Monaco Grand Prix: thoughts on the start, the strategies and the weather

Felipe Massa, Ferrari, Monaco, qualifying, 2008

Ferrari have the Monaco Grand Prix as good as won before the start has even been given on tomorrow’s race, right?

Certainly from a statistical point of view it’s highly unlikely that the chasing pack will be able to disrupt Felipe Massa and Kimi Raikkonen and the battle for victory is likely to be an all-Ferrari affair.

But what role will the start, the weather and the strategy have to play in the Grand Prix? Here are some thoughts.

Starting strategy

It’s unusual to see changes between the drivers right at the front of the field at the start of the Monaco Grand Prix. On the last three occasions the leaders have held position on the first lap.

Lewis Hamilton, however, must be eyeing up his chances of passing Kimi Raikkonen at the start. In 2003 and 2004 the third placed driver was able to pass the second placed driver at the first turn.

But the odds are still stacked against him. Ferrari will likely have a strategy planned out for the first corner just as McLaren did last year, with Raikkonen aiming to tuck in behind Massa just as Hamilton took up station behind Fernando Alonso.

First turn

Already this weekend drivers have been penalised for cutting across Sainte Devote. The low kerbs at Monaco’s first turn are easy to cut across and seven GP2 drivers took the short cut in today’s race.

One of them, Adrian Valles, moved up from fifth to fourth place that way. But the stewards soon punished him with a drive-through penalty.

None of the other six drivers lower down the order were punished even though it looked like some of them made no effort at all to get around the corner properly.

In last year’s Grand Prix Takuma Sato and Christijan Albers cut the first corner at the start, gaining a position each over Anthony Davidson, but neither were punished. Keep an eye out at the start of tomorrow’s race for more of the same.

Rain

The prospect of rain has hung over most of the weekend and did make a brief appearance during this morning’s practice session.

Various weather forecasters including Meteo France (the agency used by F1) expect rain to fall during tomorrow’s race.

Rainfall could do dramatic things to the race pattern. Last year of the top four drivers it was tomorrow’s polesitter Felipe Massa who looked the least convincing in the rain, notably in losing the lead to Alonso when rain fell on the Nurburgring. If Massa’s Ferrari proves slower in the rain than the chasing pack we could quickly see a Monte-Carlo traffic jam develop.

Rain could cause all kinds of additional complications for race strategists.

For example, the drivers in the top ten of the grid will have less fuel on board than those behind them. If any of those top ten drivers pits for fuel and ends up behind any of the drivers who started outside the top ten, and rain then falls, the drivers who started further down the grid are perfectly poised to take advantage.

When working out what wet weather does to race strategy it’s important to remember that wet weather running requires far less fuel than dry weather running.

And of course wet weather often leads to safety car periods. And as we saw at Melbourne and Catalunya the poorly thought-out safety car rules can hurl a wrecking ball through drivers race strategies completely at random.

What strategies are the leaders running?

It’s extremely difficult to infer from the qualifying times exactly what fuel levels the top ten drivers are using. However from comparing this year’s qualifying times with last year’s it seems as though the leaders have slightly more fuel on board than in 2007, possibly because of concerns over the weather.

2007 Q2 Q3 Difference First pit stop
Felipe Massa 1’16.034 1’15.967 -0.067 26
Lewis Hamilton 1’15.479 1’15.905 +0.426 29
2008 Q2 Q3 Difference First pit stop
Felipe Massa 1’15.110 1’15.787 +0.677 ?
Kimi Raikkonen* 1’15.404 1’15.815 +0.411 ?
Lewis Hamilton 1’15.322 1’15.839 +0.517 ?

*Raikkonen did not set a time in Q2 in 2007

On the face of it the large gap between Massa’s Q2 and Q3 time this year might suggest he was heavy with fuel.

However the fact that he set his Q2 time quite late in that session when the track surface was more favourable, therefore allowing him to set a better time, probably has more to do with it. How much time was the track worth later in the session compared to earlier on? Fernando Alonso and Nico Rosberg each found 0.7s, so a conservative estimate would suggest it gave Massa a couple of tenths.

