2008 Monaco GP preview: qualifying

David Coulthard, Lewis Hamilton, Monte-Carlo, 2007, 470150

The Monaco Grand Prix is Formula 1′s most celebrated race. But the most decisive racing action this weekend will surely happen the day before – in Monaco Grand Prix qualifying.

Overtaking is so difficult in Formula 1 today that it’s almost redundant to remark that it’s unlikely to happen at Monaco. But the tight and slow confines of Monte-Carlo means passes are even more scarce that at the Hungaroring or Circuit de Catalunya.

Qualify off the front row of the grid and you can practically forget about winning the race. The atypical circuit tends to disrupt the form book, so we can expect an especially intriguing session on Saturday. Even if it doesn’t rain…

The Monaco Grand Prix has been won from pole position for the last four years. Before drivers had to qualify with their race fuel loads the optimum strategy was to brim the tanks with fuel and pit as late as possible.

The leading drivers will not do that because they will need a light fuel load to qualify as close to the front as possible. But who will be the driver with the fastest car to opt for a one-stopper, and hope for a favourably-timed safety car period? I’d put my money on Nick Heidfeld, who’s struggled to match his team mate’s pace in qualifying anyway.

McLaren pursued a odd strategy last year, apparently to maximise their chances of getting at least one car home first. Lewis Hamilton took five laps’ more fuel to the grid than Fernando Alonso in the hope he could pit later than his team mate in the race and emerge ahead.

In the event McLaren ordered their drivers to control the pace of the race after the first pit stop in order to prevent themselves being vulnerable to a safety car deployment. This meant Hamilton had to settle for second, which he was plainly unhappy about at the time.

It led to many arguments about whether Hamilton was actually the faster driver over the weekend and whether McLaren let Alonso down by confirming the strategic decision.

But what I always thought was strange was why Hamilton agreed to use such a risky strategy. Given his pace in qualifying, had he carried only two laps’ more fuel than Alonso instead of five, he could have been on that all-important pole position.

I don’t expect anyone who seriously hopes to win the Monaco Grand Prix to go into qualifying with five laps more fuel than his team mate. Indeed, with McLaren and Ferrari both professing to giving their drivers equal treatment, they have some difficult calls to make on strategy this weekend.

Join us for the live blog during Saturday practice, qualifying and the Monaco Grand Prix itself. For more information see the Monaco Grand Prix schedule.

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12 comments on 2008 Monaco GP preview: qualifying

  1. sChUmAcHeRtHeGrEaTeStEvEr said on 22nd May 2008, 13:20

    I think hamilton will take pole ahead of kimi, mainly because kimi likes to go heavier than the rest of the top four. i think kovi will be 3rd kubica 4th , massa 5th and alonso 6th

  2. Chaz said on 22nd May 2008, 13:46

    Many have commented that Monte Carlo is the perfect example for the use of the phrase “more money than sense”. I’m always confused as to why the driver don’t have serious safety concern especially when we think of how so many other circuits being dumbed down. I’m sure its rich and glamorous blah blah blah etc but from a racing perspective its usually quite dull.

    For F1 fans – I noticed that http://www.insidegrandprix.com does a video preview of each race weekend with some interesting information and behind the scenes bits at times.

  3. George said on 22nd May 2008, 14:14

    A pretty definitive and thorough analysis of Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso’s relative speeds at Monaco has been carried out by Mark Hughes on the ITV F1 website. It makes for very interesting reading. Hughes shows that Lewis was the quicker of the two drivers over the course of the weekend – though, of course, as Niki Lauda showed Prost over the course of 1984, that doesn’t guarantee victory. Alonso, despite being the slower of the two (though not by much), still managed to conjure a victory in the principality. I can’t wait for qualifying on Saturday – one of the highlights of the F1 year.

    Second practice still on the track right now, but I thought that the times from this morning made interesting reading.

  4. George said on 22nd May 2008, 14:17

    One more thing that is REALLY striking on the live feed of practice is that you really hear the absence of traction control. I’d be amazed if someone doesn’t bin it under pressure at some point on Saturday or Sunday.

  5. James said on 22nd May 2008, 14:23

    I like the event in spite of itself. The race – if it is good weather – is usually pedestrian. Qualifying however, is a different matter. I love the saturday, watching drivers fling the cars around.

    I think Monaco is one place where the drivers can make a real difference, because it just doesn’t play to an F1 car’s strengths. It’s bumpy, overly tight (Adrian Newey commented about how Monaco uniquely causes relatively hot brake calipers due to repeated, light applications) and the cars just look awkward there.

    A sprinkling of rain – just a bit – would make a good Sunday!

  6. George said on 22nd May 2008, 14:26

    Yes, I agree with James – I have memories of Adrian Newey once commenting on another oddity of Monaco, the tunnel, and saying that although a curve of that radius should be easily flat, because of the roof you get a downwash from the rear wing that upsets the balance, so that whilst the tunnel is flat, it’s not easily so. It’s quirks like this that make Monaco totally unique. Oh, and I agree with one other thing James said – Let’s start the rain dance now ;)

  7. Toncho said on 22nd May 2008, 17:45

    Monaco will be the premiere of the super soft tyres. How do you think that can change the status quo? Will LH be able to use them or obliged to use the soft ones??.

  8. Wesley said on 22nd May 2008, 22:32

    @ Chaz

    We have video previews and reviews of every race here too.

  9. @ George – That wouldn’t surprise me either considering that both practice sessions so far have been disrupted by crashes.

  10. theRoswellite said on 23rd May 2008, 13:42

    @ George

    Aerodynamics inside the tunnel. Now there is a fresh area of discussion for a weekend race that can often be a tad bit overly dissected.

    Thoughts….it would seem like the changing visual cues might be more challenging than anything else.

    ……a psychological element, the unconscious vision of one’s car bouncing around inside a stone tube, might retard speed a bit.

    ….any temperature drop would add to air density
    thus increasing downforce & grip.

    ….a decrease in standing water during rainy periods should increase speed a bit.

    ….would the increased sound have any effect on the driver’s senses?

    ….considering the size of the rear wing, and the height of the tunnel, it seems unlikely that any compression effects could be felt by a car which were induced by that car, especially considering the already disrupted nature of the air if the car was in traffic.

    However, having no degree in aerodynamics, and only the relatively specific training surrounding aviation training, I defer to any comments by my betters…..

  11. theRoswellite said on 23rd May 2008, 14:34

    One last thing concerning qualifying, let’s go for the gusto here…….

    Serious precip……

    Some major mistakes in Q1 and Q2 reduce the normal top runners, resulting in a front row of Rosberg & Kubica, from which Nico drives to victory.

    Sound impossible…..?

  12. I’ve been waiting for the Williams to come alive all year. The car would appear to possess excellent mechanical grip and low-speed handling properties; it is also very slippery (always top 5 through the speed trap at other events) so I suspect high-speed balance has been the issue with it. No problem at Monte Carlo. The fact that Nico has stated he has more in his pocket would suggest that a front row may be possible even without rain. Race win? Hmm. I’d love to dream such a thing!

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