2008 Monaco GP preview: qualifying

Posted on | Author Keith Collantine

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.