Start, Monte-Carlo, 2010 Monaco Grand Prix

Super-soft tyres which ‘last ten laps’ will dictate Monaco strategy

2011 Monaco Grand Prix previewPosted on | Author Keith Collantine

Start, Monte-Carlo, 2010
Start, Monte-Carlo, 2010

There won’t be many races where tyres aren’t a big factor this year.

But they will be especially crucial in Monaco as Pirelli bring their super soft tyre for the first time. The red-walled tyre will be offered alongside the soft.

Pirelli say the super-soft: “has an anticipated range of fewer than ten laps: even less at the beginning of a race when the cars are full of approximately 200 litres of fuel.” Three ten-lap stints on super-softs would lead drivers needing to complete 48 laps on their remaining soft tyres.

Practice will give an indication to whether this prediction is true, but if so it will present the teams with some tough strategic choices. Could this finally be the race where someone in the lower reaches of Q3 takes a gamble on starting on the harder compound tyre and makes it work?

Front runners

Sebastian Vettel arrives at the Monaco Grand Prix as the reigning world champion, but he’s yet to win F1’s most prestigious race.

He drove a magnificent race on his F1 debut here in 2008, finishing fifth in the rain for Toro Rosso.

But he crashed out in 2009 and was beaten by team mate Mark Webber here last year.

Another win this weekend would be his fifth of the year which, along with his second place in China, would match the best ever start to a season achieved by Nigel Mansell in 1992 and Michael Schumacher in 1994.

It’s hard to see a driver in this kind of form getting beaten, but the unpredictable nature of the track combined with the changes in racing this year brought about by the new Pirelli tyres could present his rivals with an opportunity.

Ferrari anticipate that the switch to softer compound at this race will play into their hands having struggled on the hard tyres in Spain.

Fernando Alonso’s race last year was ruined when he damaged his chassis in a crash in practice. He has a great chance to make amends for that this year – he dragged the maximum out of the Ferrari in Spain and Monaco is a track that rewards a driver who can wring everything out of his car.

Another driver who had a forgettable weekend last year was Jenson Button, who retires early on after a cover had been left on one of his radiators, causing terminal overheating.

McLaren showed strong race pace in Barcelona and Button proved once again that if anyone can nurse an extra few laps out of a set of tyres, it’s him. That could serve him very well this weekend.

DRS

The Drag Reduction System is likely to be far less useful for overtaking in Monaco’s narrow confines. It will be used to give drivers a chance of overtaking into the first corner, Sainte Devote.

Following complaints from some drivers, the FIA has taken the unusual step of banning them from using it through the corner in the tunnel on safety grounds. This is the first time they have prevented drivers from using DRS outside of the normal restrictions.

Even in Spain, where DRS proved far less effective, there were several dozen passes. Whether the drivers can complete this many overtakes in Monaco without incident will depend on how co-operative they are with each other.

The safety car was deployed four times in last year’s race and it wouldn’t be a surprise if it made its first appearance of 2011 this weekend.

This doesn’t just go for the race, but qualifying as well. Despite worries from some drivers, Q1 passed without incident last year.

But that was partly because drivers knew that if one lap was spoiled their tyres would be good for another go. That will probably not be the case with Pirelli’s fragile super-softs.

That means striking the balance between qualifying well and preserving tyres will be all the more difficult at Monaco.

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