Venue: Monte Carlo
Circuit Length: 3.340 km
Lap Record: 1:14.390 = 205.191 km/h • Michael Schumacher (Ferrari), 2004
Going into the sixth race of 2013, we haven’t seen the Safety Car deployed yet. But that’s likely to change in Monte Carlo. Monaco has a very high incidence of Safety Car interventions (Mark Webber had to cope with four of them during his first victory there in 2010!) and there is an 80% chance we will see the race neutralised for a while on Sunday.
It may be the most recognisable ribbon of tarmac in the world. “You can feel the history of Formula 1 as you drive through the streets and tackle some of the really famous corners,” is how Pastor Maldonado sums it up. Monaco’s circuit measures just over three kilometres but it packs a lot into its tight confines. There are 19 corners, 12 right, seven left; nine of those corners are taken at under 100 km/h. Monaco has the shortest sprint of the whole season to the first corner – from pole to Ste Dévote is just 140 metres – and its fastest section is through a tunnel.
Question: Monaco boasts the slowest corner of the entire season. Which one is it? Answer below.
Monaco’s other infamous characteristic is the undulating track surface – watch for the drivers turning sharply off-line to avoid bumps between Casino and Mirabeau – which means the teams go soft on their cars’ settings to enhance mechanical grip. Pirelli bring the Soft and Supersoft P Zero combination.
Right now it’s not so much who as what. Engines are a hot topic, not just because of the temperatures generated by racing. This week came the formal announcement that Honda will renew its hugely successful F1 partnership with McLaren, starting in 2015. The Japanese manufacturer said a rather sheepish ‘Sayonara’ to Grand Prix racing at the end of 2008 but says the sport’s new turbo-charged, high-efficiency, hybrid future meshes well with its philosophy. Honda will also seek other teams to supply, though probably not until 2016.
That means competition for other engines will also hot up. Renault is keen to reduce its number of customer teams, perhaps to three, but paradoxically may have to look after more in the transitional year of 2014. Meanwhile Mercedes is on the look-out for another partner to replace McLaren, so the teams sitting pretty at the heart of what could become a bidding war look to be Lotus and Williams. Watch for breaking news during the Monaco Grand Prix weekend…
Not surprisingly the other hot topic is tyres. Could we go from the ridiculous (80+ stops in Barcelona last time out) to the sublime (there were only 25 tyre pit stops in Monaco in 2012)? Whatever happens this weekend, there will be a change in Pirelli’s product from the Canadian round on says Pirelli’s Paul Hembery: “Our aim is to provide the teams with a new range which mixes the stability of the 2012 tyres and the performance of the current ones. As a company, we have always moved quickly to make improvements where we see them to be necessary. After evaluating data from the first few races this year, we’ve decided to introduce a further evolution as it became clear at the Spanish Grand Prix that the number of pit stops was too high.” On the other hand, Lotus chief Eric Boullier is underwhelmed: “There aren’t many sports where there are such fundamental changes to an essential ingredient part-way through a season,” he observed.
Behind the wheel the current hot shoe is Fernando Alonso: two wins in three races see the Ferrari man on the march, 17 points shy of leader Sebastian Vettel and 13 behind Kimi Raïkkönen. The Spaniard hasn’t won in the Principality since 2007 (it was one of his four victories for McLaren) so the time is ripe to end Red Bull’s run of three Monaco wins on the bounce.
Let’s look down the grid a little for our first name this week. For a classically-trained pianist Adrian Sutil is a little out of tune at the moment. The German, returning after an enforced absence, hasn’t troubled the scorers since he finished seventh in Australia in March. Four races without a point, not helped by incidents like Gutiérrez’s attack in China or his botched first pit stop in Barcelona: time to stop the rot and start closing the 20-point gap to Force India partner Paul di Resta. “The good news,” according to team owner V.J. Mallya, “is that Adrian is mentally very strong and he will deal with it. In the cockpit he is doing exactly what we expect and that’s why we put him in the car.”
Behind Force India is not where McLaren expect to find themselves, especially going to a circuit where they have a proud record of 15 victories – more than any other marque. The news came this week that Paddy Lowe is also defecting to Mercedes, as widely anticipated. Comfortingly, Lowe, joining as Executive Director (Technical), will take corporate-speak with him: “The team has already produced probably the fastest car of the 2013 season while the technical challenges of the new regulations for 2014 will give us the opportunity to maximise the synergies available to a works manufacturer,” he said.
Mark Webber (Red Bull Renault), 1:14.381 (Mark inherited pole because Michael Schumacher, who was fastest in qualifying, took a five-place grid penalty). Schumacher’s Mercedes lapped in 1:14.301 = 161.828 km/h.
1st: Mark Webber (Red Bull Renault), 1:46.06.557 (av. speed 147.312 km/h)
2nd: Nico Rosberg (Mercedes), gap 0.643s
3rd: Fernando Alonso (Ferrari), gap 0.947s
Fastest Lap: Sergio Pérez (Sauber Ferrari), 1:17.296 = 155.557 km/h on lap 49
Monaco is a happy hunting-ground for both Mark Webber and Dan Ricciardo. Back in 2001 Mark pulled off a stunning F3000 victory for Super Nova; in 2010 it was one of the four circuits where he posted race wins, and last year he did the same again, both times from pole position. Dan won the World Series by Renault 3.5 events there in both 2010 and 2011 with Tech 1 and ISR respectively; on F1 debut there last season he qualified 16th but posted a DNF when his steering was loosened by contact with a Monte Carlo kerb.
Did you get it? It’s Turn 6, the tight left-hander at the Grand Hotel which used to be known as the Station Hairpin. F1 cars get down to an improbable 44 km/h!