I’ve been talking to the race strategists from some of the teams the last couple of days and this weekend’s Monaco Grand Prix is shaping up to be a very close affair, particularly between Red Bull and McLaren.
The championship so far has been shaping up as a battle between Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton and there is reason to believe that this could be a Hamilton weekend.
Looking at the record of Sebastian Vettel around Monaco, he does not seem to be as strong between the barriers as at he is on other, more open circuits. He’s never had a front row start there, has one podium from last year and a fifth place in the Toro Rosso in 2008.
It’s a bit like Canada, where his only result is an 4th place in 2010 and an 8th in 2008. This is not a criticism of Vettel, more a reflection that he does not have about him to date the look of a driver who is much at home between barriers as he is elsewhere.
Monaco veterans say that to be really fast around there you should be smearing the maker’s name on the sidewall of the tyres!
Mark Webber is traditionally strong at Monaco, he won last year from pole position and could do the pole again this year, but his tyre use in races this season is more severe than Vettel or Hamilton or Button. And there will be a point in the race where this could prove crucial. The race will be interesting as strategy is likely to play a decisive role.
Pre race strategy predictions show that the choice is between two and three stops as the pit lane loss time is high at 21 seconds, so 25 seconds in total.
The strategy models show that three stops is quickest over the whole race distance, but the crunch comes when a thee stopper makes his final stop. Up to that point a two stop strategy is faster.
So a two stopper should just be ahead on the road at that point.
Now, on most circuits, teams faced with this data would choose to go with three stops because the the two stoppers tyres will be worn out in the final stint and the three stopper will go past, as we have seen. But in Monaco it’s so hard to overtake that it may be worth going for two stop and holding on for the last stint.
Red Bull has tended to pit early, before the Pirelli tyres are spent, McLaren has tended to run them longer, to eke more out of them.
The super soft Pirelli tyre, which makes its debut this weekend, is expected to last around 8 laps in the opening stint. Getting a few extra laps out of it will be important. It is estimated that the supersoft will be around 0.7s a lap faster than the soft, so will be the qualifying tyre for the top ten. But a car starting P11 on the soft could really mess things up for the front runners..
It promises to be a fascinating scrap. And Ferrari should be more competitive on the soft tyres than they have been of late.
* I’ve compiled a load of data and considerations which the F1 strategists use to plan their Monaco weekend. Check it out at Strategy Briefing click on the Monaco map graphic