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The joy of Monaco

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The joy of Monaco
May 26, 2011, 5:01 PM

The sun is shining, the harbour is full of big boats and the competition looks very exciting this weekend at the Monaco Grand Prix.

The sun is shining, the harbour is full of big boats and the competition looks very exciting this weekend at the Monaco Grand Prix. You can tell that the drivers are really pumped up about this race and several of them have a chance as things look after the first day of practice.

As the world pulls itself out of recession, there is a real buzz about Monaco this year. There are some monster boats bobbing in the harbour, the corporate execs are happy to be seen here again after wearing sack cloth and ashes for a year or two. Of course there is plenty of horse trading going on behind the scenes over the future of the sport and the ebb and flow between the teams and Bernie Ecclestone. I asked him this afternoon about his plan to charge the teams to race. Would he see it through? "I hope I'm alive to see it!" he said.

The weather helps everyone's mood - it's baking hot and there are no menacing clouds forecast to come over the mountain tops to threaten the spectacle.

On track the cars look spectacular - Button kissing the barriers on a wide elegant line out of Casino Square, Alonso flick-flaking the Ferrari through the first swimming pool corner at immense speed. Hamilton looks hungry, as does Rosberg. You don't sense that this is a nailed-on Red Bull weekend. McLaren are on them pace wise in race conditions, while Alonso talks of 'needing to take risks' to close the gap to the others. He also means by that that the engineers need to take risks in development, some light bulb solutions are called for. But judging by the way the leading drivers are attacking the circuit already, this is going to be a classic Monaco.

We learned today that Pirelli's predictions for how long the tyres would last was wrong; they are lasting far longer than expected.

The soft Pirelli (which is the prime tyre here) is especially durable on this low grip surface. As the track ramps up that should even improve, although there are no guarantees. It will make a 2 stop race more likely for many, especially as track position is still very important here.

At the limit it might even make a team like Sauber try a one stop with one of its cars.

Vettel did a 23 lap run where the final lap was a comparable time to the first. With only around 36 kilos of fuel burned off in that time - worth a second a lap - it seems that the tyres will last well and that will affect the strategy, pushing people towards stopping only twice.

Another point is that the tyres seem pretty fast compared to last season's Bridgestones. The fastest time in Practice 2 last year was a 1m 14.9 by Alonso. Today it was Alonso again with a 1m 15.1. The supersoft tyre, making its debut today, seems fast, but also more durable than expected.

The cars have improved since last year, and the DRS is a small factor here, but important nevertheless. But they are also heavier with the KERS system, so Pirelli have done a pretty good job. The gap between the supersoft and the soft in single lap performance isn't huge, 1.2 seconds maybe, so you can imagine all kinds of possible strategies in Q3 for cars outside the top five or six, which will make for a very interesting Sunday afternoon.

Michael Schumacher had a moment in the morning when he crashed the Mercedes into St Devote, in two minds as to whether to take the escape road. One or two ex drivers in the paddock said it looked like an accident that a younger man's reflexes would have dealt with, but perhaps that was uncharitable. Mercedes' Norbert Haug described it as "a little off", Schumacher called it a 'crash' and went on, "We had made a set-up change for the run and I locked up braking for turn one. After that, my decision to go down the escape road was too late, which is why I hit the barrier."

MONACO GRAND PRIX, Monte-Carlo, Free Practice 2

1. Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1m15.123s 42 laps

2. Lewis Hamilton McLaren 1m15.228s + 0.105 33 laps

3. Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1m15.321s + 0.198 44 laps

4. Jenson Button McLaren 1m15.448s + 0.325 38 laps

5. Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 1m15.667s + 0.544 46 laps

6. Felipe Massa Ferrari 1m15.781s + 0.658 45 laps

7. Michael Schumacher Mercedes 1m16.356s + 1.233 33 laps

8. Mark Webber Red Bull 1m16.642s + 1.519 42 laps

9. Adrian Sutil Force India 1m17.101s + 1.978 46 laps

10. Nick Heidfeld Renault 1m17.126s + 2.003 38 laps

11. Vitaly Petrov Renault 1m17.337s + 2.214 35 laps

12. Sergio Perez Sauber 1m17.541s + 2.418 47 laps

13. Rubens Barrichello Williams 1m17.570s + 2.447 39 laps

14. Sebastien Buemi Toro Rosso 1m17.581s + 2.458 32 laps

15. Pastor Maldonado Williams 1m17.633s + 2.510 49 laps

16. Kamui Kobayashi Sauber 1m17.706s + 2.583 37 laps

17. Jaime Alguersuari Toro Rosso 1m17.789s + 2.666 43 laps

18. Heikki Kovalainen Lotus 1m18.266s + 3.143 50 laps

19. Jarno Trulli Lotus 1m18.490s + 3.367 39 laps

20. Paul di Resta Force India 1m19.053s + 3.930 15 laps

21. Jerome D'Ambrosio Virgin 1m19.185s + 4.062 40 laps

22. Timo Glock Virgin 1m19.338s + 4.215 35 laps

23. Narain Karthikeyan HRT 1m22.066s + 6.943 33 laps

24. Tonio LIuzzi HRT 0 laps

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Series Formula 1
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