Monaco Grand Prix preview from Bob Constanduros
‘Intense’ has been the watchword of the last couple of Monaco Grands Prix. ‘Disappointment’ could be included in the case of certain drivers and I know that ‘redemption’ is Daniel Ricciardo’s own personal word for this sixth round of the FIA Formula One World Championship.
Quite simply, this is the one they all want to win – apart, it would seem, from Fernando Alonso, although even he has very gracious words about Monaco. And they don’t necessarily want to win this purely because it is the most glamorous – actually glamorous comes some way down on racing drivers’ lists. It is because it is a massive challenge, hugely intense, to borrow that word.
I had to admit that intense is how I have found the last couple of races here. Even as a commentator, I felt quite physically exhausted after the races, if only because it was so intense to follow every single move. But then I’m double the age of most drivers so it was purely relative, but I could roughly understand just how they felt.
There is something going on every second of every lap for those guys. The concentration is massive, it is as much mental as physical although it was interesting to hear Lewis Hamilton talk of the physical demands in Barcelona, that his ‘heartbeat hit the ceiling’ when he jumped onto his team out of parc ferme. No wonder he needed a little sit-down on the podium.
We heard a lot about the physical demands of these new cars before the start of the 2017 season and yet even in testing at Barcelona, that side of things went quiet. We didn’t hear too much more. So Lewis’s confession was the first sign that these wider beasts with their increased grip are actually quite physically demanding, and drivers have suggested that this will definitely be the case around this remarkable circuit. They can also push harder and for longer, which makes it even tougher.
Not only that, of course, but there’s the mental side as well, while also keeping the beast on the road, changing gear, braking, making adjustments, changing maps, talking to the pits – and watching the big screens of course. While at the same time being flung like a billiard ball around 3.337kms of twisty Armco, with increased grip from these wider wheels and tyres.
Talking of tyres, it’s the first race this year where drivers actually chose which tyres they want to use during the weekend. Pirelli still specify the different compounds but drivers can now chose how many of each compound they want. Until now, Pirelli has specified two sets of the hard tyres, four of the softer tyres and seven sets of the softest compound.
Pirelli has chosen soft, supersoft and ultrasoft tyres for this race, for the third time this year. In this instance, everyone has chosen one set of softs apart from the returning Jenson Button who no doubt will use them as acclimatisation aids. (Remember, under the rules up to and including Barcelona, everyone would have had two sets of these tyres). If I then jump to the ultrasofts, everyone has nine to eleven sets of those (rather than seven under the previous rules). Both Mercedes have just nine as do the Toro Rossos, while Renault, Williams and Red Bull have gone for eleven sets. All the others have gone for ten.
All those who have gone for eleven sets, plus Button, have chosen a single set of supersofts, while those who went for nine sets of ultras have gone for three of supersofts. All the rest have gone for two sets; they would have had four sets each under the previous rules but then you have to remember that this is a particular circuit.
It would be expected to be a one stop race, probably but then it would also be expected that the safety car or virtual safety car makes at least one appearance as it has for the last races here. So far, the weather looks pretty settled for the weekend, so hopefully it will remain dry and warm – although not as warm as the UK will be.
I had to interview James Key, technical director at Toro Rosso, for the programme, and I thought I would include some of his words to emphasise that there are many critical areas mechanically. “Monaco is a one-off event for which you have to engineer and plan the car differently because of its layout. It’s got the slowest and tightest corner of the whole season – the hairpin – where you’ll hit 45-50kph. It requires a different steering layout to any other circuit: primarily the steering rack but also suspension, parts of the upright, even the brake ducts are affected, so on its own Monaco steering is quite a big project.
“Mechanically you have a circuit where the authority of mechanical grip is quite significantly increased because you’ve got lots of low speed. Traction is extremely important.”
The extra downforce and wider tyres will mean “things will be happening quicker – and it happens pretty quickly anyway,” according to Key. “The ability to brake later is significantly more than what we’ve been used to before; there’s a few braking zones which are already critical in Monaco. So for the drivers, I think a lap of Monaco will be a very very busy time for them.”
It is this emphasis on increased grip meaning a change in braking zones and yet faster speeds due to improved traction between the 13 braking events which will increase the challenge of this circuit. As for the wider cars, drivers may just use the ‘braille’ method, whereby they will feel just how much space they have around this track. Daniel Ricciardo is already hailing ‘chapeau’ (I take my hat off) to anyone who manages to overtake anyone else. Imagine the situation with 30 odd Porsches in the Supercup support race then!
This has always been a pretty special race, but it just got a little bit more special with new regulations and a busy Formula One. It is the jewel in the crown (I’m beginning to get fed up with that description) but you could also say that it’s the most intense event of an already intense sport. The challenge just reached up another notch.