Monaco is a hopeless, glorious anachronism of sport. It’s like sending tennis players to the old Wimbledon and asking them to play in long trousers with wooden rackets. The circuit is too old, twisty and dangerous to race on, but it is a ‘fixture’ of the calendar - and what’s more important - you can show off your boat there.
It’s described as glamorous, but that’s only if you define glamour as rolling around in money earned by failing to pay your fair share of taxes somewhere. (You can tell I’m a fan).
Every campaigner for improved F1 safety conveniently ignores Monaco. It is F1’s living museum piece. Hence in the last 20 years we have had the most consistently serious injuries there – Wendlinger, Wurz, Button and Perez have all had major accidents in the barrier at the chicane below the tunnel; exit – many more have hit it. It’s a mark of the organisers’ intransigence that they could have moved that barrier years ago and have only changed it incrementally in recent years.
There is no place to overtake at Monaco that doesn’t rely heavily on the overtaken driver letting you have the place. One year Michael Schumacher launched one up the inside of Lewis Hamilton into the Lowe’s Hairpin (or whichever name it’s going by this year – Station, Grand Hotel, Tight) and Hamilton wisely gave best to Schumi. Hamilton then did the same to Massa later in the race and Massa thought it would be a better idea to crash. That’s what happens in Monaco.
To the amusement of many, David Coulthard, in a McLaren, once spent almost an entire grand prix behind the Arrows of Enrique Bernoldi when he got out of position. After the race he was slated for suggesting that Bernoldi should have moved over as he had no chance of getting into the points whereas he, DC, had.
That is the way of Monaco. It can be extremely frustrating in the tax dodgers’ haven of little ***ty dogs - the richest and most well-appointed ghost town on the planet.
So this is the race at which we say thank you to Paul Hembery and Pirelli, the high chief of high deg. KERS and DRS won’t shuffle the order in Monaco but rain or rapidly disintegrating tyres will.
“In Monaco we’d expect an average of two pit stops per car, because in complete contrast to the last race at Barcelona, Monaco has very low tyre wear and degradation,” said Paul. “ Monaco is a track that is renowned for being difficult to overtake on. Because of this, strategy will become even more important than usual, with teams trying to use tactics to improve on their starting positions.”
Given that Mercedes are the kings of qualifying right now, that Schumi put his Merc on pole last year and that at the last race in Spain they were by far the fastest car in the tight final sector, everyone is predicting another front row lockout for Ross Brawn’s team. Which could create some interesting tactics.
The Wile E. Coyote version is that whoever gets to Turn 1 first is allowed to shoot off into the distance, while the second car holds everyone else up (but probably not with a boulder) This will allow the front runner to build up a winning margin in the first stint. Last race Lewis moaned “I can’t drive any slower” – maybe he’s about to test that theory out.
In truth, 78 laps is a lot of holding up to do, especially when drivers are likely to start on the very sensitive soft tyre. But at least they can concentrate on setting the car up for that one race without trying a host of new parts. There will be Monaco-specific aero elements brought along, but in terms of forward development for upcoming races, it’s not a great test bed. ““Monaco is a not usually a race to which teams bring many updates because the track conditions change so much across the weekend,” said Mercedes boss Ross Brawn. “ The priority is always to get the drivers comfortable with the unique challenge the circuit presents and to give them a set-up they feel confident pushing to the limit.”
Everybody says they are excited at going to Monaco, even Kimi: “…as a real special race there is nothing like Monaco; there is no better feeling than to get things going well there.” Some are more excited than others. Mark Webber is a Monaco expert, having won in 2010 and 2012, Charles Pic has won there in Renault 3.5 and GP2, Pastor Maldonado has done well there when he’s not been deliberately driving into Sergio Perez (less Road Runner, more Wacky Races) and Jenson took pole in 2009.
What might set the cat among the pigeons – if pigeons were allowed in Monaco – is the prospect of rain in qualifying on Saturday. The current weather prediction for the weekend is sun on Thursday (no Friday running in Monaco as it’s the ancient Feast of the Money Counters), rain on Saturday and sun on Sunday.
Without DRS and an ineffective KERS tool, the order of the race is very much determined by the qualifying on Saturday and if that’s disrupted by rain we might see all kinds of surprises in the grid order. Anyone who has witnessed F1 drivers channeling all that horsepower through a wet street circuit will know that at times like these, they earn their money. The kink from tabac through the Swimming Pool complex is breathtaking enough without an outside agency making it slippery.
We have yet to see the Safety Car in 2013 but between now and the end of the Canadian GP Bernd Maylander will surely get some track action. The potential intervention from a Safety Car could scupper any plans Mercedes have of controlling the race with one of their cars, as the best laid plans could go to ruin if Rosberg sprints off into the distance and is brought back by a midfield shunt.
Similarly, the exact timing of pit-stops around Safety Cars can have an enormous influence on the race. Leave it too late, till just after the field has been closed up, and you can fall 10 or more places. It is the gamble that everyone has to take at Monaco – other bets can be made at the casino, or, without having to put on your tiara, Paddy Power.
It may well be worth a bet on Mark Webber to repeat his 2012 heroics, and if it proved wet in qualifying and you wanted to bet on F1 then Maldonado might have some very attractive odds for an each way bet. Certainly worth a rain check just before qualifying started on Saturday.
Elsewhere this is the weekend where all the sponsors come to get wined and dined, boozed and schmoozed. A lot of serious F1 business goes on during the Monaco GP. Renault boss Carlos Ghosn will be attempting to extract a much better deal for his engine supply company than Bernie is currently offering. That could well be a case of the irresistible force meeting the immovable object. Plus the financial future of F1 needs sorting out via the Concorde Agreement and the FIA need to agree a rules package. Thank goodness there’s none of this car racing stuff on Friday to disrupt all the important meetings.
When the GP does happen, the winners will be those not held up behind slower drivers for race-losing amounts of time. Fernando Alonso may be the absolute master of opening lap surges, but with a tiny distance to Turn 1 and everyone wary of the Lowe’s hairpin dive, qualifying on the front two rows looks more important than ever.