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What's the secret to winning the Monaco Grand Prix?

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What's the secret to winning the Monaco Grand Prix?
May 22, 2012, 7:06 AM

This weekend Formula 1 races on the streets of Monaco, the race that all the teams and drivers most want to win.

This weekend Formula 1 races on the streets of Monaco, the race that all the teams and drivers most want to win. So what's the secret to getting a good race result in Monaco? We saw that the Spanish Grand Prix was won with thorough planning, saving new sets of hard tyres for the race day and an inspired strategy call by the Williams team. So how should teams approach the strategy for Monaco?

Here we'll take you through all the considerations the teams strategists use. Once you've read the briefing, why not go on our our Race Strategy Calculator and see if you can beat the default strategy loaded into it. The calculator is based on a top ten qualifier so it assumes that you will start the race on used supersoft tyres.

Traditionally Monaco is the hardest circuit on which to overtake. The track is narrow and lined with barriers and there are few opportunities for a car to get alongside another. The only possible overtaking place is the exit of the tunnel into the chicane, but drivers must be careful as it is very dirty off line in the tunnel and they can lose grip by picking up dust and discarded rubber from the tyres, which is a particular feature of the Pirelli tyres used in F1 today.

From a strategy point of view it’s a very tricky race as running in slow traffic is always a problem and there is a very high (71%) chance of a safety car, which can turn strategies on their heads.

Track Characteristics

Monte Carlo - 3.34 kilometres; Race distance - 78 laps = 260.52 kilometres. 19 corners in total. The slowest lap of the season at an average lap speed of 160km/h.

Aerodynamic setup – High downforce; Top speed 295km/h (with Drag Reduction System active on rear wing) - 285km/h without.

Full throttle – 45% of the lap (lowest of year); Total fuel needed for race distance - 120kg (very low); Fuel consumption - 1.55 kg per lap (very low)

Time spent braking: 12% of the lap (high); 13 braking zones; Brake wear – Medium; 48 gear changes per lap.

Loss time for a Pit stop = 20 seconds

Total time needed for pit stop: 25 seconds.

Fuel effect (cost in lap time per 10kg of fuel carried): 0.28 seconds (very low)

Monaco is a unique street circuit, which offers no real reflection on the way cars will perform at other venues. It is a one-off.

The track layout is tight, with no high speed corners, two short straights and the lowest average lap speed of the season at 160 km/h (100mph).

Form Guide

The Monaco Grand Prix is the sixth round of the 2012 FIA F1 World Championship.

Qualifying well is critically important at Monaco and it is also true in general of this F1 season, despite the shake up in the form book imposed by the way the Pirelli tyres degrade. This season we have had five different winners in five different teams (the first time it’s happened since 1983) but four of the five winners have come from the front row of the grid and on three of five occasions the leader on the opening lap has gone on to win the race.

Cars that tend to go well in Monaco have plenty of downforce and good traction in slow corners. The Williams was the fastest in the slow Sector 3 in Barcelona, which is usually a good indicator of pace for Monaco, the Lotus also has good low speed traction, which is a weakness of the Ferrari. The McLaren is the best qualifying car at the moment with 3 pole positions out of 5 (albeit one was later rescinded) but its race pace doesn’t match it.

Monaco requires a particular technique of driving close to the barriers and this is a venue where a driver can make a real difference.

As far as drivers’ form is concerned at Monaco, Sebastian Vettel won the race last year, while other previous Monaco winners in the field are Kimi Raikkonen, Jenson Button, Lewis Hamilton, Fernando Alonso, Michael Schumacher and Mark Webber.

Weather Forecast

The forecast for Sunday looks good with temperatures around 21 degrees and a low chance of rain. Showers are forecast for Saturday. Being coastal however rain can arrive quite suddenly.

Likely tyre performance and other considerations

Pirelli tyre choice for Monaco: Supersoft and Soft.

Monaco is generally quite gentle on tyres, the track surface is smooth and there are no high energy corners.

This race sees the first appearance in 2012 of the supersoft tyre, which is largely unchanged from 2011; the compound is the same, but the profile is slightly different with a wider shoulder to reduce blistering. Last year the tyre lasted around 15-16 laps in the first stint before requiring a change.

The teams have done little testing on it this year.

The soft tyre is the same one that has appeared at every race so far in 2012. It is slightly softer than the 2011 soft compound. The difference in performance between the two tyre compounds is expected to be around 0.6 seconds per lap in qualifying and slightly less in the race.

