Monaco Grand Prix Technical Preview -- Q+A with Pascal Vasselon
Q: Do you like the glamour of Monaco or is that a distraction?
Pascal Vasselon: For me it is just the race I like most during the season. It is truly something different. On other tracks when you are doing this kind of job for years, you would not say you get bored of course you don't, but you are not impressed as much any more by the speed of the car. In Monaco it is totally different because you have a lot more visual references and really in Monaco that's where you see the speed of the car.
There is also a kind of disproportion between the town, the small amount of space available and the speed of the car. That's why in Monaco you really realise how fast these cars are, it's really impressive. What I like as well in Monaco is the harbour with all the yachts moored. I love boats and spending five days close to the sea is just perfect. It sounds like a holiday! But it's not distracting at all, it's just a great place to be.
Q: Do you own a boat?
PV: Yes but it is a very old one so it will not be in Monaco!
Q: Do you have a day off on Friday?
PV: Usually we have a couple of hours in the afternoon on the Friday of Monaco when you can relax and enjoy the atmosphere. The racing season is so busy, you really enjoy these couple of hours. It is really unusual for a Grand Prix weekend so I really appreciate a bit of time off.
Q: As well as appreciating the speed of the cars, how about the drivers?
PV: More than usual the drivers have to do an outstanding job because somewhere like Barcelona, you can be 20-30cm off line but in Monaco you can't. That's really so special, it makes it such a special combination. It is really an outstanding race -- the race of the season.
Q: Can you explain what a Formula 1 car needs to be successful in Monaco?
PV: The performance factors in Monaco are completely different compared to other races for the very simple reason that the average speed is very slow. It has clear consequences. In terms of engine, most of the circuit is in the region where the car is tyre-limited so you need acceleration and traction. In Monaco you find more time than on other tracks in the tyre-limited area. It means the engine power is less important than anywhere else, that's the first consequence of the slow speed.
The second consequence of the slow speed is that aerodynamics are still very important but not as important as anywhere else in the season simply because of the very slow corners. If you look at the major performance factors of a Formula 1 car, being at Monaco decreases the importance of two of them so you are left with tyres and drivers. This season we all have the same Bridgestone tyres so you could say it will be mainly about drivers. Just to put pressure on them!
Q: Could we see the order look a bit different then?
PV: Monaco highlights slightly different performance factors. We can expect drivers to be more important. There are also silly things like simply the capacity to go round the Grand Hotel hairpin -- it is a very tight corner and you have to make sure that your steering system allows you to get round. As well as that, you can presume that a short wheelbase car will perform better in Monaco because of the low speed, tight corners. So it is always very difficult going to Monaco to predict what the grid will be.
Q: Do we have a special package on the car for Monaco?
PV: The circuit is so special it needs a special aerodynamic package which is mainly about the front wing, rear wing as well as a few additions. All teams will come with a Monaco aero package which gives downforce almost whatever the cost in drag. We will also make mechanical changes on the chassis to make sure we go around these slow corners.
Q: Qualifying is traditionally crucial at Monaco, does that mean we have a different strategy to other races?
PV: At Monaco we are always scratching our heads about qualifying. Since we started qualifying with race fuel loads it is a dilemma at Monaco. Historically, the best thing to do at Monaco is to qualify in front -- within current rules that would mean going as light as possible with our fuel load in qualifying. But as overtaking is so difficult in Monaco, normally you have to go for a very long first stint.
Now we still have to qualify in front and we still have to go as long as possible in the first stint -- it is a clear conflict. If you want to have a long stint you will qualify worse. That's why at Monaco you have very different strategies at the start because you have this dilemma. Each team according to its situation will steer the compromise in one direction or another so you end up with quite big differences in strategy. Usually most of the cars make their first stop within three or five laps, in Monaco it's more like 10.
Q: We heard during the Spanish Grand Prix there will be new races in Valencia and Singapore next year. As an engineer, what challenges do you face going to new circuits?
PV: Going to a new circuit is always interesting. You go through the process of setting your first targets and getting an idea of how the race will go. You try to get the simulation right before the race and then when you get to the race weekend, you check how wrong you were! I like to go to new circuits, I really like it.
Q: What is your view on two street circuits being added to the calendar?
PV: I don't think an engineer has a preference for street circuits or dedicated race tracks simply because the challenge will always be the same. I would say that I prefer street circuits because when you are passionate about Formula 1 and motorsport you want to be impressed and on street circuits you are more impressed. I like them for emotional reasons but not technical reasons.