The F1 circus rolls into one of the worlds most expensive towns this weekend for the coveted Monaco GP. Famed, not only for it’s tight streets, sharp corners and slippery surface but also the glamour associated with it. Some drivers adorn diamond encrusted helmets, the rich and famous dock their multi million pound yachts line astern along the harbour front and a mixture of A list celebrities and drivers of old gather in this famous principality. This race is a real diamond among other races on the calendar and to win here is often considered to be the next best thing to winning the drivers championship itself. It’s the trophy that every driver wants.
Monaco GP 2015 stats
Track: Circuit de Monaco. Street circuit.
Track length: 3.340 km.
Tyre allocation: Soft (yellow) and Supersoft (red).
DRS Zones: One (Pit Straight).
Lap record: Michael Schumacher – 1:14.439 (Ferrari, 2004).
2014 pole: Nico Rosberg – 1:15.989 (Mercedes).
2014 winner: Nico Rosberg (Mercedes)
What to expect
The Monaco GP has largely been criticised within the sporting community as being an unnecessary, expensive procession that lacks excitement. There is some evidence that suggests this statement is not far off the mark. There have been many boring processions around this classic circuit but there has been way many more exciting races here. Firstly, consider the context. This circuit has been holding grand prix races since 1929 and is one of the only remaining traditional circuits that remains largely unchanged. It is only down to safety that the circuit has had to make changes and since 1929, armco barriers have replaced the hay bales and rows of fans that traditionally lined the circuit, a wall has been built along the harbour front to prevent cars from dropping into it and the surface has been improved. It is the only true street circuit left on the calendar that takes place in the middle of one of the most famous towns on Earth and right alongside some of the most expensive casinos, shops and bars. Many have argued that F1 has now outgrown these tight twisty streets but I don’t believe they have. If the fire breathing, fuel guzzling turbo beasts of the 1980’s could blast around here then todays slower turbos can as well.
F1 will unlikely out grow Monaco. It would be like cancelling the FA Cup Final or the London Marathon. It’s an iconic event. It may be processional at times but it is one hell of a spectacle to see the very best drivers in the world skid, slide and pound around these narrow streets in the most expensive cars in the world. To me it’s like watching a super car race around Harrods department store. We don’t see events like Monaco happen very often and the echoes of the past are all to prevalent here which reminds us how great this sport is.
More than anything this race is about the skill of the driver and how they negotiate the circuit in the face of the challenges it presents. The race may start well but within half an hour it may have started raining and there may have been a safety car or two after early incidents. A driver has to deal with this the best he can and this excites the fans above anything else. It’s tough to overtake in Monaco….but it can be done. DRS is largely ineffective here but there are other ways drivers can get around adversaries in front. The “undercut” in the pits is the easiest way but with traffic causing regular mayhem around here it can often cause problems for the tacticians on the pit wall. As always we can expect the traffic of lapped cars to have an impact on the race. Lapped cars should move aside for the quicker ones but here, they have nowhere to go so expect to see a lot of jostling and raised angry fists from the frontrunners.
Certain corners do lend themselves the ideal opportunity to overtake but it does take a brave man and a racer with a keen eye for any sign of his opponent in front making the slightest of errors. In the past we’ve seen some outstanding manoeuvres. Jules Bianchi’s move on inside of Kamui Kobayashi at La Rascasse (turn 18) in 2014, Michael Schumacher’s impressive double overtake in 1998 on Alexander Wurz at (what was known as) Loews hairpin then again on the inside at Portier which saw Schumacher power slide out of the corner. Lewis Hamilton’s overtake on Robert Kubica IN the tunnel in 2009 was breath taking to watch along with his cut up the inside of Michael Schumacher at Sainte Devote (turn 1) in 2011 at one of the fastest points of the circuit.
There is no doubt that drivers need to be focussed and concentrated during the entire race here. Lewis Hamilton’s overtake on Schumacher in 2011 was outstanding, in comparison, his attempt to overtake Pastor Maldonado at the same place in the same race was a disaster resulting in contact which inevitably took Maldonado out of the race. There is no room for driver error here and I mean that. At any other circuit a driver will get away with slightly out breaking himself or over steering here and there but not here. Out breaking yourself here can mean certain contact with the barrier as can sliding out of corners, riding curbs too hard and hitting the many bumps at speed. As well as drivers making contact with the barriers, they frequently make contact with each other here. Kimi Raikonnen shunting Adrian Sutil out of the race a few years back after Kimi out breaked himself is a prime example of what a brief block in concentration can do.
Throughout history Monaco has been a circuit where some of the “canniest” drivers have tried to take advantage of it’s tight corners, lumps and bumps in a bid to beat their rivals. Some call this cheating…I do…but whatever you like to call it, it sometimes pays off and often it doesn’t. During qualifying in 2006, Schumacher “crashed” (it was actually a slight bump that left his Ferrari undamaged but effectively blocking the circuit forcing out yellow flags) at the tight La Rascasse corner which prevented the faster Fernando Alonso (then driving for Renault) behind him from setting his fastest lap This was somewhat similar to Rosbergs lacklustre “off” during qualifying in 2014 where, after some dubious wiggling of the steering wheel he turned off the track at Mirabeau (turn 5) which resulted in yellow flags which In turn resulted in Hamilton having to pull out of his faster lap. Incidents like this are unpredictable but likely with drivers so eager to win here.
