My Monaco race was not underdog victories in the same vein as my Chinese and Turkish wins, but I’m posting it anyways because of its significance in my F1 2011 career. Yes, I’m not posting my entire career here – some of my drives were just plain quiet with nothing happening, and would bore you if I did one of my race-report style summaries, so I’m just posting the better ones :P
I started off the weekend positively. In Monaco I always do setup finetuning over Free Practice, so I switched to Long Race Weekend momentarily as I tested different setups. It’s not only to fine hone my setup, but also to get a good feel for the car… a good confidence and balance to perfect the rhythm.
I then switched back to a short race weekend for qualifying, but it was wet. My setup in Monaco would be what I already consider heavily skewed to a wet setup – ie it has similar elements to what I would put in a regular wet setup, so I didn’t bother changing anything. And as you might have noticed I’m not too bad a wet weather driver in F1 2011. I banged in 1 single flier, which to confound belief was 3s quicker than the P2 man. Not remembering that the conditions could change – I skipped off to the race. Thankfully, they didn’t. Pole position, by 3s – Ayrton, eat your heart out ;) (note that this was a joke. Please don’t set the Senna fans on me!)
The race started, and I did my Monaco race setup change – add 1 click to the rear wing to help preserve the rears on traction. It was going to be a long 100% race. The strategy screen recommended I go 16 option laps, 16 option laps, 23 prime laps, 23 prime laps. Not confident of my tyre wear, I changed direction – 15 option laps, followed by 3 identical prime stints of 21 laps each.
I gunned it off the line, not even needing KERS or fast engine map to get to Ste. Devote first. My first lap I wet out not with a plan to push, but just to rebuild a rhythm, which would pay me back dividends afterwards. To my surprise, Even with a plan of keeping it on the black stuff, my Sector 1 was 1.5s quicker than Alonso’s who was now in P2. First lap out of the way, I was 1.9s ahead. The rhythm was coming to me beautifully as I understood how late I could brake, how quick I could corner, etc. Being on an alternate strategy I was not taking chances with trying to preserve tyres. My strategy was simple – pedal to the metal.
For the first 13 laps, the gap either increased or stagnated – not once did Alonso gain on me. Even if I had a bad lap it was still enough to counter Alonso’s charge. And yes, he was on options too. Towards Tabac in L14, I felt the rears going away as I had a microslide on the exit of the fast swimming pool chicane, and again on the exit of the slower Piscine chicane befor e La Rascasse. It was still drivable though – and boy was it fun, correcting constantly. I ignored that and decided to stick to strategy. Lap 14, I set a fastest lap, ironically. Alonso was now 9.7s behind. However the corners began to come on heavier as my rears degraded more than the fronts. Microslides galore on the exit of corners, and finally I had a major wake up call at Tabac. As I ran up high on the exit of Tabac to get a good run through the fast chicane, I felt the rear sliding – drifting, almost – through the entry of the chicane. However given the small amount of time before turning right for the exit, it was a nothing. As I did turn right though, the sudden weight transfer nearly had me in a tank slapper. I saw it coming before it actually happened, and I straightened the car out to settle it. Not enough. The tail started to kick out towards the exit wall, and I applied opposite lock very quickly. Just a touch – literally the length of time it took to blink. I didn’t hit the wall – but was closer than I had ever been throughout the race weekend. I changed my line through Rascasse and Piscine – allowing the car to settle and straighten out to power out in a late apex. I couldn’t afford to put any sort of compound load through the rears. I forgot that slightly on pit entry, resulting in a glorious drift entry into the pits.