This suggests two things to me: first, that we will see drivers pit a little later than we did last year – possibly by no more than a lap or two.

And second, that either Lewis Hamilton is carrying one or two more laps fuel than the Ferraris are, or he failed to get the maximum out of his car in qualifying for the second race in a row.

All will be revealed tomorrow, weather permitting.

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8 comments on Monaco Grand Prix: thoughts on the start, the strategies and the weather

  1. frecon said on 25th May 2008, 0:53

    I think fuel is not so important in Monaco as usually is in other circuits. Today I’ve heard 10 kg of fuel makes car 2 tenths slower. So, in order to gain 1 tenth in Q3 you need to loose 5 laps in first stint. i think is too much.

    About the rain. Today in Spain news have talked about the last two wet races in Monaco. Specially the one won by Panis (1996), starting in P14, and with only 4 cars ending the race.

  2. Loki said on 25th May 2008, 3:43

    If there is rain, and I hoped to whoever is overwatching I’m wrong, then I have least faith in Massa to do the job of running pole to victory (which is about the only thing he seems to be good at). His exuberence could get the better of him, we’ve seen it in dry conditions and with traction control off, and him “not liking” Monaco that much, well…the math don’t add up. Worst of all, I hope he doesn’t compromise Raikonnen, in the sense that Massa falls off and Raikonnen collects the shards – which would be a disastrous result for Ferrari, especially having achivied what they have in Qualification given the history.

    I’d place Raikonnen over Massa, given the circumstances, that Raikonnen will keep up with Massa and be longer fuelled to slingshot Massa after the pitstops (or seemingly so as a cynic would say), although I wouldn’t be impressed if he has a lapse in concentration and smack into a barrier (a la previous years qualy).

    I don’t discount Hamilton being there for Ferrari’s shortcoming’s in all this – he probably will have a stab at the mission impossible of overtaking at the modern F1 Monaco, but he’ll be sensible enough (he’s learnt enough to do so anyway) to have a calm head and just wait (again, he’s already had this experience behind Alonso previously). He will be right up there, hungry for the Monaco victory, to dive through any holes that Ferrari have left or introduce.

    Even if it’s a dry race, it’ll be interesting to watch (for the first time in moons) the drivers without traction control within the tight confines of Monaco – this may seperate those who have adapted, and can sustain the full wrath of limited space, to those who still need some mileage to find the sweet spot. So watch the atrition rates – if Olivier Panis won it, then there’s nothing to say Sutil or Fisichella can too.

    As noted, all will be revealed tomorrow. What I hope for is not rain itself, but rain introduced just after a window of pit stops so that the teams are more than hard worked and to strategize whatever comes up next (please, more rain).

    Who knows, maybe Ross Brawn’s expertise could come in handy for Honda (even though he’s not in the same particular role).

  3. Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 25th May 2008, 9:05

    Four hours away from the start of the race and the track is wet and rain is falling.

    More updates from me between now and the start of the Live Blog on Twitter – click here.

  4. So, Keith, the sky will be dry by the race. That´s a pity. If does not rain it is going to be a parade of cars (very fast cars indeed) during two hours. The only overtaking is going to be in the pits.
    But if rains through the race It is quite interesting. Then Rosberg has a great opportunity of winnig, and I do not rule out DC. He goes for one pit. Dont forget that in P3 in the wet the times sheet was FA, NR, DC, KR, FM. Lewis and Kovi did not match any time as they did not want to take any risks.

    Please Rain!!

  5. Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 25th May 2008, 9:46

    I wouldn’t claim to be a weathe man, Santiago, but I understand more rain is expected.

  6. tom said on 25th May 2008, 10:32

    looking at the webcams it looks like it is now brightening and the track is drying out a bit

  7. frecon said on 25th May 2008, 11:22

    Usually changing weather is funnier than wet races. At least I enjoyed more China 07 than Japan 07.

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