Return of the street fighters

Fernando Alonso, McLaren-Mercedes, Monte-Carlo, 2007, 470150

For the first time since the 1980s Formula 1 has a trio of street circuits on the calendar. Monte-Carlo this weekend will be followed by the Valencia and Singapore street circuits later in the year. And Bernie Ecclestone has indicated he wants more street circuits in the future, including moving the French Grand Prix to Paris.

When street tracks were more common in F1 some drivers were considered particularly good street racers – Ayrton Senna, for example, who excellent at the likes of Monte-Carlo, Detroit and Pheonix.

So who are the best street drivers in F1 today? Here are a few of my picks.

What makes street circuits different to regular tracks? For starters there’s very little room to make a mistake. Plus the tracks are usually bumpier and there are obstacles like kerbs, camber and manhole covers to contend with. And the track surface is usually low on grip compared to a normal racing circuit.

Here a four of today’s F1 drivers who I think are particularly good on street tracks – who do you think are F1’s new street fighters?

Fernando Alonso

He won the Monaco Grand Prix in 2007 and 2006. Last year he did the treble of winning from pole position with fastest lap. He’s been in the top five for the past five years except in 2004, when he crashed while lapping Ralf Schumacher.

Lewis Hamilton

He won at Monaco in the F3 Euroseries (2005) and GP2 (2006) and probably would have won last year had he not lost a few vital tenths on his qualifying lap while passing Mark Webber. And he and team mate Robert Kubica were hugely quicker than the field in the Macau F3 race in 2004….

Robert Kubica

BMW’s Polish star has said in the past how much he enjoys street circuits and it’s not hard to see why. He was twice runner-up in the Macau Grand Prix and finished fifth at Monaco last year.

Giancarlo Fisichella

Fisichella splashed his way to sixth in the pouring rain at Monaco in 1997 and finished in the points there on his next three visits. Last year he scored his best result of the season at Monaco, fourth.

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41 comments on Return of the street fighters

  1. Sav722 said on 19th May 2008, 14:36

    Bourdais could spring a surprise at Monaco, he was excellent at driving bumpy, tight, twisty street courses in Champ Car. Plus he was always quick to learn.

  2. Dan M said on 19th May 2008, 14:58

    Thats pretty much all Champ Car raced on…. The Long beach setup was very similar and he always blew away his rivals (not F1 material but all we can compare him to).

  3. theRoswellite said on 19th May 2008, 16:16

    Possible definition of a real street circuit: one in which you can sit in a…bar, pub, cafe….and watch the race live…suggest earplugs as a first choice on the menu.

    My fingers are always crossed for a first time winner at Monaco…maybe Webber & Red Bull…you can have a “successful” career with just this win.

  4. Jeff said on 19th May 2008, 17:00

    I agree with the drivers everyone has listed, but the man who is going to get their maiden win is going to be quick nick. Don’t ask why, I just have a gut feeling.

  5. Gman said on 19th May 2008, 21:45

    Good topic, and one that we will all have more info on after this season’s races are complete. Until then, we’ll need to work with info such as the Champ Car races for Bourdais, etc. It will indeed be interesting to see how he performs in Monaco, perhaps this will be the breakthrough race many of us have been looking for from him.

    In any event, it’s always a pleasure to see a first-time winner, and perhaps someone who has been strong on this circuit in the past- Fisi, Webber, Hamilton- will set themselves up for a stunner.

  6. Terry Fabulous said on 19th May 2008, 23:02

    Wouldn’t it be awesome if someone other then a Ferrari or McLaren driver took the win.

  7. Wesley said on 19th May 2008, 23:44

    @ Terry Fabulous

    I watched the video of Fernando’s run in with Ralf in ’04 on YouTube….and I can’t stop laughing,he flips off Ralf while he is still spinning out of control..ha,ha,ha !!!

  8. teamorders said on 19th May 2008, 23:45

    Living in Melbourne, I can confirm the Melbourne track a street circuit run on public roads.

    I also thought all, or at least part, of Spa was public roads??

  9. Toby said on 20th May 2008, 0:32

    I wouldn’t rate Trulli as a Monaco master, but he is a supreme qualifier – which is how he got in the position to win (that and keeping a cool head).

    I’d definitely put Webber in there, with Heidfeld (remember his pass on Alonso in ’05?!) and the unproven Rosberg (no real evidence for this opinion, I just rate him highly overall). Interestingly, Kazuki Nakajima is all but admitting that he’s going to nerf it at some point. Reckon the bosses are impressed?

  10. I know I am chiming in late, but I can 100% confirm Melbourne is a street circuit – am looking at it as we speak (my office overlooks Albert Park and I have a great view of probably 60% of the track). Same goes for Montreal – it’s definately public roads, as I have driven it ! Both are similar in that the public roads are situated more in parkland than an actual city-scape which may be where the confusion comes into it. So by my count there are 5 street circuits on this years calendar.

    In regards as to who is the man to watch in Monaco, I’d have to say Alonso. If he were in a better car I’d put money on him winning. As it is, he may still be able to pull something out of the bag and I fully expect to see him on the podium.

