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Anybody's Guess !  
23 May 2001 Volume 3 - Issue 15  

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I had a look at what I wrote last year and decided that I cannot improve on it. So, apart from updating it I repeat most of the description of the Monaco circuit below:

The Monaco circuit is one of the oldest and most established Formula 1 tracks. Although it is by no means the oldest of all venues it certainly would qualify as the most antiquated of circuits as the outlay of the track has not changed in any significant way since the first race was staged in 1929. Chicanes have been added and some changes were made in the 70's when the harbour was reshaped, but in essence it is the same circuit that it has been for the last 70 odd years.

The track is narrow and treacherous. In a sport where the smallest mistake can easily end in disaster Monaco guarantees it. Precision is essential and the slightest lapse of concentration inevitably results in kissing a wall.

The drivers do not like the circuit. Most will agree that in recent history all races were a procession and almost all agree that the track has not been able to keep up with the changes necessary to modernise it. It is hard on most street circuits to provide the safety features of a modern F1 track, in Monaco where almost the entire city was established more than 100 years before the first race, it is virtually impossible.

Despite all the negatives, everyone admits that a season without Monaco is unthinkable. What it lacks in modern track design, overtaking opportunities and high-speed sections is more than compensated for in atmosphere and tradition.

Monaco has always had a reputation as a difficult overtaking circuit. Progress is invariably totally processional although often excitement is added by unforseen events mostly caused by a driver dropping his level of concentration for a second and paying the price that Monaco, more than anywhere else, demands. Here a mistake is far more likely to result in a retirement than any other circuit.

The race will again be campaigned during qualifying, the start and pit stops. Starting grid position will be very important so we will see intense competition for grid position. Monaco is too narrow for the normal overtaking bedlam at the start although I would not be surprised to see Williams gaining position again. As time behind the pace car is almost inevitable, this is not the circuit to push too hard to get clear of the pack. Conserving tyres and fuel consumption, pacing to maintain a comfortable lead to insure against loss of position in a bad pit stop and staying out of trouble and away from barriers and walls is probably the best strategy on the track. Pit stop timing and duration will be very significant as this will be where most overtaking will take place.

It is a very slow circuit. The fastest part of the circuit is the small straight leading up to the first chicane after the tunnel and I will be surprised if the fastest cars reach 290km/H (180mph). There are two other straights (pits/starting grid and the lead up to Massenet) that may exceed 270km/H (169mph) but the rest of the track is a series of short squirts between slow, sharp bends.

Monaco has 12 corners (depending on how one defines a corner) of which the tunnel is the only one that can be navigated at more than 250km/H (156mph). All the rest are well below 160km/H (100mph) and the slowest is the hairpin with speeds below 45km/H (28mph)!

This track will not favour suspensions set up for high downforce as they are not nimble enough to negotiate the slow corners. It is also not a power circuit so we may be surprised by some of the teams that do not have the horsepower to support high downforce configurations.

To be fast in tight slow corners cars have to be set up to take maximum advantage of mechanical grip. Mechanical grip is maximised by providing the car with a suspension that uses gravity to ensure that as much rubber is on the road at all times. That, in turn, implies a softer suspension and, for very slow corners, very soft suspension.

Although power is not as crucial here as it is on most other circuits it is hard to imagine that this will not also be a battle for the lead between Ferrari, McLaren and Williams.

Given their performance to date, it is impossible to guess which of these three, leading, teams will be most likely to produce the degree of mechanical grip that this circuit needs. My guess is that all three have committed to high downforce configurations and have built their chassis with this in mind.

Sauber may well bear watching as we must assume that as they are down on power (using last year's Ferrari engine) they would not have been able to build the same high downforce chassis that the leading teams have. They may have had to rely on mechanical grip to do as well as they have so far this season and. If that is true, they will be a lot nimbler around the tight corners of Monaco.

BAR could do better too but their cars seem to lack the finesse that should be associated with good mechanical grip. I suspect that they too have relied on the power promised by the Honda engine and did not opt for much mechanical grip.

Jordan seems to be a little better, judging by their performance on wet circuits, so they may be surprisingly fast.

Arrows is used to running with little aerodynamic downforce and may also do well, although I cannot see them winning the race.

Benetton may have the drivers to win. They may even have the chassis to win. Unfortunately that is where the good news stops for this team. Although I mentioned before that it is not a circuit that needs a lot of power, I do not think that Benetton has enough power to reach even this low need for power. Until they can run at around the same revolutions as the other teams the Renault power plant is only likely to be fast enough to not be embarrassing in the pit lane.

Jaguar what can I say? Their performance has been so uninspiring so far that I find myself guilty of being so disinterested in this pedestrian team that I did not even bother to look for clues of mechanical grip. I will be very surprised if they do well but don't forget that this is one of Irvine's favourite tracks.

Prost has neither aerodynamic grip nor mechanical grip. Although they have been fairly reliable, they have been slow far slower than Sauber who are using the same engine. There is no reason to assume that they will get their act together for Monaco.

Minardi may do a lot better at Monaco than their normal back of the pack performance. They are down on power could easily circulate just outside of the points from where they may just score a few needed points if a large number of the leading cars retire. They have not been very reliable recently.

In my mind, of the leading teams, McLaren are most likely to be able to adapt to the tight, slow Monaco circuit. On the other hand Ferrari has always managed to do better at this circuit (unless they crashed) and Williams have always built a good mechanical grip chassis in the past. Who knows? We could see a totally different trio of drivers on the podium.

What we do know is that Rubens will not finish in front of Michael Schumacher unless it is by more than one place. Team orders are a way of life at Ferrari.

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