Can Ferrari win their first Monaco Grand Prix since 2001 this weekend?
With the teams using softer tyres for the race – the same compounds used in Bahrain, where Ferrari won – this could be their best opportunity.
But with a chance of rain and hectic qualifying session in prospect, we could be in for some unpredictable racing this weekend.
F1’s toughest track
As new F1 circuits become ever more alike, three cheers for Monaco’s cramped, slow layout and punishing lack of run-off.
Many of its corners offer zero margin for error, so the chance of getting through qualifying and the race without red flag or safety car interruptions are low.
Changes to the track and the cars will make Monaco extra-tricky this year. The second kerbs at the harbour chicane and the exit of the swimming pool complex have been raised to discourage corner-cutting.
About one-third of the road which comprises the track has been re-surfaced since the last race. The new section runs from the first corner (Sainte Devote) up the hill to the left-hander at Massenet, then from Casino all the way to Portier.
Drivers may find the grip levels in these sections different to what they are used to. But Monaco is a circuit where track ‘evolution’ – how much grip varies during a race weekend – plays a significant role.
The track gets faster throughout practice, but as Monaco practice is held on Thursday instead of the usual Friday, by the time the F1 cars return to the track on Saturday morning the track if has often become more ‘green’ and less grippy.
Yesterday McLaren’s Martin Whitmarsh spoke of the increased challenge the drivers faced at turn one this year. With four more cars than last year and drivers carrying a full fuel load with cool tyres and brakes, threading the field through Sainte Devote will be harder than usual – and it only takes one driver to get it wrong for there to be a crash:
The really, really good drivers will manage it, some others will find it beyond their capability.
The heavy fuel load should also make the fast right-hander in the tunnel more of a challenge. The bend was previously taken flat-out but with a high fuel load this may no longer be possible at the start of a race. It’s up to the driver to work out when he can tackle it without lifting – with a trip to the barriers waiting for anyone who tries it too soon.
We all expected the front-running teams to whinge about how difficult qualifying will be in the run-up to the Monaco Grand Prix. Sure enough, they tried to push through a change to keep the slower teams out of the action.
Fortunately their complaints fell on deaf ears, leaving them to work out how to get the best lap time done in a 20 minute session featuring all 24 cars.
This is hardly unprecedented in F1 – back in 1992 30 cars took to the track for qualifying, the slowest of which was 6.2 seconds off the pace. Yes, they had a longer session to set a time in 1992, but track evolution was the same then as it is now and inevitably everyone hit the track in the dying seconds of qualifying.
So how will the teams tackle qualifying on Saturday? The usual practice of sending the cars out for separate runs may be dropped and instead teams could send their cars out with more fuel to do a series of laps. That would maximise their chances of getting a traffic-free run in.
Read more: Should Monaco qualifying be split? (Poll)
Who will have the best car?
After Red Bull’s crushing performance in qualifying at Spain their rivals will be hoping the RB6 doesn’t enjoy the same massive margin of superiority on such a completely different type of circuit.
Low-speed grip and traction are vital here – the high-speed downforce performance exhibited by the RB6 will count for little. McLaren have had some concerns over their low-speed performance and this track will be a serious test of how strong they are in this are.
This could present a major opportunity for Mercedes and Ferrari. Particularly the latter, who suspect their car may be better suited to the combination of tyres being used at Monaco this weekend – super-soft and medium. These have only been used at Bahrain this year, which is the only race Ferrari have won in 2010.
Complicating the picture even further is the threat of rain. There is rain in the area over the next few days and although at the moment Sunday looks likely to be dry, there is a chance of rain during qualifying.
Read more: Mixed weather forecast for Monaco
Drivers to watch
Four driver to keep an eye on this weekend. Name your top picks in the comments.
Felipe Massa – Has blamed his recent difficulties on having to use the soft and hard tyre compounds for the last four races. He’s looking forward to using softer tyres this weekend:
This weekend, even if there will be no major changes on the F10, I expect we can be more competitive, mainly because Bridgestone is bringing the Super Soft and Medium tyres here and I much prefer using this combination. We had the same tyre choices in Bahrain, where I was much happier than at the other races, in terms of the grip levels I found from the tyres.
Nico H?â??lkenberg – Had a mixed weekend in Spain – he crashed in second practice but bounced back to beat team mate Rubens Barrichello for the first time in a dry qualifying session. He was close to the Brazilian’s pace in the first stint before picking up car damage.
Let’s see if the reigning GP2 champion can deliver a little more of his potential on the most difficult track on the calendar.
Robert Kubica – Monaco is a circuit where the driver can make a difference and Kubica, despite not having a car capable of battling for wins, has driven brilliantly for Renault this year.
He shone in the wet race here in 2008, and he’s the driver the top four teams will fear most in qualifying.
Bruno Senna – Piloting the slowest car in F1 is an unenviable task in Monaco. Even more so for the nephew of the man who won this race five times in a row from 1989 to 1993.
After crashing out on the first lap in Spain, Senna needs to keep out of trouble and bring the car home this weekend.
The Monaco Grand Prix on F1 Fanatic
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