    But I also think Hamilton, Kubica and Webber will be ones to watch as well. Their style of driving will suit the turns and twists of Monaco.

  11. Not on topic, but why isn’t Macau an F1 venue?

  12. Trig said on 20th May 2008, 2:45

    Definately watch Webber. If he can pull off another brilliant qualifying, I reckon he’ll punch well above his weight in the race.

    Having said that, Coulthard says the RB4 doesn’t like curbs much – so maybe I spoke too soon.

  13. the limit said on 20th May 2008, 3:50

    Monaco is a circuit for the bravest drivers, the drivers who push a little bit further, a little bit higher than the others.
    Robert Kubica admitted not so long ago that he ‘feels like a real racing car driver when he is close to the barriers’. That what Monaco is all about, riding the curbs, running close to the armco, precision of the highest order. At other circuits, you can make a mistake, and still stay in the race. At Monaco, a mistake is punished without mercy.
    Fernando Alonso, Kimi Raikkonen, Lewis Hamilton, Robert Kubica, if I had to pick four drivers out of the current crop, those would be my selections.
    For the simple reason in that when it comes to precision, and taking risks, they are all very capable.
    The one draw back from Monaco, is the lack of overtaking opportunites.
    The driver I would bet on to win on Sunday, Kimi. I think he will make amends for last year’s gaffe, and take the spoils. Hamilton will be there too, and hopefully BMW Sauber will be back on the pace to give Kubica a decent chance.
    As for Alonso, the car is not strong enough in qualifying so he is going to struggle, which is a shame as he is dynamite at Monaco. Yep, thats about it.

    My top Monaco drivers; Raikkonen, Hamilton, Alonso, Kubica.

    Surprise, surprise, the same as everybody else…

  14. sriram said on 20th May 2008, 4:03

    First thing i noticed when i saw your F1’s new street fighters is just one missing name,Kimi.After his 2006 performance(The One who had the real possiblity of snatching the victory from Alonso until his engine yielded)i would argue that he is the best among street racers.
    I never seen anyone drive the car so close to another in a street race(he drove so close to Alonso that,if Alonso suddenly breaked then Kimi would have crashed hard into him,but he din’t!!!).Thats requires very high driving skills.So in my list Kimi heads the Street Fighters.

  15. You left out Melbourne, which is a street circuit

    The main difference is the surface and the inconsistancies across a lap which make them more challenging.

    I am all for street circuits, would rather see a nice city in the backgorund of a track than desert or wild dogs in a forrest. Thats also why it appeals so much to host countries, they can get great coverage of their cities to a huge audience

  16. and I gotta say, I would love to see a Sydney street circuit replace Melbourne, especially Sydney under lights!

  17. Terry Fabulous said on 20th May 2008, 5:02

    Gday Chunter!

    I think the issue with Macau is safety and the tightness of some of the corners, like ridiculously tight! (But no more so then Monaco I suppose…)

    Maybe they could cut them out and have a race around the rest of the track. Macau is a huge growth area for China with all the Casinos and such.

  18. Terry Fabulous said on 20th May 2008, 5:14

    This move back to strett circuits echoes a trend that is currently well underway in American Baseball.

    Baseball Parks
    Step 1: Play began in neighbourhood grounds with quirks of the area incorporated into the venues. (Shibe Park and Ebbets Field etc)
    Step 2: Then they moved into enormous modern and totally soulless specialty venues in the 60s and 70s. (Vetrans Stadium, Astrodome etc)
    Step 3: Only to move back to their roots in the 90s and 00s by building facilities that imitate the old ball parks (Seattle, Baltimore, Pittsburgh etc)

    F1 Tracks
    Step 1: Racing began in the city streets or local areas and with quirks of the area incorporated into the tracks. (Monaco, Old Ring, Watkins Glenn, Brands Hatch)
    Step 2: Then we moved into enormous modern and totally soulless specialty venues in the 80s, 90s, and early 00s. (New Ring, China, Sepang, Bahrain etc)
    Step 3: Only to move back to our roots in the late 00s by racing at tracks that imitate the old tracks (Istanbul as Spa, Singapore and Valencia as Monaco).

    I certainly hope this trend continues!

  19. Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 20th May 2008, 8:41

    Nik – see the discussion in comments 3-7.

    Chunter – on Macau, tracks are graded by the FIA in terms of how safe they are and other factors. Macau has a couple of kinks that F1 cars would hit at something approaching 200mph, with no run-off, so I doubt it would be considered safe enough. Plus it has that hairpin which I understand has to be permanently covered by yellow flags because it’s not wide enough for cars to pass?

    Hell of a circuit though. It drives me crazy that the F3 race there isn’t broadcast live in Britain (but WTCC is!)

  20. Jean said on 20th May 2008, 9:32

    more than any other circuit , qualifying will make a big impact on the end result , ‘less rain falls during the race. Ferrari fan , would like to see either Kimi or Massa win , but with their first lap warming up tyre issue , may be difficult for either to take pole from McLaren , so I would have to put my money on Lewis. But it wouldn’t be bad to see a surprise , maybe Alonso takes it ?

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