This weekend the teams faced up to the challenges of the Monaco Grand Prix circuit, one of the most famous but also most difficult circuits on the calendar.
Monaco is a unique circuit and calls for some particular details in the technical preparation of the cars, which you will not find anywhere else.
The main one is the steering lock, which needs to be 21 degrees in order to get round the Loews hairpin. Normally an F1 car has a steering lock of 17 degrees.
It is possible to run a standard steering lock and still make the turn, but engineers tell me that it is around 3/10ths of a second slower, so everybody runs the extended steering range.
The brake calipers get quite hot here so there is extra ducting to them. Some of the new teams found that they had not factored in enough cooling and struggled in the race.
The other point to make is that the cars use less fuel to cover the race distance here. Around 125 kilos instead of the 160 they use at many tracks.
And there are quite a few wrong assumptions, such as the idea that you need to run the suspension soft. In fact very stiff set ups can work very well in Monaco. Look at slow motion shots of Robert Kubica attacking the kerbs and you’ll see what I mean.
Monaco is unusual because you need very little entry stability to corners, all the braking is straight. Then you need to be able to turn without understeer. If you can manage that then traction comes because car is turned and pointing straight. Traction in a straight line has a significant effect on lap time, so a rearward weight distribution is beneficial. But there is a trade-off because this can add rear tyre wear, which is often a problem in the race, particularly on the super soft tyre as we saw last year here.
New tech on the cars
There were not many technical updates on view this weekend, more Monaco specific details looking for extra downforce and traction.
This was done to increase the downforce generated at the level of the rear axle so to improve the traction on this very slow circuit. The wing angle was of course at its maximum figure both front and rear.
Ferrari team principal Stefano Domenicali revealed this weekend that the F Duct rear wing needs some work before its reintroduction in Turkey because, although it gave the team the fastest car through the speed traps, the team found in Spain that it took overall downforce away from the car and this is a handicap in competition with the Red Bull.
Red Bull’s technical wizardry
Red Bull had many teams scratching their heads after qualifying almost one second clear of the rest in Spain. Again in Monaco the margin of pole position was 3/10ths of a second, which is a lot. The team does not yet have a drag reducing rear wing and its Renault engine is considered not as powerful as the Mercedes. This meant that it was 20th through the speed trap on Saturday, some 9km/h down on the Ferraris. However it made up for that in its speed around the corners, thanks to its high level of downforce.
The secret of the Red Bull is the multiple little details which ensure that the bodywork of the car is optimised to work with the airflow that comes off the front wing and gives the massive diffuser the best chance to function. Red Bull were making microscopic changes to the front wings in Spain, adding a tiny gurney flay to the top element in practice to fine tune this.
The bodywork at the rear of the car is incredibly slender and low it is designed to clean up the airflow. The exhausts have been repositioned low and the technical team has introduced small slots just in front of the rear wheels, all tiny details to optimise the car. The result is a well balanced, aerodynamically efficient missile, perfectly in tune with itself.
Mercedes revert to shorter wheelbase
Mercedes reverted to the standard wheelbase on its car for Monaco, after extending it by 5cm in Barcelona. The shorter wheelbase is more suitable for the dynamic demands of the tight circuit. The longer wheelbase is designed to give the car more of a range of options on weight distribution.
Mercedes will revert to the longer wheelbase for the next Grand Prix in Turkey.