Considered one of the most prestigious races in the world, the Monaco Grand Prix is the weekend to see and be seen at, with numerous glitzy parties and functions for the super-rich to mingle. Established in 1929 by Anthony Noghes, for whom the last corner on the current circuit is named, the first race saw Bugatti triumphant with William Grover-Williams behind the wheel. It is a circuit at which the sport’s greats traditionally excel, with Ayrton Senna winning six times between 1987 and 1993, his record eclipsing Graham Hill’s five wins in the 1960s. Michael Schumacher has also won five times here, with other F1 legends including Alain Prost, Stirling Moss and Jackie Stewart all multiple winners in Monte Carlo.
In contrast to other race weekends, Monaco’s on-track action commences on Thursdays with the two free practice sessions normally held on Friday taking place, while Friday itself is a day off. Formula One uses this free day to organise elaborate parties and PR events, before the action resumes on Saturday with third practice and qualifying.
As a race, it is something of a throwback to a bygone era, and would never be granted a place on the calendar were it a new circuit seeking entry today. For motor racing fans though it is almost a holy pilgrimage, for while the cars don’t lap particularly quickly, the sheer spectacle of Formula One cars roaring through the tight city streets, allied to the glamour of Casino Square, make it a weekend unlike any other on the F1 circuit.
Pirelli are bringing the supersoft and soft tyres to Monaco in order to maximise the amount of mechanical grip available to the drivers. The softer compound tyres warm up faster, enabling a rapid transition to optimal operating temperatures, but need careful management in order to avoid degradation.
This used to be a race where you would see all sorts of extra winglets and downforce-generating devices suddenly sprout from every car. Those are now banned but teams will maximise the aerodynamics in order to push the car into the track for maximum grip.
The slowest average lap on the calendar, with many second-gear corners and the first-gear Loews Hairpin, but the impression of speed remains due to the setting and proximity of the barriers.
Absolutely the hardest circuit, with 19 turns packed into a two-mile track that winds its way up and downhill, with unforgiving metal barriers lining the track and a paucity of runoff area.
A very, very hard track to overtake on, though as we have seen in other races the combination of DRS and 2012-spec Pirelli tyres ought to mean that more opportunities exist this year than previously. Overtaking chances in Monaco are really limited to Turn 11, the chicane at the exit of the tunnel, and into the first corner at Ste Devote, though both really require a degree of acquiescence from the driver in front.
While the average lap speed is the lowest of all current circuits, the cars get so close you feel as if you could reach out and touch them. The noise created by an 18,000rpm engine reverberating around the Monaco streets is one of those great sounds of motor racing. The event itself can produce great racing and the occasional shock result, with the safety car more than likely to make an appearance.
A well-thumbed ‘Excuses Book’ is a necessity for that moment when the drivers’ confidence oversteps the limits of available grip and they slither inexorably into the Armco barriers with a loud crunch. The challenge starts on Thursday when grip levels change massively due to track evolution, the phenomena of ever-increasing grip as rubber is laid down over the city streets. It is a circuit where drivers need to maximise on-track time, both in order to dial in their setup but also to get into the rhythm of Monaco’s twisting circuit.
With the highest percentage of low speed corners of all tracks on this year’s calendar, the cars will be geared as short as possible to maximise acceleration, placing a premium on traction from the rear tyres. Downforce settings are as high as possible, and every team builds a custom steering rack for the Loews hairpin so that the car can make the corner at around 35mph in first gear.
Most races in recent years have seen accidents occurring at the exit of the tunnel due to a large bump in the track surface in the braking area. This has been ground down for Sunday’s race, which ought to reduce the likelihood of a repeat of Sergio Perez’s 2011 qualifying crash, the severity of which ruled the young Mexican out for the following two races.
In 2011 we witnessed a mesmerising scrap for the win which was cruelly neutered by a technical rule concerning tyres. In the closing stages of the race Sebastian Vettel was leading from Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button – Vettel was required to finish the race on a 30-lap stint while Alonso and Button benefited from fresher tyres in the latter stages and both harried the world champion closely. With doubts arising regarding the lifespan of Vettel’s tyres as the final six laps started, an accident involving Lewis Hamilton, Jaime Alguersuari and Vitaly Petrov saw the Russian’s Renault crash hard into the barriers at the Swimming Pool section, bringing out the safety car. Two laps later the red flag was shown and with cars stopped on the grid it became clear that a tyre change was permissible, equalising the tyre situation for the leading three and leaving the way clear for Vettel to win by 1.1s from Alonso.
* only races held as part of the Formula One World Championship are included ** the races in 1950 and 1963 operated under the European Grand Prix banner
(Stats courtesy of Mercedes GP)