Monaco Grand Prix Preview

Ahead of the Monaco Grand Prix, Sudha Sundararaj takes a look at the venue for the sixth race of the 2017 Formula 1 Season.

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The sixth round of the Formula 1 World Championship will take place this weekend around the twisting and narrow streets of Monaco. The Monaco Grand Prix is one of the oldest and most prestigious races on the F1 calendar. This tiny principality on the French Riviera is the playground of the rich and famous who add a high degree of glitz and glamour to the Grand Prix.

Monaco Grand Prix Preview

The History

Monaco is a constitutional monarchy ruled by Prince Albert II, from the House of Grimaldi. The first motor race was held there in 1929 and the first Grand Prix was held as part of the very first season of F1 in 1950. After a brief break (1951 to 1954), the race resumed in 1955 and since then has run sixty-two times in a row uninterrupted. The very first F1 race held in Monaco was won by Juan Manuel Fangio, the first-ever Grand Prix win for the great Argentine driver. The wackiest F1 race ever is probably the 1996 Monaco Grand Prix which saw only three cars finish the race.

Many F1 drivers reside in Monaco as it is considered a tax haven. In contrast to other Grand Prix weekends, the first two free practice sessions are held on Thursday, not Friday. The yachts of the rich and famous are anchored in the Mediterranean harbor and are a beehive of social activities for most of the week. The drivers turn part-time models during these festivities and walk down the catwalk for charity. The Grand Prix takes place on a largely unaltered, narrow street circuit and has become a must-win event for the top F1 drivers.

The Teams and Drivers

Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna with ten wins between them have made McLaren the most successful team at Monaco (15 wins). Ferrari trails a distant second (8 wins) and has not won since 2001. Red Bull Racing during their dominant period from 2010 to 2012 won three times. Mercedes since then have dominated this race and won the last four races.

During the 1960s, Graham Hill became the “King of Monaco,” winning 5 times for the BRM and Lotus teams. Ayrton Senna then owned the Principality by winning six times from 1987 to 1993, conceding only one win to arch-rival Alain Prost (4 wins) in 1988. Michael Schumacher with five wins is joint second on the leader board with Hill.

Fernando Alonso (2006, 2007) and Lewis Hamilton (2016, 2008) are the double winners on the current grid. Alonso will not be at the race this weekend as he will be racing in the prestigious Indy 500 in the USA. Jenson Button returns for an one-off race to replace Alonso at McLaren. Sebastian Vettel, Jenson Button and Kimi Raikkonen on the current grid have a win each

The Circuit

The 3.337 km street circuit demands high precision driving. The narrow, bumpy circuit surrounded by armco barriers does not allow even the tiniest of errors from the drivers. The twisty, slow nature of the corners demands a high-downforce aerodynamic package on the cars. This is a low fuel consumption circuit, with medium brake wear. The average lap speed is the slowest at any F1 venue at approximately 160 km/h. Unlike all the modern Tilke-built F1 circuits which are featureless and corners are named as Turn 1, Turn 2 and so on, the corners on this circuit have distinct names and great history. The nineteen slow and medium-speed corners on the circuit include some of the most iconic corners in F1.

Sectors, Corners, and DRS Zones

Sector 1 (Turn 1 to Turn 4) begins with a quick uphill sprint on Albert Boulevard into Turn 1 (the Saint-Devote corner). This is a 90 degree right-hand turn into the Avenue d’Ostende, followed by a long left-hander at Turn 3 (Massenet). Coming out of Turn 3, the cars sweep past the famous casino into Casino Square ending in a short straight.

Sector 2 (Turn 5 to Turn 12) starts with Turn 5, the tight Mirabeau corner that leads to the tighter Fairmont hairpin bend. The double right-hander at Portier takes the cars into the only tunnel on an F1 circuit. The light change going in and coming out of the tunnel is dramatic, while the cars lose 20-30% downforce in the turbulent air in the tunnel. The cars decelerate out of the tunnel into a tight left-right chicane, a scene of many accidents, as is Turn 1. This also offers a rare overtaking spot on the track. A short straight leads to Turn 12 (Tabac).

Sector 3 (Turn 13 to Turn 19) starts with a series of a left-right and right-left chicanes which leads to Turn 14 (Piscine) and past the swimming pool, another unique feature on this circuit. Piscine leads to a short straight, followed by a sharp left leading to the 180 degrees tight turn at Rascasse. From here, a short straight leads into the final Antony Noghes (Turn 19) corner, a tight right-hand corner leading into the start-finish straight.

The Monaco Grand Prix has a single DRS zone, with the DRS detection point located after Turn 16 and the DRS activation point located after Turn 19. There is a huge premium in taking pole position in the Principality. The narrow circuit does not allow for overtaking and historically has been won from the front of the grid. In the last 10 races, seven winners have started from pole.

Tyre Strategies

Pirelli tyre choices for this race are the yellow-striped soft tyres, red-striped supersoft tyres and the purple-striped ultrasoft tyres. The drivers have chosen ten or more sets of ultrasoft tyres of the thirteen sets allocated to them. The race is likely to be a one-stop race given the durability of the tyres this season. On the lower temperatures at this circuit, most teams will struggle to bring the ultrasoft tyres into the right temperature window.

Current Form

The close battle between Mercedes and Ferrari for the top spot in the constructors’ title race continues. Mercedes (161 pts) leads Ferrari (153 pts), followed by Red Bull Racing (72 pts) at a distant third. Force India (53 pts) leads the midfield teams. Sauber, through Pascal Wehrlein, scored four points in the last race to open their account for the season. McLaren is the only team yet to score a point.

There have been three winners in the first five races so far. Sebastian Vettel (104 pts) leads the drivers’ title race. Lewis Hamilton (98 pts), Valtteri Bottas (63 pts), Kimi Raikkonen (49 pts) and Daniel Ricciardo (37 pts) complete the top five in the drivers’ championship.

Lewis Hamilton through a mixture of aggressive driving, intelligent strategy and team effort managed to win the previous race in Spain over the faster Ferrari car. Vettel has been the most consistent performer of the season, with two wins and three second places in the five races. Raikkonen has surprisingly clinched pole position is Saturday’s dramatic qualifying session. With Vettel locking out the front row of the grid for Ferrari, the German is in a good position to extend his championship lead. Bottas has kept the struggling Mercedes team’s flag flying with third place on the grid. Hamilton who has struggled all weekend with setup issues on the car, after a disastrous qualification session, starts 13th on the grid. The progress the Briton makes on this narrow circuit, mainly in an effort at damage limitation, will be watched with interest.
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