Thursday, May 21, 2009

Monaco GP Preview

In a week when budget caps and how best to slash costs are causing all manner of political heartache in Formula 1, it is a little ironic that the championship is about to pitch up at its most ostentatious location: Monte Carlo.
A street race around a millionaires' paradise tax haven, along a harbourside lined with the super-yachts of the world's most wealthy, the Monaco Grand Prix is not just a tribute to excess - it's also arguably the most evocative and historic venue in all of motorsport.
Singapore demonstrated last year that modern street tracks could be a big hit, but it cannot compete with Monaco's incredible 80-year heritage.
Apart from additional safety features, less dust and more advertising, many parts of the course still follow the same route as the Bugattis and Maseratis did in the inaugural race in 1929.

It doesn't matter that the race is inevitably processional, for it's the challenge of threading the cars between the barriers, coping with the constantly mutating grip levels on the treacherous public roads and the unique echo of the F1 V8s screaming off the harbour walls that makes Monaco a joy to watch even if wheel-to-wheel moments are rare in the extreme.
The 2009 regulation changes will not do much to change the latter situation.
Aerodynamic turbulence is not the problem in Monaco - indeed with so many slow corners cars actually follow each other more closely here than anywhere else.
The reasons why overtaking is so scarce are purely because there isn't the space to get two cars comfortably side by side in many places, because the straights are too short to build momentum for a move, and because the track is so treacherous off the racing line.
KERS might help a bit on the brief sprints between the final and first corners, and through the tunnel towards the chicane, but neither the 'boost button' nor an adjustable wing will overcome the sheer lack of space or the dirty surface.

Tyre performance variation will not be so big a factor either, for Bridgestone has decided to temporarily halt its policy of bringing two very different compounds to each race for Monaco only, instead providing the relatively similar super softs and softs.
It will still be intriguing to see what difference this makes to the outcome, for tyre wear has contributed to some of Monaco's finest racing in recent years.
In 2002 David Coulthard did a masterful job to hold off a growing pack of challengers as his Michelins went through a graining phase that saw even the Minardis out-pacing the eventual winner for a while.
But three years later, during the season when mid-race tyre changes were temporarily banned, the Renaults plunged down the order as their Michelins wilted, losing so much grip that even Monaco's narrow confines could not protect them from being overtaken.
Strategy is always tough to call in Monte Carlo, particularly in the current era of qualifying on race fuel.
Until that system was introduced, most Monaco winners tended to make relatively late single stops.
On paper that tends to remain the fastest strategy for most, but pole position simply isn't going to happen if you're taking 40 or more laps of fuel into Q3.
The pole contenders therefore have to go light, and gamble on being able to pull away sufficiently before their first stop to ensure that they are not then stuck amongst the heavier cars - because these drivers are sure to be going much, much further before pitting, and will be almost impossible to overtake.
With so many cars so closely matched on pace, those qualifying decisions will be tougher than ever.
Logically Monaco should see a continuation of Brawn and Red Bull's ongoing battle, but Ferrari is now also a factor to consider following its big leap in Spain.
McLaren insists it will be in much better shape on the streets - where it has won for three of the last four years - as well.
Recent Williams chassis have tended to suit Monaco well, too (although converting that speed into results has proved harder), and the team could desperately do with getting back to its early-season level of competitiveness - as could Toyota after a poor Spanish GP.
Never count out double Monaco winner Fernando Alonso either, and watch out for a star performance from Force India's Adrian Sutil - who topped final practice here in 2007 and ran an amazing fourth last year until being clobbered by Kimi Raikkonen.
It would now be startling if Jenson Button didn't win the world championship, for his four out of five record so far is just too good a start to be overcome unless something bizarre happens in the remainder of the season.
But Monaco regularly delivers surprises, or trips up the otherwise dominant.
Hence Coulthard and Jarno Trulli's shock wins for McLaren and Renault in 2002 and 2004, both seasons when Michael Schumacher was looking unstoppable, or Williams turning around an anonymous start to the year to take Juan Pablo Montoya to Monaco victory in 2003.
Normally anyone who had won every dry race so far in a season could be relatively confident of success, but there are no certainties in Monte Carlo, so this will be just as nerve-wracking a weekend for Button as it will be a big opportunity for the rivals he has been summarily
dismissing on-track up till now.

Source :

No comments: