At Monaco best to expect the unexpected

Safety car reflected in a fire marshals helmet. Formula One World Championship, Rd 7, Monaco Grand Prix, Race, Monte-Carlo, Monaco, 28 May 2006.  DIGITAL IMAGE

A marshal keeps tabs on track action in Monaco where anything can happen... and often does

May.14 (Daniel Chalmers) Due to the uniqueness of the Monte-Carlo track, it has had a tendency to produce surprise results most years.

There are a number of reasons why this has been a common theme here including:

  • Slow nature of the circuit means that aerodynamic efficiency is much less important than at most tracks. Therefore this takes away part of the advantage that the top teams often have. Only Hungary and Singapore come close to matching Monaco’s slow and twisty configuration.
  • With Armco barriers surrounding most of the layout there is no margin for error, and this often catches out even the best of the best. Due to this the Monaco GP is very often a race of attrition. As a consequence the safety car is often required, which can completely turn the race on its head.
  • The best drivers can have a huge influence on the lap time unlike the last race in Spain. Perhaps more importantly the track exposes those with weaknesses. It’s no coincidence that the best drivers in F1 history all have a phenomenal record in the principality.
  • The Monte-Carlo lap is short in length and laptime , which results in bunching up the field.
  • Backmarkers are harder to deal with in Monaco than at any other track. Some drivers handle this better than others. This can result in surprises in both qualifying and the race.
  • Due to the near impossibility of overtaking in Monaco it’s possiblefor a slower car out of position to comfortably keep a much quicker car behind them.

Recent surprises in Monaco

L to R: David Coulthard 2nd Winner Olivier Panis and Johnny Herbert 3rd Monaco Grand Prix, Monte Carlo, 19th May 1996

Driving a Ligier Frenchman Olivier Panis won the 1996 Monaco GP against all odds

Probably the biggest shock result Monaco has produced was in 1996 when adding just a few drops of the rain made the immense challenge of tackling the streets of Monte-Carlo even tougher. In that race only four cars finished the race. It was Olivier Panis, starting from 14th on the grid, who won the only race of his career in the Ligier.

Looking back over the last decade of races, Jarno Trulli surprised many by putting his Jordan on the front row alongside Michael Schumacher in 2000. Unfortunately he wasn’t able to finish the race.

Eddie Irvine(GBR) Jaguar Cosworth R2 got the first podium for the Jaguar Team Monaco Grand Prix, Monte Carlo, 27 May 2001 BEST IMAGE

Eddie Irvine got the first podium for Jaguar in 2001

In 2001 Eddie Irvine made the most of Monaco’s ability to produce a high number of race retirements to put his Jaguar on the podium alongside the two Ferraris of Michael Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello.

In 2002 Ferrari absolutely obliterated the opposition all season long. Monaco though provided a brief respite. David Coulthard won the 2nd Monaco GP of his career. That season Mclaren was never anything more than the third best car on the grid.

Second place Michael Schumacher (GER) Ferrari, left, congratulates race winner David Coulthard (GBR) McLaren Mercedes. Monaco Grand Prix, Rd7, Monte Carlo, Monaco. 26 May 2002. BEST IMAGE

2002 race winner David Coulthard is congratulated by second placed Michael Schumacher

In the final laps Coulthard managed to hold off Schumacher’s mighty machine, tailor made to his every strength, on strong Bridgestone tyres, and let’s not forget his incredible record in the principality. This made this victory all the more remarkable. Coulthard was always very strong in Monte-Carlo, and this was a fine example of a Monaco GP where the driver made the difference .

2004 was another season, which Ferrari completely dominated, but again at Monaco they were beaten. Jarno Trulli secured a stunning pole position in his Renault, and led the race from beginning to end, closely followed by Jenson Button’s BAR.

