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Tight Monaco Grand Prix in prospect, strategists say
Tight Monaco Grand Prix in prospect, strategists say
Posted By: James Allen  |  25 May 2011   |  1:35 pm GMT  |  127 comments

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.

Red Bull - qualifying advantage will be smaller (Red Bull)

At the last race in Spain the McLaren was actually the faster race car at several points in the Grand Prix and the Red Bull qualifying advantage – over a second in Spain – will be far less in Monaco as they will not be able to use the DRS wing in high speed corners, as they did in Barcelona.

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.

Brushing the barriers (Darren Heath)

Over the years we’ve observed that there are drivers who excel on tracks lined by walls and barriers, as both those circuits are. Hamilton is one and, sadly as he won’t be around, Robert Kubica is another.

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

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Can someone tell me why this race is on the calendar? Not being a traditionalist I find this procession as boring as anything to do with the royal family. A procession of cars for 2 hrs around a tight twisting circuit on which it is almost impossible to pass (at least for the lead cars). Get this race off the calendar. I know it is fun for the rich and famous who are there in person on their yachts with the hot young women but as a spectator on TV I find this the worst race of the year!


Can someone tell Vettel that he over uses the index finger.

If Vettel beats Webber in this race I expect Mark will have driven his last Monaco GP in a competitive car.



So is Alonso out of your favorites still JA?


He’s a great driver, no question. So are one or two others in F1. No favourites



how are they going to police the non-usage of DRS in the tunnel? I assume this will rely on the driver not to activate it there. Will a driver simply lose his time if the rear wing is open in the tunnel during a flying lap?

David Turnedge

If Webber doesn’t win here, and Vettel places ahead of him…


I feel there are six teams that have cars that are capable of being on the podium. These teams are Red Bull, McLaren, Ferrari, Renault, Mercedes and Williams. I feel that Red Bull will have the advantage again, but by not much over the other five teams I have mentioned, who will be fairly close to each other. I feel if Kubica was in that Renault, it would be a totally different story. Eric Boullier can say that Petrov has improved his speed from last year, but I know that a driver’s speed really never changes during a career, and we all know that this Renault is better than last year. It needs a driver of Kubica’s class and speed to show off the true potential of this car. If a driver was to take 2 or more years off, different story, but to say Petrov is faster than last year, I just don’t buy into that.


Re strategy:

Since a safety car is highly likely (James said 70% chance), any advantage built on the supersofts in the first stint will be lost.

If you are the first of the soft tyre runners, you will gain the lead and track position when the super soft runners have to pit. Unless they build a stop’s worth of gap in 10 laps, which I reckon is unlikely and the penalty of exiting the pits in midfield traffic is very high.

If you can exit the pit in the lead, or near the lead on your last stop to put on the supersofts, I reckon you would have a winning strategy – maybe something for Webber or Button to consider. New supersofts may have over 2 seconds advantage compared to worn softs and a good chance of outbraking.


I love the need of prediction – too many factors mean any of the top 5 can win. Except Webber 😛

I will say that form-wise, Lewis seems in absolutely top spec and driving head and shoulders above the rest currently.


Given the extreme difficulty of passing, why wouldn’t you use up all your super-softs in qualifying, for the best possible start position, and then stay out as long as possible on the softs?

Pre-race strategy is probably a waste of time here. Teams will be making it up as they go, reacting to events, guided by the aim of keeping their guys out of the pits as much as possible.


I love this race but this year i´m fering the safety car very much.

Drivers on worn tyres at the end of the race against drivers with new tyres on a track like this i think we are in for a safety-car show and it will play is part on the win.


Historically speaking, quite a few drivers have done well here. I think we’ll see a good battle for the top spot between several drivers.

Webber: Despite the loss of the aero advantage, it’s still a good chassis and the extra downforce will help a bit in a few corners, such as Massenet, Tabac and the entry to the Piscine complex. The off-throttle EBD should work particularly well in Massenet, as they spend a significant portion of the corner off-throttle. Webber has also run well in the past, even before his win last year.

Alonso: also quick at Monaco, and the Ferrari is good on soft tires. Their aero problems won’t hurt them as much here. This adds up to Alonso being a force to be reckoned with, even if he was lapped in Spain.

Heidfeld: finishes well, which bodes well for a race that is historically high in attrition. Beyond that, he is also in the Renault, which has a very good chassis; mechanical grip is king here. He might not win, but Renault has had two podiums this year, so I wouldn’t bet against Heidfeld finishing in the top three or maybe even pulling off an upset win.

Vettel: Same advantages as Webber in terms of his car, and has the advantage of winning the last few races. He hasn’t fared too badly in two out of the three Monaco GP’s he’s contested, so he certainly is no write-off.

Hamilton: Talented, good car, and the aero disadvantage will be minimized further. He’s had a 2nd, a win, a 12th and a 5th, so who knows how he’ll actually do? My guess is he’ll either be on the podium or in the wall. He even tapped the wall when he won (and I seem to recall his mistake ending up giving him a nice advantage through a change of strategy).

Button: Same car as Hamilton, but might treat the tires a little better. Also a little more mature, so less likely to tap a barrier.

Perez: Ok, hear me out; he’s the only driver to pull off a one-stopper (Melbourne) which means he’s good on the tires, the Sauber is a decent car, and he won here last year in GP2. All signs point to positive. Not a contender for pole and only a chance of making it to Q3, but a top-5 finish could be in the cards if he drives the smart race I think he can.

Maldonado? I could see him scoring points, but likely not any better than that. Williams has a long way to come before he could cause a huge upset. Too many good cars are between him and the podium… but then again, anything can happen in Monaco.

The battle for pole will likely be between Webber, Alonso, Hamilton, Vettel and Heidfeld, with Button, Massa and Petrov not far behind. If I was forced under much duress to bet on the win, I would say Webber would repeat.


I’ll be happy to not have to sit through another tyre changing competition that gets interrupted every 15 laps or so by a race.



vettels best result at canada is 4th in last years race .

looking forward to the next few races as you say james red bull are still hit and miss with the kers. mclaren are looking great for wins at montreal and valencia even if red bull get pole

in both the twin drs zones will make them very vunerable ,this weekend will all depend on who has fresh tyres and track position after the 2nd or 3rd stops ,cant wait .


I have exactly the same level of excitement for Monaco this year as I did for the start of this season. There’s just so many permutations of what could happen that I can’t wait for this weekend, lot’s of questions to be answered. Although, as James mentioned, this is the track I would have been most excited to see what Kubica could pull out of the bag. Hopefully we’ll see him on a Friday soon!


Don’t know if this was brought up in the previous post about Ferrari not enjoying the hard life, but Ferrari have to get slicker with their pitstops if they’re going to stay at the front in races. They seem to average around 4-5 seconds whereas the top 2 teams can do 3-4. Not much in it! But you still can’t afford to be giving away half a second when racing for position.


It should be interesting to see how the drivers cope with the sharp degradation in tire performance. On normal race tracks, they can afford to slide wide occasionally for a lap or two after over-stepping the life of the tire since they won’t hit anything. At Monaco, this would put you out of the race. What driver’s seem to rely on for pace in Monaco is a consistent car with predictable tire performance. That’s no longer the case. Over-step the life of the tire, and the lap time penalty might be much more dramatic in Monaco.


I have been out here thinking … whenever Hammy is expected to win a race by the majority of the fans, nine times out of ten, he doesn’t do it e.g. Monaco 2009.

So I have changed my mind & am putting my money on Vettel to win this again for not only is the Red Bull’s qualifying pace vulgar, but Vettel has been picking up race wins this year he had never won.

Looking back at my archives, most of Hamilton’s wins have come when few expect him to win such as China 2011 & Monaco 2008 & lets not forget Silverstone 2008 (Damn, I love that race.)

Oh and by the way, happy anniversary to me for it was this weekend eight years ago that this bloke began following Formula 1 on television.

Happy anniversary & may I live to see many more to come.

Grayzee (Australia)

ooh…you just a spring chicken. This year marks 30 years for me. I saw Alan Jones win the 1980 title and was hooked! (Mind you,I was pretty young back then…. :-))

Happy Anniversary, Goferet.


James, just a query. I have replayed via DVR all of this seasons races. I have noticed specifically this past weekend that the Mclaren front wing camera that was on Lewis’s car was swinging for the first time. Am I to assume that Mclaren now have the famous flexing wing? Also, I noticed that after Red Bull makes its first pit stop in each race, they are manually manipulating increasing/reducing the downforce on the front wing. Could this be the reason why they are so devistatingly fast in qualifying?


It’s standard practice to take front downforce out at the first stop. You can’t have a quali set up and a race set up, so you just have a bit more front bite for quali to get the tyres lit up and then you take it out at the first stop


Are the teams adjusting ride-heights during the pit-stops?


@Phil Waddell Yes the lad is really a youngster but this year, he’s been winning races he hadn’t won before. Australia & Spain being examples & guess what, Monaco could be the next.



tremendous article, thank you much for this information. I have not seen any other site providing race-strategy infornation anywhere near the depth discussed here. Kudos !

From what I read on the various sites, Renault fancy their chances for a podium as well (in fact, one of their comments directly mentioned the possibility of a race win !).

Any thoughts on Renault for this race ?


They were mighty here last year with Kubica. Heidfeld goes well on street tracks, they should be competitive certainly


Track position is king.

Mansell couldn’t get past Senna in a way faster car in ’92.


People keep saying this – but no one is Senna. He was the ultimate. I believe that with these tyres and these drivers, fresh tyres will overtake just after the tunnel.


Interesting you say that, as I was just thinking that I reckon we’ll see more “corner exit” rather than “into corner” passes – although into the chicane after the tunnel will of course see “attempts”.

For me, I see superior tyre grip and some KERS on corner exits, e.g. the same chicane as mentioned above, down to Tabacc and maybe out of St Devote up the hill, allowing cars to pass on acceleration (rather than braking) as traction reduces to varying degrees [think back to turns 10 to 11 in Spain, for what I’m kinda getting at :-)].


The Gp Lotus Renault should be good at Monaco…just a shame they havnt got a decent driver….Should have signed the Hulk!


70+ laps, tyres that don’t last, high chance of safety cars making a mess of things & a circuit where its hard to overtake…

Prehaps a car that can stay out much longer on tyres and eek a 2-stop out could win. Wonder what odd’s I can get for Perez to win.


I was a little concerned about Vettel’s record at Monaco…until I checked the stats. He’s only raced there three times in F1 (2008 with Torro Rosso and 2009&10 with Red Bull).

He really is still just a youngster, isn’t he!!


And 5th in a Toro Rosso, and last year 2nd with a damaged chassis. So I don’t understand people claiming he is bad here or other street circuits (most tims he finishes above Webber, including Canada and Singapore).

People just seem to make up stuff as they go along.


Agree, Phil.

In 2008 Vettel started 19th and finished 5th.

In 2009 he started 4th and binned it for a DNF.

In 2010 he started 3rd and finished 2nd.

Don’t understand why so many folks dismiss young Seb. Nationality? Should make for and interesting qualifying and race.

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