It's known as the jewel in the crown of Formula One, but not one of the easiest places to work in that of Formula 1 Championship. Nevertheless many drivers and engineers enjoy the technical challenge that the unique Monaco street circuit ...
It's known as the jewel in the crown of Formula One, but not one of the easiest places to work in that of Formula 1 Championship. Nevertheless many drivers and engineers enjoy the technical challenge that the unique Monaco street circuit provides.
"A few years ago, you would just fill the car up with petrol and the driver would go round and round getting quicker every lap. Now it's a real challenge to set up a quick car, for it means it has to be a very precise car. A driver cannot live with understeer on a track like Monaco, where the barriers line the track and a driver has to be able to place the car exactly where he wants it at high speeds. The track is bumpy and also has a lot of adverse cambers, which means that you can never get a car set-up perfectly for Monaco. It is always a compromise where you might have to sacrifice performance in one corner in order to gain more performance at another more critical corner," - points out Ross.
Both the Ferrari drivers relish the driving challenge of the Monaco circuit where a driver simply cannot afford to make any mistakes, but where a quick lap brings more satisfaction than most other circuits. "It is always amazing to me when a driver returns to the pits from a quick qualifying lap and there are marks on the tyres where he has brushed the barriers. Then you check the suspension geometry and everything is perfect. However, just in case, we always have a good supply of spare track rods in the pit lane," - points out Ross with a smile.
The nature of this slow twisting street circuit demands a maximum downforce aerodynamic configuration and the softest mechanical set-up of the car that the team uses all season. The right traction control set-up is vital at this track, but it cannot be programmed to tight or the driver will be unable to control the car with the throttle which is important in Monaco. If there is a particular corner where a driver needs to use more or less traction control he can program that setting from a cockpit control, which will then be memorized for future laps. The traction control set-up for the lap has already been pre-programmed from the race simulation programs that have been run back at the factory.
The sophisticated software programming now used in Formula 1 is a key element for any race track, but particularly so in Monaco. "Michael will do three or four laps and then get together with his engineer and data analysts to study the problem areas and work out the best way to improve the car. It is a job that's made more difficult with the physical restraints of Monaco where we cannot have a direct cable link to the technical truck and other methods are not as reliable," - points out Ross. The tight Lowes hairpin also means revised front suspension geometry to give the car enough lock to get around the corner.
Tyre wear is not a problem in Monaco and a one-stop race is the usual strategy even though the team runs a very soft tyre compound. Ferrari will have a new compound for the week-end: "You can be happy with the car on Thursday and then when you run again on Saturday after rain or the public with road cars have been all over the track during the day off, you have to start all over again to find the right set-up." explains Brawn.
Mechanically the track is not so hard on the chassis. The transmission can take some punishment from the bumps, but the traction control system helps cut out a lot of the stress of former times. The soft-chassis set-up also relieves much of the stress from riding the kerbs. "The biggest single problem is the barriers. If a driver makes even a small mistake and hits them too hard it can spoil your day completely," says Ross.
The demands on the engine is the lowest of the season, but because it is running in a different operating range to the other circuits, it can create other problems such as high exhaust temperatures: "It is what happened when we had an exhaust failure a couple of years ago . Now we monitor that more closely at Monaco." - points out Brawn.
Qualifying is a key element in Monaco because of the problems of overtaking. "We usually fit a lightweight braking system for qualifying, otherwise the car remains pretty much the same," - says Ross, who sums up the challenge and the problems of Monaco when he adds - "at Monaco you always have to expect the unexpected."