Race winner Kimi Raikkonen (FIN) McLaren celebrates on the podium. Formula One World Championship, Rd6, Monaco Grand Prix, Race, Monte Carlo, Monaco, 22 May 2005. DIGITAL IMAGE

2005 race winner Kimi Raikkonen

In 2005 Mclaren and Renault were the pacesetters. Kimi Raikkonen duly won the race but Williams surprised by claiming the other two places on the podium. Both Williams drivers impressively overtook Fernando Alonso in the closing stages off the race.

Williams provided the shock again in 2006 as Mark Webber competed with Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen for race victory. He was right on their tail for a number of laps, and more importantly had more fuel in his car, so could have leapfrogged the pair of them during the pit stops, and won his first race. Unfortunately the reliability of the Williams that year stopped him from claiming a historic result.

2008 was a wet race and although Lewis Hamilton won the race BMW’s Robert Kubica was the star of the show finishing in 2nd place. Arguably he would have won that race had Hamilton’s tag with the barrier not inadvertently placed him on the optimum strategy.

Who will provide the surprise this year?

Robert Kubica (POL) Renault R30. Formula One World Championship, Rd 6, Monaco Grand Prix, Practice Day, Monte-Carlo, Monaco, Thursday 13 May 2010.

Robert Kubica during Thursday practice

If you are currently making your mind up on who to place your outside bet on, then Robert Kubica is your man.

So far Renault have been just behind the top four pace wise, and been relying on grabbing every opportunity possible to win big points. The rain affected weekends in Australia, Malaysia and China were all opportunities they took with both hands.

Monaco represents another great opportunity. However they may not have to just resort to relying on rain or errors. They have the pace this weekend to potentially compete for a podium on merit.

Due to the re-fuelling ban the wheelbases on most of the 2010 challengers have grown longer as a result. The exception to the rule is Renault. The Renault engine has very good fuel consumption so therefore doesn’t need as much fuel to finish the race. This meant that Renault were able to install a smaller fuel tank.

This in turn allowed the team to use a shorter wheelbase, one of the shortest of all the 2010 cars.

Monaco Pit Babes

There are many curves at Monaco....

On most circuits the length of the wheelbase doesn’t make a huge difference to the performance of the car. However on circuits, which are either very slow or very fast (one of the two extremes) it can be a massive influence.

A very slow circuit such as Monaco suits a short wheelbase car. A short wheelbase makes the car more nimble and driveable in slow corners. The longer wheelbase cars will find it more difficult.

Monaco will also throw away one of Renaults weakest playing cards. Although the Renault engine may be the best to have in terms of fuel consumption, it lacks power compared to Ferrari and Mercedes. In Monaco there are no really quick sections (with perhaps the tunnel as an exception) so this weakness won’t disadvantage the team. Better still, teams who use an F-duct won’t be able to make much use of them if at all, which also plays into Renaults hands.

Robert Kubica (POL) Renault. Formula One World Championship, Rd 2, Australian Grand Prix, Preparations, Albert Park, Melbourne, Australia, Thursday 25 March 2010.

Robert Kubica can be expected to do the unexpected

Also this is the sort of track that Kubica thrives on. He is one of those drivers who can extract more pace than the car actually has. We have seen this time and time again throughout his career so far. Therefore expect him to do very well at a track where the drivers make a big difference.

Already during free practise he has looked very happy and confident in the car and was one of the most impressive drivers to watch tackling the circuit.

A win is probably unlikely (but shouldn’t be ruled out altogether) for Robert this weekend, however a podium is very much a distinct possibility.

Other surprises could include Force India’s Adrian Sutil. Sutil was running 4th in the 2008 Monaco GP until Kimi Raikkonen right behind lost control of his Ferrari and took Sutil out of the race. Sutil will probably be delighted Raikkonen isn’t racing in Monaco this weekend.

Williams are also a team with a good recent history on street circuits, where their aerodynamic disadvantage to the top teams, doesn’t hamper them as much.

Overall with Mclaren, Ferrari and Mercedes’ bid to prevent Red Bull from winning, and seeing who can spring a surprise it should be an interesting Monaco GP weekend.