The sixth round of the Formula One World Championship takes place at the most famous race track in the world. However, the 3.34 kilometre Monaco circuit is only a race track for a few days of the year, as the one remaining true street circuit on...
The sixth round of the Formula One World Championship takes place at the most famous race track in the world. However, the 3.34 kilometre Monaco circuit is only a race track for a few days of the year, as the one remaining true street circuit on the calendar.
It first hosted a race in 1929 and its picture-postcard location, set against a background of yachts bobbing in the harbour meant it soon became the race to attend to see and be seen. Underneath its glamorous image, this event provides one of the toughest challenges for the drivers and also the teams' engineers and mechanics. The Armco-lined track means that the slightest mistake at the wheel can spell disaster as there are virtually no run-off areas.
Lack of space in the Principality also means that, until this year, the pits facilities have been primitive to put it mildly. The race cars, transporters, trucks and motorhomes have been parked in a separate paddock on the harbour, which meant the cars and all equipment had to be taken from the paddock to the very narrow pit lane prior to each practice and qualifying session and the race. It made for a much more tiring schedule for the mechanics and much more legwork.
However, 2004 sees a new pit complex. The organisers have reclaimed some additional land and built a new two-story pit lane with garages on the bottom and offices up above. "Although we had developed a well organised plan to deal with the difficulties of working at Monaco, the new pits will now make our life much easier," says Scuderia Ferrari's race technical manager, Nigel Stepney.
"The pit lane entrance is still after the final corner, but it has a different approach and cars now go to the harbour side of what were the old garages. The new garages are much bigger, comparable with those at Magny-Cours (France) and bigger than Spa (Belgium.) So although we will still have our trucks based in the old paddock, the race cars can now spend the weekend in the pits. I would say our working conditions here are now somewhere between a traditional European race and a "flyaway" event outside Europe where we don't have our trucks."
The offices above the pits will be used to house the telemetry computers normally found in the back of the garages and in the team trucks. "But we will still go back to the paddock to hold our debriefs after every session in the vehicles there," continues Stepney. "The Monaco weekend features several support events and with tall buildings opposite the pits, the sound of the cars bounces off the walls and is deafening. After a while, this noise would make it hard for everyone to concentrate."
One unusual feature of the new pit lane is that while cars enter with garages on their left, the pit-board signalling area, remains where it has always been, on the left side. This is because the new pits are now on a raised bit of road following the Swimming Pool section and the entrance is after the final corner. "The garages will therefore be open front and back so that team personnel can walk from the pit-signalling area to the other side of the garage," explains Stepney.
"Another change is that, because the new pit area is much bigger than in the past, the speed limit will be raised to 80 km/h for the race, as opposed to a very slow 60 in the past. Although the organisers should be congratulated on this big improvement, it is not the final version as they have plans to further extend the pits for 2006 so that we can eventually park our trucks behind the garage in the conventional way."
This improvement that brings Monaco into line with other more conventional circuits, has one downside, in that spectators seated in the grandstands on the main straight, will no longer be able to watch the action in pit lane.
While these changes are designed to make life easier for the teams, the organisers, who work tirelessly to improve driver safety, have made further changes to the track for this year's event. The fastest section of this the slowest circuit on the calendar is the exit from the tunnel. Changes were already made at the chicane after Karl Wendlinger had a serious accident here in 1994 and, following Jenson Button's high speed crash in 2003, the approach to the chicane has been widened to create more run off space.