Monaco is unique and it’s not and easy race to win, even with the fastest car. And this year could be very eventful.
There is a very high (80%) chance of a safety car, which can turn a race on its head and hand the advantage to a rival. This year’s cars are very loose at the rear-end and we may well see several safety cars coming out as drivers hit the barriers, like Bottas did in Australia.
For a team like Red Bull, this race presents a rare opportunity to challenge Mercedes for victory but this has to be done with perfect execution in qualifying, getting at least one car on the front row and preventing Mercedes from controlling the race with two cars at the front.
The supersoft tyre makes its 2014 debut and looks like the tyre most runners will prefer. It goes without saying that perfect execution in qualifying is critical for a strong race performance.
There is scope for teams that are kinder on their tyres than rivals, to pit early and attempt the undercut, at an early point in the race, knowing that their rivals will not be able to react and bring their car in because it will not make it to the finish from there on a single set of tyres.
Last year Mercedes were vulnerable to this, as they had high tyre wear. So they played a strategy of running at low speed, bunching the field up and protecting their tyres at the same time.
This year Mercedes has no such worries and if they get the front row of the grid, as they should with their current advantage, they will race off.
The track layout is tight, with no high speed corners, two short straights and the lowest average lap speed of the season at 157 km/h (99mph).
The only possible overtaking place is on the run between the exit of the tunnel and the chicane, but drivers must be careful as it is very dirty off line in the tunnel and they can lose grip by picking up dust and discarded rubber from the tyres.
Monte Carlo – 3.34 kilometres; Race distance – 78 laps = 260.52 kilometres. 19 corners in total. The slowest lap of the season at an average lap speed of 157km/h.
Aerodynamic setup – High downforce; Top speed 295km/h (with Drag Reduction System active on rear wing) – 285km/h without.
Full throttle – 45% of the lap (lowest of year)
Time spent braking: 21% of the lap (high); 13 braking zones. Brake wear – Medium; 48 gear changes per lap.
Total time needed for pit stop: 25 seconds.
The Monaco Grand Prix is the sixth round of the 2014 FIA F1 World Championship.
Cars that go well in Monaco have plenty of low speed downforce but above all mechanical grip and traction, for good corner exit performance.
The Mercedes was the fastest car in Monaco last year and this year it has been unbeaten in the first five races.
However the Red Bull will be closer on pace here as the power deficit from the engine will be less significant. The Red Bull chassis is very nimble. Red Bull has won the race for the three of the past four seasons
Ferrari will have a few problems unless they can sort out their issues with traction. Ferrari hasn’t won at Monaco since 2001, a drought of 14 years.
Monaco requires a particular technique of driving close to the barriers and this is a venue where a driver can make a real difference. But the challenge will be even greater this year as the power delivery from the new hybrid turbo engines makes handling these cars a real challenge.
As far as drivers’ form is concerned at Monaco, all the world champions have won Monaco; Sebastian Vettel won in 2011, while other previous Monaco winners in the field are Kimi Raikkonen, Jenson Button, Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso. Nico Rosberg won last year from pole.
The forecast looks good with temperatures around 20 degrees and a low chance of rain. Being coastal however rain can arrive quite suddenly.
Likely tyre performance and other considerations
Pirelli tyre choice for Monaco: Supersoft and Soft.
Monaco is gentle on tyres, the track surface is smooth and there are no high energy corners.
This race sees the first appearance of the supersoft tyre, as Pirelli has been very cautious and conservative so far in its tyre choices. Last year, for example, it used the supersoft in Australia, but this year it has held it back until now.
The teams have done some testing on it, however, in Bahrain pre-season test and also in the two day test in Spain last week. Indications are that the supersoft will be a good tyre so one stop should be quite manageable.
Although it is usually faster on paper to do two stops, in reality many teams shy away from it for fear of losing out in traffic or with a safety car.
Number and likely timing of pit stops
For the last two years we have seen the majority of the top ten finishers all doing a similar one stop strategy. The benchmark time to stop is usually around laps 27 to 30. A car trying an undercut may come in a lap or two earlier than that.
The pit lane at Monaco is long and slow at 60km/h speed limit so the time needed to make a stop is quite long at around 25/26 seconds. This, and the risk of losing time on slower traffic, encourages teams to make less rather than more stops.
Teams will do whatever strategy they believe is the quickest and will allow them to run in as much clear air as possible.
The first lap is always very costly for the midfield and back of the field. With having to follow through the tight corners, it’s common for the cars in the bottom third of the grid to do a first lap which is 20 seconds slower than the leader, who is running in clear air.
This was not the case last year, when Mercedes deliberately slowed the field up in the opening stint.
Chance of a safety car
Very high; there is an 80% chance of a safety car and if it falls at the right time it can make your race. But if it falls at the wrong time, your victory plans fall apart – as they did for Jenson Button in 2011, who was trying to drive flat out uninterrupted on three stops, a risky plan given the likelihood of the safety car.
Recent start performance
The run from the start to the first corner at Monaco is very short and always chaotic. The first turn, St Devote, is tight and slow and cars go through it in single file.
In 2012 now fewer than 13 cars ended the opening lap in a different position from their grid slot.
As far as 2014 start performance is concerned drivers have gained (+) or lost (-) places off the start line this season, on aggregate (places lost over year offset against places gained), as follows –
9 – Massa
8- Ericsson, Bottas, Hulkenberg
7 Kobayashi, Gutierrez
4 – Sutil [See notes], Bianchi, Perez [See notes]
2 – Alonso
1 – Grosjean
Net Held position
Ricciardo,Chilton, Rosberg, Raikkonen
11 – Vergne
2 – Vettel, Kvyat, Hamilton
Melbourne Notes: Kobayashi, Massa eliminated in a first corner accident; Perez, Gutierrez pitted at the end of Lap 1; Bianchi, Grosjean started from pit lane.
Malaysia Notes: Perez started from pit lane, Bianchi pitted at the end of lap 1
Bahrain notes: Vergne pitted at the end of lap 1 after contact
China Notes: Sutil lost power at start and dropped 8 places, retiring soon after.
Pit Stop League Table
Of course good strategy planning also requires good pit stop execution by the mechanics and we have seen tyre stops carried out in less than two seconds by F1 teams.
However with tighter rules on unsafe release and on wheels coming loose, teams prefer to go for a target time, which is error-free and thus slower than in 2013. Nevertheless we have seen occasional stops of 2.3 seconds this year.
The league table below shows the order of the pit crews based on their fastest time in the Spanish Grand Prix, from the car entering the pit lane to leaving it.
1. Red Bull 21.599s
2. Ferrari 21.664
3. McLaren 21.768
4. Lotus 22.024
5. Mercedes 22.254
6. Force India 22.282
7. Williams 22.304
8. Marussia 22.568
9. Toro Rosso 22.703
10. Caterham 22.789
11. Sauber 23.063
The UBS Race Strategy Briefing is written by James Allen with input and data from several F1 team strategists, from Pirelli and from JA on F1 technical adviser Mark Gillan.
For a cool, at-a-glance guide to all the strategy considerations in Monaco click here