Fernando Alonso: "Monaco is a fantastic show for the people" Q: Fernando, Monaco is often called the ultimate drivers' circuit. Is it your favourite track of the year? Fernando Alonso: Monaco is different to anywhere else, completely different.
Fernando Alonso: "Monaco is a fantastic show for the people"
Q: Fernando, Monaco is often called the ultimate drivers' circuit. Is it your favourite track of the year?
Fernando Alonso: Monaco is different to anywhere else, completely different. First of all, we run a special set-up to cope with the bumps and tight corners, so the car feels very different and is quite hard to drive. The circuit is so tight, that it is hard to get the car and tyres to the maximum, or to use maximum power on this track. At the end of the day, from the point of view of getting maximum performance from a Formula 1 car, this is not my favourite circuit.
Q: So what do you enjoy about the race weekend in Monte-Carlo?
FA: For me, Monaco is a show for the people. As drivers, I think we have to help make that show we provide, enjoy it and try to be as spectacular as possible for the fans.
Q: You mentioned a special set-up on the car. How easy is it to find the sweet spot of the handling in Monaco?
FA: It is nearly impossible and in Monaco, sometimes you have to guess a little bit with set-up, and make changes thinking about qualifying and the race, not the immediate moment. The circuit starts the weekend very dirty and cleans up with every lap, getting better and better all the time. So you have to have some guesses, and put a set-up on the car, then work from there.
Q: People often say that the only important thing is to qualify well in Monaco, because overtaking is so hard. Do you agree?
FA: For sure, we set-up the car for qualifying, and work all weekend to get that perfect lap. If you are on the front row, then if you finish the race, it is almost 100% certain you will be on the podium. If you are not in the top five in qualifying, then you can forget the podium. So qualifying is where you need to take a lot of risks, but necessary risks. It is the key to the race.
Q: A lot of people have expressed worries about how the 2006 qualifying format will work at such a tight circuit. What do you think?
FA: I think everybody will be a little bit worried about qualifying. Already in Monaco, you normally have a lot of traffic in every session, and this year qualifying will be very tough. I think the first 15 minutes will be hardest because one yellow flag, or if the guy in front has problems, then you could be out. So we need to be careful, and for sure we will have a different strategy to make sure we get into the top ten.
Q: You won the last race in Barcelona, a circuit that shows the quality of the overall package. What are the chances for the R26 in Monaco?
FA: I think the car will be quick there. You need good traction at this circuit, and that has been a strong point for the R26 all the way through the season so far. Michelin did a fantastic job in Spain, and they have always been very strong in Monaco, so they should be there as well. This has been a good Renault track in the past but more than ever, we will need a perfect, mistake-free weekend to fight for the win. That will be what we are focusing on.
Giancarlo Fisichella: "I am very confident the R26 will be quick in Monaco"
Q: Giancarlo, you have always been known as something of a Monaco specialist. What do you enjoy about driving in the Principality?
Giancarlo Fisichella: It has always been a great circuit for me, and I have always been quick there. It is a very difficult circuit, but I have always enjoyed it and, more importantly, felt very comfortable driving there. I think that the race is going to be very tough physically and mentally, but I am really looking forward to it.
Q: What does it feel like on Thursday when you do the first laps?
GF: It is really unusual! The feeling is very different compared to the first laps of the weekend at a normal circuit. You know, you go round the first few times and you're telling yourself that it's impossible to drive on the limit at this track. Then, after ten or fifteen laps, you get more confidence, you feel more comfortable, you start braking later, and you find the limit.
Q: How important is it to have a driveable car there?
GF: You have to feel comfortable with everything. The R26 is a really easy car to drive -- you can trust it when you are on the limit. As we build up the speed during the weekend, we will be getting closer and closer to the kerbs and the barriers, as we push to go flat out for qualifying. You need a car that is going to react how you want, and I think the Renault will do that.
Q: So you are feeling confident for the performance in Monaco?
GF: I am sure the R26 will be quick there, yes. The last race in Barcelona was good for me: after some difficult times, I had a weekend without problems and got to the podium, so I was pleased with that. We know that the battle is very tough at the moment, and a lot will depend on the Michelin tyres this weekend. The test team worked hard to find the right choices last week at Paul Ricard, so I think we can be optimistic. I am very confident I can have a very good weekend in Monaco.
Monaco Tech File
Monaco is a unique circuit in the Formula 1 season. It is often talked about as THE race of the year, and the tight, twisting street circuit needs a special approach to get the best from the R26.
Ride heights: Monaco is not only a very twisty circuit, but it is also extremely bumpy, sharply cambered and slippery, particularly early in the weekend when little rubber has been put down on the racing line. We therefore raise ride heights by between 5 and 7 mm relative to normal in order to cope with the surface variations on the circuit.
Suspension: In order to obtain the best possible level of grip, we use soft suspension settings, which also help the car ride the bumps and cope with the sharp cambers. The bumpy surface means the wheels must be able to move independently to ride the bumps, and we soften the anti-roll bars to achieve this. Camber angles are also a focus of special attention, and we run them fairly high -- but not so much as to make the car unstable in the bumpy, high-speed braking zones.
Aerodynamics: Monaco sees us run the highest downforce level of the year, and the cars often sprout extra appendages for this race to claw back even more aerodynamic advantage. The downforce brings benefits not just in the corners, but under braking and acceleration. Straight-line speed is of little importance at this circuit, and we sometimes runs higher drag levels than normal in order to get more downforce.
Steering angle: The Grand Hotel hairpin is the tightest of the season, and demands the highest steering angle of the year. It is, for example, two times more than anything required at the last race in Barcelona. We also calibrate the traction control system and differential to help the car turn on the throttle.
Performance: Monaco does not initially seem a demanding engine circuit, as the drivers spend just 50% of the lap at full throttle -- the lowest value of the year. However, that is something of an urban myth, and numerous challenges must be tackled to get the maximum from the RS26. The bumpy surface means there is a real risk of over-revving. In terms of performance, it is important to have a driveable engine with good torque, even from very low revs, in order to launch out of the slow corners.
Gearbox: We use closely-spaced gear ratios at this circuit in order to optimise acceleration, and get the most from the engine at slow speeds.
Cooling: The absence of significant straights makes cooling the engine difficult, especially as the short gear ratios mean the engine is often running at high revs even though the car is moving relatively slowly through the air. This presents a challenge for cooling the car effectively, and we sometimes have to open up the bodywork to ensure the engine does not overheat. However, with aerodynamic efficiency less of a priority here than elsewhere, this does bring its usual lap-time penalty, should it be required.