If the weather is good then we can expect a straight forward race in terms of strategy. The usual pecking order of faster cars at the front and slower ones at the back should be expected and then it will solely be down to tyre management and the hope that there are no accidents resulting in safety cars. Two to three stops should be the norm depending on tyre degradation. If it rains then this race will be a different ball game. Qualifying should be more competitive and will certainly throw up some unexpected results. We’ve seen some of the very best, historic races here in the wet. The unforgettable 1996 race, often described as “the crazy race” where only 6 cars finished after crash after crash resulted with Olivier Panis winning in his Ligier was one of the most entertaining on record. The Monaco GP of 2008 under wet conditions was also as exciting when near the start, Lewis Hamilton punctured his tyre with a brush against the barrier but managed to claw back to top spot and eventual victory after an incident filled race. Expect accidents and safety cars. The straight coming out of the tunnel towards the harbour front will prove to be exciting. In the past it has seen some spectacular but often hideous accidents. From way back in time drivers have ended up crashing off the circuit and into the water itself. In more recent times, Sergio Perez fell victim to the “bump” before the chicane there which slammed him sideways into the barrier at 140 MPH.
The teams would have had to significantly adapt their cars this weekend in every way they can. We will see larger cooling ducts due to the slower track speed, different wing sizes and ride heights and extra steering lock would have been added. It would be impossible for the cars to manoeuvre around the tight corners here without these changes.
Honda will be looking to significantly improve this race after the prospect of points quickly faded away in Spain. Alonso seems to be falling into the habit of saying “points this race” and then it doesn’t materialise but here it could. I expect Toro Rosso to score points and I’d expect Williams to improve. It will be doubtful for me if any one other than Mercedes will win but at this circuit, anything can happen. Ferrari will be focussed solely on qualifying and if they manage to get in front of the Mercedes then it is fairly likely that they will stay in front during the race. It will be particularly interesting to see how the rookies get on. Many of them would have raced here in other categories previously and will experience of this circuit. None of them though have raced here in an F1 car and they have not raced against the worlds most ruthless and best drivers such as Fernando Alonso, Kimi Raikonnen and Lewis Hamilton. As a sweeping statement I think the rookies have done well this year…very well so I would like to see more of the same. For them it will be a case of staying sensible, grounded and keeping frustrations at bay.
Hamilton v Rosberg
This race will be a defining moment in this years title race. Please excuse me for insinuating that Rosberg and Hamilton are the only ones in it. Based on the first five races I believe that Ferrari have stood still and that Mercedes have gotten away from them a little bit.
Rosberg led from pole in Spain and beat Hamilton last time out but for only the first time this season. He will be looking to do it again and it will be possible. Rosberg is looking to make it a hat trick here in Monaco and he is very fast around here. He will be encouraged by his performance during the last race and will be confident that if he can get pole then he will win. Hamilton needs to be cautious. Monaco 2014 was the beginning of the large “blip” that saw his season take a downward turn last year and he will not want a repeat. I think the majority of the F1 fraternity really knows what Rosberg “did” last year in qualifying and it’s inconceivable that he would try that again. Significantly, Hamilton appeared to be faster in qualifying last year and Hamilton will take confidence through that.
Pole is absolutely critical here. Both drivers will want to command from the front and both understand how valuable pole is here. Behind the scenes both drivers will be desperate to win this one. Rosberg is looking for his third victory in a row here. Hamilton will want revenge for last year and has only won here once. It doesn’t suit his aggressive style but he can be phenomenal to watch around here. His chequered drive of 2011 which combined breath taking speed, incredible over takes and gung-ho antics where he banged off barriers and cars was extremely exciting. As a now more experienced double world champion, I would like to see Hamilton reign in a bit, get that pole right and set himself up nicely for the race. Rosberg will be frustrated in a big way if he doesn’t get pole. It’s his hunting ground and I don’t agree with the bookies that Hamilton is the favourite.
I’m expecting Rosberg to be cool, calm and collected. He’s chasing the title leader but he’s coming off the back of a victory. It’s always better to be the chaser rather than the chased so they say and I think that with Rosberg’s ability around here, he will be confident he can get a back to back win.
Whoever wins it will be significant. The mental blows dealt to each driver will leave a lasting effect. If Hamilton wins then Rosberg will be left wondering if he has the abilty to take the fight to Hamilton in a wheel to wheel scenario at all, especially as both Catalunya and Monaco are particularly inclined to be very easy wins for the pole sitter. If Rosberg wins then it could trigger the resurgence that we saw for much of the European season last year where he managed to really build up that mental edge over Hamilton. It’s very much worth noting though that last years championship scenario was fairly unique exactly a year ago. Hamilton had experienced and would go on to experience some very poor luck and reliability where Rosberg rode his wave of good fortune high and dry. Hamilton won’t be settling for any of Rosbergs antics this weekend but it’s going to be fascinating to see how this one plays out!. With races coming up where Hamilton is traditionally strong at (Canada and Silverstone) a win here could see Hamilton elevated to champion elect much earlier than we think.