1:14.439 = 161.528 km/h - M. Schumacher (Ferrari) 2004
Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull Renault); 1:13.556 = 163.467 km/h
1st: Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull Renault) 2:09.38.373
2nd: Fernando Alonso (Ferrari)
3rd: Jenson Button (McLaren Mercedes)
Mark Webber (Red Bull Renault); 1:16.234 = 157.724 km/h on lap 78
It’s perhaps the most over-used phrase in sport: ‘the magic of Monaco’. But the Mediterranean city of Monte Carlo will weave its spell for the 59th time this weekend as a topsy-turvy 2012 season seeks its sixth winner in as many races.
Both of our Australian drivers have won in Monaco – in the same year! In 2010 Mark Webber (already a winner there in F3000) drove the finest race of his career to win for Red Bull; that same weekend young Daniel Ricciardo took the World Series by Renault 3.5 support race.
“If you bite and try to give it more then you crash so it’s a very, very challenging circuit mentally,” says Mark. “Physically it’s quite straightforward, but in the mind you need to be very disciplined and that’s the challenge around Monaco.”
Monaco has 19 corners – and eight of those are taken at under 100 km/h. The maximum speed is 285 km/h, which must be a terrifying experience between those barriers, the minimum just 50 through Turn 6. Average lap speed through the race is normally between 140 and 150. And with only 212 metres from pole position to Turn 1, the first corner is always the one to watch out for…
Renault Sport supply four of the teams’ engines and know full well the challenge that Monaco presents, as engineer Rémi Taffin explains: “The track has the lowest average speed of the year due to the high number of tight corners so the focus is on delivering driveability through the lower rev ranges but also getting the gear ratios right to give effective acceleration between the corners. The bumps are also a major issue for engine engineers. The drivers will run over manhole covers, kerbs, white lines and sometimes even huge bumps so the engine hits the rev limiter much more than we do at a permanent track like Sepang or Monza. To avoid this we pay particular attention to the shift light pattern and even encourage the driver to shift early.”
One of those four teams is Williams, and all eyes will be on Sir Frank’s outfit, partly because of Pastor Maldonado’s stirring victory in Spain, partly to see how the team has recovered from the post-race garage fire. Chief Operations Engineer Mark Gillan said “the impact of the fire has been mitigated by what can only be described as a Herculean effort by the factory and our suppliers to restock both the damaged equipment and car parts” and again paid glowing tribute to the rest of the F1 paddock for the assistance given to Williams during and after the blaze.
The team with the finest Monaco record is McLaren: since Alain Prost first conquered the Monaco streets in 1984 they have racked up 15 victories, six of them to the late Ayrton Senna, and both current drivers, Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton, have won there before (though Jenson was in a Brawn in 2009). Ferrari have eight Monaco wins on their record but incredible as it may seem the last was way back in 2001.
Could Kimi Raikkonen be the sixth different winner in a row? Lotus look strong this year, and the Finn – winner for McLaren from pole in Monaco in 2005 – agrees it’s a special place: “There is no better feeling than to get things going well in there. To race in the streets of Monte Carlo is really different from everywhere else; a challenge I look forward to every year. It is very, very difficult, almost impossible, to have a clean weekend there.”
For Michael Schumacher Monaco will be even more difficult than usual – the Mercedes man, five times successful here, inherits a five-place grid penalty after his stoush with Bruno Senna in Spain. Michael is more aware than most of the Monaco paradox: a safety-conscious sport subjecting itself to an outdated venue every year: “But in my view this is justifiable once a year, especially as the circuit is really so much fun to drive,” is his answer. “Every time you go there, you just look forward to finally getting out and driving the track. Of course, knowing that I will lose five positions on the grid does not add to this feeling but this just means that I will have to try even harder.”
What’s best about Monaco? Marussia team principal John Booth sums it up nicely: “This race is all about the drivers because it is such a uniquely demanding track that calls for absolute precision and commitment.” Can’t wait…