Given that my second stint was on the primes – I decided to kick it hard from the off. Obviously, I could realistically drive only 14 laps on the option when the AI recommended 16. I have a worse record on the prime in terms of tyre life and how well I kept up with the tyre life predictions, hence my concerns. How would I fare? I came out in P5, behind ALO, MAS, WEB and MSC. To be fair though – I was only just behind Schumacher. He was less than half a second ahead, judging visually. Worried that I would be rubbish at preserving the tyres, I anticipated I would be doing at least one stop more than the AI – maybe two stops more, even. If I was going to win this race, I would have to cover enough of a gap for those extra stops. I concentrated on keeping tight in Massenet, for a better run through Casino. Seeing how my fresh primes bit more readily than Schumacher’s worn options, I sensed an opportunity, and ignored the bump on the exit of Casino, charging downhill. Schumacher, doing the regular zigzag line to avoid the bump, was alongside me as he went back for the braking of Mirabeau. I braked hard on the outside to intimidate him – to force him on the defensive for Mirabeau and the hairpin – but then I saw it. Things seemed to go in slow motion, but there seemed to be such a wide piece of track at Mirabeau, and I rolled off the brakes earlier than Michael, and swept around the outside of Mirabeau, even having enough in hand to hit back to the racing line for the hairpin. Fantastic move.
(I instantly hit instant replay and watched it for 5 or 6 times, marveling at my racecraft and genius. I recorded my computer screen showing the replay with my phone – YouTube embedding coming soon :P)
Looking at the position counter, I was shocked. I wasn’t in P4 now – I was in P2. I looked to the race director (which I practically consider my race engineer, given that it has all the laptimes and stop strategies of the others). WEB and ALO had retired. I suspect due to tyre failures? I don’t know. I often see these phantom retirements in Monaco and in Hungary. MAS was now leading. As I braked for the tunnel – I saw a flash of red exiting the Nouvelle complex and going into the straight up to Tabac. I had just about made up a stop on MAS! I could win this race again! I braked with renewed confidence and drove my heart out into Tabac, where I saw red flashing by the swimming pool chicane. I had 15 lap fresher tyres, albeit primes to his options. As I entered the swimming pool though, I saw Massa slowing down. A LOT. I immediately thought that this was a similar issue to what ALO and WEB had, and accordingly planned out. I had committed to both kerbs on the chicane, and on exit, I stayed with full right lock, and I swerved out – almost touching MAS’s right rear in the process, and I braked very cautiously. I was worried that with a tight entry, I might not make it, and I knew MAS wouldn’t try anything silly given his tyres. I worked on rebuilding my rhythm, which came to me fairly quickly. At this point I saw KOB was in P2, HEI in P3 and MSC in P4. Behind them was VET. True to form, KOB, HEI and MSC all pitted on that lap (16). VET stayed out, but with so much fresher tyres I could gap him, no problem. I streamed away at a rate of seconds per lap.
VET stayed out all the way until L20, which rang alarm bells. 78-20 was 58, and if he could make options last 20 laps, he could definitely make primes last 29 laps. KOB and HEI resumed ahead of VET, with MSC in God-knows-where, but VET with 4 lap younger tyres, even though they were primes, were quicker than both. In my mind, HEI and KOB, being 23s (a full pitstop) behind me, were now no factor. It was 2-stopper VET who was a threat. On L32, KOB and HEI pitted once more, before I made my own second stop, albeit they were on options. I pitted 2 laps later, with a wildly oversteering car. I had done 19 laps on those primes – meaning 18 of them were done with reasonable balance. As I pitted, I racked my brain. What combination of a 14-lap option tyre, and an 18-lap prime, do me through from L34-L78? That was 44 laps. I made the call to do 18 laps on the prime again, up to L52, before 2 option stints, each 13 laps long. 4 stop it was.
VET at this point in time was 46 seconds behind, which was cut down to 24s behind after my second stop – relatively speaking, I had 2 more stops and he had 1 more stop, if my predictions were correct – and I had that 1 extra stop in terms of time gap.
I never lost the lead from that point – and I stuck true to my 18 lap prime stint, and double 13 lap option stints. VET(P2) and HAM(P3) had done 2 stops, HEI(P4), KOB(P5) and MSC(P6) had done 3 stops each. I was the only one to do 4-stops. I really needed to work on my throttle control on traction. A brilliant repeat of Schumacher’s Magny Cours 2004 victory in a way, with 36s of a gap this time.