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One for tradition   
23 May 2002 Volume 4 - Issue 14   

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By the Heretic
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Monaco is one of the oldest Grand Prix circuits still in use. By modern standards, it is totally unsuitable for Formula One racing. Because it wanders through a venue that has changed little since the days of horse drawn vehicles, the circuit layout cannot be changed without disfigurement of this grand old city. At best it should be regarded as formula one's contribution to maintaining traditions.

There are no run off areas. There is very little space for marshals and safety equipment. The pits are crowded and barely offer enough space for the teams to deploy the essential race day equipment. If it was not for the huge and very efficient preparation and organisation for this event, the Monaco Grand Prix would have been a chaotic mess.

Although I can remember several incidents that left cars strewn all over the circuit I cannot remember ever seeing a pace car at Monaco (I am doing this on a plane away from the research and statistics that I normally have around me, so I could be wrong). The event is so well organised that most of the failings are not noticed and any mishap is rectified in remarkably short time.

The start is very close to the first right turn which exits into the only bit of straight road on the circuit (275km/H or 170mph) (and even that has a kink in it) before braking for the big S-bend that ends going around the Casino (125km/H or 77mph). A short squirt on the accelerator and it is down to 75km/H (46mph) for Mirabeau which leads into the famous Grand Hotel hairpin that is negotiated at almost walking pace. Portier, the right turn that leads into the tunnel is not much faster but then they get a chance to blow the cobwebs out of the engines accelerating to near to 300km/H (186mph) along a gentle curve to the Nouvelle chicane just before the left turn (90km/H or 56mph) at Tabac.

After that the cars never get above 200km/H or 124mph through the twisting section to the start of the pit straight (which is actually not a straight but a gentle right curve).

There are no overtaking opportunities on the circuit. Qualifying in pole and getting away from the crowd is the only strategy that will work. Planning very clever pit stops may also work but as the race is always so eventful it will be hard to plan for all eventualities.

Because it will be exceptionally hard to make up for positions during the race, qualifying will be the major factor in determining the outcome. Qualifying will be brutal.

Monaco does not lend itself to even the smallest mistake. A small slide or misjudged corner will end in a touch with the very unforgiving barrier and almost always result in retirement. Where other circuits have run off areas Monaco has steel Armcos. Where other circuits have grass on the other side of curbs, in Monaco it is a concrete wall.

Qualifying may be important but having a car to start in is even more important. Most teams will be taking spare cars for both drivers but many will be rebuilding cars frantically through the night before the race.

Michael Schumacher has a very good track record in Monaco. Out of the last eight races he won 5 (the other three were retirements) and if he wins this race he will equal Senna's record of six Monaco wins. Eddie Irvine is also very good in Monaco having finished fourth or better in every race since 1997.

Fisichella and Salo seem to like this circuit too while drivers like Ralf Schumacher (who normally fares well on circuits that require concentration and consistency) just cannot seem to finish, let alone score points in Monaco.

I believe that the circuit favours drivers that like setting their cars up to be "loose" i.e. that point or turn in well with a tendency to over steer rather than under steer. Drivers that like their cars to under steer are forced to brake earlier to ensure that the nose does not drift into the barriers and are slower as a consequence.

Michael Schumacher, on past history, must be the driver most likely to win in Monaco. Add to that the fact that the Ferrari is the best car on the circuit today and it is almost a foregone conclusion. To finish first, however, he must finish and at Monaco the risk of a small mishap terminating a drivers race is higher than any other circuit.

Because of the strength and speed of the Ferrari we must expect Barrichello to do well too. We know that he will not win the race if Michael could - because team orders will definitely apply again - but he should be faster than the rest of the field.

Based on prior form I do not expect Ralf Schumacher to finish the race. I am sure that by now he also believes that somewhere in Monaco there is a bit of Armco with his name on it.

Montoya will be the wild card of the race. He is as likely to drive a conservative and consistently fast race as he is to go absolutely wild and end the race prematurely for himself and anyone else that is in range. He certainly has the skill to manage a loose, over steering car, so he has the potential to do well.

Of the two McLaren drivers I expect Raikkonen to be fastest. This is not based on anything other than gut feel. Coulthard may have a higher chance of finishing the race as he rarely seems to get flustered behind the wheel while Raikkonen may give in to youthful enthusiasm and make that one little, fatal, mistake.

As power will not feature much in the race the McLarens may be very competitive. Renault also has the potential to do well in Monaco and if they have more mechanical grip (which traditionally they have always had) McLaren may find themselves behind Renault.

Sauber could also do well for the same reason. Their cars seem to be working very well and their lack of power will not matter as much.

It is a pity that the Jordan is doing so poorly this season as I believe that Fisichella has the ability to finish on the podium in Monaco. BAR is still not fast enough to give Villeneuve a shot at the podium.

Even with his fantastic track record in Monaco Eddie Irvine will find it hard to keep up in the Jaguar. He has a semi-reliable car, and with attrition as high as it always is, he may finish in the points again.

I do not think that this is the circuit on which Toyota will do well, but you never know. They do not seem to have a chassis that caters for slow circuits and their straight line speed will not get into play in Monaco.

Arrows are unlikely to do well on this circuit and Minardi are too far down on power even for Monaco.

It is always hard to predict the outcome of a race - in Monaco it is impossible. Because of the narrow, winding, slow track the race will be processional. Small delays in the pits will change outcomes totally and one lapse of concentration will end the race for one or many drivers.

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