaco Grand Prix?
The lack of overtaking: One might be almost inclined to overlook the track’s lack of passing opportunities simply because the setting is utterly epic. Even when the cars are in a train, there’s so little room for error that one slip could change the game completely. The Safety Car will almost certainly make its first appearance of the season – it was used four times here last year – and drivers will need to manage these interruptions. It’s unlikely that KERS and DRS will play a huge role here, but the difference in tyre performance could see some frustrated drivers bottled up behind slower cars…
The race for the underdogs to shine: The circuit is not particularly aero-dependent, and this is one race where the lower-rung teams can realistically have a shot at some points. It’s often a case that being around at the end of the 78-lap event usually means you’re running in the points, and Team Lotus will view this as one of their best opportunities to finally kick off their points’ tally. Heikki Kovalainen was impressive here in 2010, and Jarno Trulli might be able to snare a few scalps in qualifying.
Tyre management: We’ve already mentioned that the circuit’s short DRS zone – the pit straight – won’t make a single bit of difference in the race. Qualifying will be more interesting to watch, particularly looking at how drivers are able to cope with sudden changes in grip and handling when the device is enabled. Expect a few bent chassis’… But more importantly, Pirelli’s contribution to the recipe will be truly a big factor. With its harder-compound tyres wearing in the blink of an eye, there are major concerns about the durability of its yet-to-be-raced ‘super soft’ compound. They’re targeting a two-stop race here because the track is not particularly punishing on tyres, but pit stop strategy – particularly with trying to emerge on a clear track – will be crucial. Qualifying is going to really matter here more than anywhere else.
So what do the Richard’s F1 readers and contributors think will happen this weekend?
Matt, Richard’s F1 IndyCar Correspondent
“Mark Webber should by now know that you can’t win a race at the start, but you certainly can lose it. Too many times, he has seen a superior start go up in smoke following a lacklustre getaway.
“If he couldn’t get back past in Spain, he definitely won’t be able to at Monaco. The crown jewel in the F1 calendar is merciless to anybody who thinks twice about anything, and qualifying will never be more important than here.
“Rain – although unlikely, given the forecasts – could throw a spanner in the works. Expect a topsy-turvy grid, especially if this happens on Saturday. I predict another Vettel win if he claims pole.”
Jen, Richard’s F1 reader, Canada
“I’m looking forward to Monaco. It’s more of a race of strategy as there are far less overtaking opportunities than most tracks. I hope Vettel doesn’t take out pole position as it would be good to see another driver win, and Vettel is far less likely to win from further back on the grid.
“I’d also like to see Ferrari build on their strong start from Spain and have a more consistent race.
“And finally, I’m also looking forward to seeing which famous faces are spotted on and off the track!”
The Form Guide
Sebastian Vettel has not won a Grand Prix at Monaco yet, but the form guide is suggesting that he’s a hot favourite to do so this weekend. Or will the Principality’s tight confines throw up a different winner by enabling others – those from McLaren, Mercedes GP, Ferrari or Renault – to step into the spotlight for a change?
Vettel has four wins in five races so far in 2011, and the Red Bull RB7 chassis is proving mighty everywhere, particularly in qualifying. Vettel’s team-mate Mark Webber would love to successfully defend his race win from last year, and the Australian was be desperate to make up for a disappointing weekend in Spain, finishing a distant fourth after starting from pole position.
The McLarens have generally proven to have better race pace than in qualifying, and both Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button have enjoyed tasting the champagne from the top step of the F1 podium here. The McLaren car has improved in leaps and bounds since the pre-season, and they should be a factor this weekend.
Ferrari is another team that should feature in the points this weekend, but it seemed most affected by tyre concerns at the Spanish round, as was evidenced by Alonso falling to finish a lap adrift after leading the first two stints of the race. Felipe Massa endured a poor round last weekend, and he will keen to atone for that here. Another major talking point is the resignation (or sacking, depending on your position) of the team’s long-standing technical director Aldo Costa, whose departure is part of another shake-up in the Maranello ranks.
The shorter-wheelbase Mercedes GP and Renault cars might be more competitive here than they have been in previous rounds, and the circuit’s lower-speed nature may be more suitable to their respective chassis’. Renault, in particular, has targeted this circuit as being one they can realistically win at this year, and it remains to be seen if they can deliver on those statements made in the pre-season…
With the attrition rate typically being higher here than elsewhere, this weekend presents the best opportunity for the midfield runners to pick up some decent points, and the likes of Sauber, Williams, Force India and Toro Rosso will all be trying to position themselves for these opportunities to grab some useful scores. Team Lotus might start to feel it is a chance of joining the fray with its updated T128 challenger.
Most KERS-equipped teams are still expected to field the units this weekend, despite the circuit scarcely featuring any higher-speed stretched worthy of the name. But the DRS zone positioned along the start/finish straight is unlikely to do much to enhance what few overtaking opportunities are presented at Monaco.
Again, the factor that will determine the outcome of the race is tyres, with Pirelli supplying its ‘soft’ and ‘super soft’ compounds this weekend. The softer construction is apparently only capable of lasting around 10 laps at a stretch, and Pirelli predicts a two-stop race this weekend. Track position is key here, and we should a greater variation in pit stop strategy than other tracks.
As usual, we’ll be bringing you all of the action and highlights from this weekend’s event, so make Richard’s F1 your one-stop shop for the Monaco Grand Prix!
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