Monaco Grand Prixview

By on Sunday, May 20, 2012

Motor racing is not a glamorous sport. A few weeks ago at Thruxton, it was freezing, the rain was lashing down, and walking around the paddock was a game of dare with the mud, while the hospitality suites were leaking. Similarly, anyone who has ever used the Portaloos on the Kemmel Straight at Spa Francorchamps will testify that this is as far removed from ‘glamour’ as humanly possible. Yet for a week or so on the Riviera, Motor racing suddenly becomes the centre of the glamour world and the Monaco Grand Prix is commonly referred to as the ‘jewel in the crown’. However, as you’re reading this preview, you probably don’t care much for the glamour and thus we’ll leave it at that.

The mere concept of a race around Monaco is utterly ludicrous. If you proposed the Circuit de Monaco as a new grand prix nowadays, you’d be laughed away. In fact, FIA regulations concerning tracks would render Monaco illegal (as is Eau Rouge, such is life) yet the Monaco Grand Prix is a fantastic sporting event. There has been an increase in street circuits over the past few years but while we all love Montreal and Albert Park, there is nothing quite like Monaco. One mistake and you’re in the wall; as Nelson Piquet famously said ‘It’s like riding a bicycle around your living room. Judging from 2012 form, it wouldn’t be a huge surprise if someone ended up in the harbour. On a serious note, there have been some safety improvements. The incredibly dangerous pit exit has had visibility improved (although it would be better with a redesigned exit that doesn’t involve the cars being flicked out at a stupid angle) while the bump approaching the Nouvelle Chicane has been flattened, due to the number of accidents there recently, and the barrier moved further down the track.

History

Although the Monaco Grand Prix pre-dates the Formula One World Championship, the event has been part of the championship since 1955. Graham Hill was known as Mr. Monaco throughout the 1960s for his domination of the event, while more recently the circuit is synonymous with Ayrton Senna. The Brazilian won six times in the principality although his most famous moment came in the race he didn’t win – in 1988 – where he was leading by a huge margin, only to make a simple mistake at Portier. His anger was so great that he stormed off to his apartment for several hours. The 1982 running of the race is famous for a host of calamities near the finish that led BBC commentator James Hunt to remark that ‘we’re waiting for a winner and we don’t seem to be getting one’. With four laps remaining, Alain Prost crashed exiting the tunnel, handing the lead to Ricciardo Patrese. The Italian then spun, which handed the race lead to Didier Pironi. However, he then ran out of fuel, seemingly meaning that Andrea de Cesaris would lead. But no, de Cesaris had also run out of juice. Patrese bump-started his car to win his first grand prix in an extraordinary finish. The wet 1996 race saw Olivier Panis claim his only Formula One victory, while controversy dogged the 2006 event after Michael Schumacher’s infamous Rascasse incident. Such is the nature of the event, there have been ten different winners in the last eleven years.

The track

The lap begins with the tricky Ste Devote corner, a ninety degree right hander before the drivers blast uphill through Beau Rivage towards Casino Square, flicking right then left to avoid the bump and catch the ideal braking spot for Mirabeau. Another short burst of power leads the cars into the Loews hairpin, the slowest corner of the season and barely wide enough for the drivers to fit side-by-side through. The right hander of Portier leads them onto the seafront and they then go underneath the Fairmont Hotel, through the tunnel before the heavy braking zone of the Nouvelle Chicane. The exit of the chicane leads onto Tabac, named after a small shop that still exists behind the corner. Tabac is perhaps one of the trickiest corners of the season; a fourth gear corner taken around a hundred miles an hour it is blind on entry and has so little room for error. As soon as Tabac is negotiated the drivers take to Piscine, known more commonly as the Swimming Pool complex. If you’re going to Monaco, watch from there. The cars then blast by the pits on the way to Rascasse, named after the restaurant on the apex of the corner. The final corner, Anthony Nogues, provides the drivers with a chance to play dare with the wall as the off camber nature of the turn is crucial for good exit speed to start another lap. Anyone who wins in Monaco deserves it.

Sebastian Vettel won in Monaco last year

What might happen?

Anything. Anyone from nine teams could win this race, so pick a name from a hat and put a bet on him. The best indicator would be to look at Sector 3 times from the Circuit de Catalunya, although with seven drivers from seven teams separated by 0.3s, that doesn’t help either. This year, more than any other year, driver skill will make a huge difference in the principality. Fresh off the back of a victory in Spain, Monaco specialist Pastor Maldonado is the one to watch. Now that we’ve said that, expect him to bin it on the opening lap. Fernando Alonso is always magical around Monaco, but as ever qualifying – which the Spaniard missed in 2010 following a crash – will be crucial. Expect everyone to blame traffic if they fail to set a good lap time. Tyres and, most probably, the timing of a safety car will be key. Keep an eye out for the GP2 and GP3 race as well, which should be cracking.

Past Winners

2011 – Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull)

2010 – Mark Webber (Red Bull)

2009 – Jenson Button (Brawn GP)

2008 – Lewis Hamilton (McLaren)

2007 – Fernando Alonso (McLaren)

Timetable (Local Time: GMT+2)

Free Practice 1, Thursday 10:00 > 11:30

Free Practice 2, Thursday 14:00 > 15:30

Free Practice 3, Saturday 11:00 > 12:00

Qualifying, Saturday 14:00

Race, Sunday 14:00


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