2018 Monaco GP Preview – By Bob Constanduros
And so to Monaco – French air traffic controllers permitting. Actually I’m now sitting in the media centre – no idea of the weather outside – and it’s been pretty painless getting here. I left home at around 04.00 in the morning, Gatwick was rammed with families and people going on holiday, but in spite of being parked in the next county – I’ve never been driven so far to a plane at Gatwick – we left almost on time and arrived in the sunny South of France early. There seemed to be very few people in the terminal, my taxi driver was waiting, and he knew how to avoid the traffic queues coming down into Cap d’Ail which is where I stay. An hour after landing, I was in my hotel.
From there, having unpacked, it was a quick busride – theoretically – into Monaco and a walk to the media centre. Except the bus was full, or so it said on the screen. But it stopped and all the ladies going shopping forced their way into the bus – even though the doors were closing – leaving one innocent little foreigner on the pavement. Me. Still, ‘there’ll be another along in a minute’ as the driver didn’t say and there was and that was pretty rammed too.
Anyway, here I am in the media centre which I think is normally a car park. I’ve walked about 20 meters of the circuit and I’m fully focused on the weekend. This race may be an anachronism and my editor at Autosport back in the seventies used to say it was a ridiculous race but it’s still here and it’s still regarded as the jewel in the crown and it’s still a challenge and the drivers still love it, so who am I to argue?
Is there a secret to being quick around here? How much do aerodynamic tweaks work? Or is it simply a matter of bravery, of skill, precision? It is a fascinating challenge and one that the drivers take up willingly. A couple of years ago someone came up with the statistic that a driver makes an input 200 times per lap. That could be a twitch of the steering wheel (maybe 100 of those per lap), a jab on the throttle, a stamp on the brake, a gearchange (47 of those per lap) or a change of DRS, ERS, differential or whatever. Here, the human brain reveals itself to be a phenomenal computer. It makes changes, reacts to movements, feelings, a slide here, a near miss there, computes what has to be done, how much of a correction, for instance. It shows itself to be probably more efficient than any computer ever built. How many of the drivers would attribute that to their mothers?
There are conversations to be had, decisions to be made, observations to be made at the same time. And yet some of our superstars have had time to sneak a look at the big screen above Tabac corner, to see what the competition is up to. It’s here that drivers really prove their worth and that begins with staying out of trouble (that should be in caps). Actually, it doesn’t matter what you’re driving at Monaco, staying out of trouble is the most important thing of all. Maybe once you’ve set a decent time in qualifying – maybe the second run in Q3 – you can push it a fraction more to extract that final tenth or two and take the risk of a lengthy repair, but up until then, you must simply work your way up to gaining speed. Any mistake will be rewarded by a time-consuming spell in the newly designed garages and will set the programme back, leaving the driver on the back foot for the rest of the weekend.
Some drivers, of course, are pure poetry around this track. Take Ayrton Senna’s famous 1988 lap, for instance. But there are others too. Even Kimi’s lap last year, Daniel Ricciardo around here, Mark Webber too. The funny thing is that different people star here in Monaco to elsewhere. For instance Mark has won several times, Nico Rosberg won three times. Lewis Hamilton has won twice, both times from third on the grid. Sebastian Vettel has won twice, last year and for Red Bull and has finished second three times. Kimi Raikkonen won from pole in 2005; his last pole was here last year. Ricciardo set his first and last pole in 2016. Verstappen has only finished here once, last year, when he started fourth and finished fifth. Alonso has won twice but the last win was 11 years ago.
So different drivers have different performances around here, and don’t for one minute think that this race is going to follow form. This will almost certainly be some teams’ and drivers’ greatest chance of an upset in form, allowing them to get on the podium or take a hard-won point. The race results are littered with people who perhaps shouldn’t have done nearly as well as they did. Think back to Stirling Moss beating the Ferraris in Rob Walker’s Lotus for starters.
It is a two hour helter skelter, two hours of pushing car and driver to the limit, of absolute perfection, chosing the right pressure on the throttle, the precise moment to brake, turn, accelerate in every one of the 19 corners, for 78 laps. At the same time, the driver is probably staring at the back of the car in front, watching and waiting for the tiniest error, for the moment the driver in front just fails to get the power down quite as efficiently as you do, and then capitalising on it, making a move to make space in order to pass.
For the rest of us watching, it is a matter of noting those little errors, those little moments when things do go wrong, when a driver is starting to go slightly wide because his tyres aren’t giving him optimal grip and he’s missing an apex. A driver following will be noticing the same points. And so it goes on for two hours, at the end of which one driver will have scooped the ultimate prize in Formula One. Monaco is special, very special. It may be an anachronism but it is still the ultimate test and still has its place on the calendar. For one year only…