Last year the winner Sebastian Vettel managed to make a set of softs last 56 laps, so there will be some teams thinking about doing only one stop in the race.

Number and likely timing of pit stops

Last year saw three different strategies in the top three finishers; Vettel stopped once, Alonso twice and Button three times,

They had all started the race on the same tyre (supersoft) and all ended up on the same tyre (soft) but in between had done three completely different strategies.

This year it’s likely that the contenders will be more aligned, mostly doing two stops, with three stops and one stop both a bit of a risk. However, our strategy calculator shows that a car doing one stop on L37 for new option (soft) tyres is ahead after final stops of the two stoppers and of the driver who stops once for new primes, but can the driver hold the others up to the end on fast-fading tyres?

The pit lane at Monaco is long and slow so the time needed to make a stop is quite long at around 25/26 seconds. This encourages teams to make less rather than more stops.

With the performance gap between the soft and super soft tyre it is likely that everyone will qualify on the super soft and then two stoppers will mostly run on the soft, while three stoppers will take an extra run on supersofts.

The top ten will start on the super softs they qualified on. Depending on how long they can keep the first set of tyres going will determine whether they make one, two or – if they have to - three stops.

The first lap is always very costly for the midfield and back of the field. With having to follow through the tight corners, it’s common for the cars in the bottom third of the grid to do a first lap which is 20 seconds slower than the leader, who is running in free air.

Chance of a safety car

There is a 71% chance of a safety car and and if it falls at the right time it can make your race. But if it falls at the wrong time, your victory plans fall apart - as they did for Jenson Button last year, who was trying to drive flat out uninterrupted on three stops, a risky plan given the likelihood of the safety car.

Recent start performance

The run from the start to the first corner at Monaco is very short and always chaotic. The first turn, St Devote, is tight and slow and cars go through it in single file.

Last year there were six changes of position in the top ten cars.

Although he’s having a poor run of results, Felipe Massa is the outstanding starter of 2012, having made up and average of over 4 places at every race start. Ferrari team mate Fernando Alonso is also making good use of the starts with an average gain of 2.6 places off the line.

As far as 2012 start performance is concerned drivers have gained (+) or lost (-) places off the start line this season, on aggregate, as follows –

Gained:


+21 Massa

+15 Kovalainen

+13 Alonso, Glock

+11 Raikkonen

+8 Maldonado

+8 Perez ***

+7 Schumacher*

+6 Kobayashi, Senna, Vergne

+5 Hamilton

+3 Button

+2 Pic


+2, Karthikeyan

+1 Rosberg, Di Resta, Petrov

Held position: None

Lost:

-1 Grosjean**, Vettel,

-3 De la Rosa

- 5 Hulkenberg

- 7 Webber

-13 Ricciardo

* Senna, Ricciardo and Hulkenberg were all involved in accidents on 1st lap in Australia

** Schumacher and Grosjean collided on Lap 1 in Malaysia, Senna and Perez pitted for wet tyres on opening lap

***Perez punctured on lap 1 in Spain and went to back of field

Pit Stop League Table

Of course good strategy planning also requires good pit stop execution by the mechanics and we have seen tyre stops carried out in less than two and a half seconds by F1 teams. Here again Ferrari leads the way consistently this year.

It is also clear that the field has significantly closed up in pit stops. The top four teams fastest stops were within 4/10ths of a second of each other in Spain. It shows how much work has gone on in this area.

The league table below shows the order of the pit crews based on their fastest time in the Spanish Grand Prix, from the car entering the pit lane to leaving it. The positions from previous race are in brackets.

Worth noting is that Force India continues to perform well above its championship table position and Lotus has seen a massive improvement from 8th in the league to 3rd. Also worth noting is that Marussia did a faster stop than Caterham.

1. Ferrari 19.456 (3)

2. Red Bull 19.624 (1)

3. Lotus 19.777 (8)

4. Force India 19.867 (4)

5. McLaren 19.888 (5)

6 = Mercedes 20.059 (1), Toro Rosso (6)

8. Williams 20.218 (7)

9. Sauber 20.381 (9)

10. Marussia 20.669 (12)

11. Caterham 21.275 (10)

12. HRT 21.471 (11)

Now you've read the briefing, why not go on our our Race Strategy Calculator and see if you can beat the default strategy loaded into it. The calculator is based on a top ten qualifier so, remember, it assumes that you will start the race on used supersoft tyres.

The Race Strategy Briefing is written by James Allen with input and data from several F1 team strategists and from Pirelli.

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