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What’s the secret to winning the Monaco Grand Prix?
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Posted By: James Allen  |  22 May 2012   |  7:06 am GMT  |  134 comments

This weekend Formula 1 races on the streets of Monaco, the race that all the teams and drivers most want to win. So what’s the secret to getting a good race result in Monaco? We saw that the Spanish Grand Prix was won with thorough planning, saving new sets of hard tyres for the race day and an inspired strategy call by the Williams team. So how should teams approach the strategy for Monaco?

Here we’ll take you through all the considerations the teams strategists use. Once you’ve read the briefing, why not go on our our Race Strategy Calculator and see if you can beat the default strategy loaded into it. The calculator is based on a top ten qualifier so it assumes that you will start the race on used supersoft tyres.

Traditionally Monaco is the hardest circuit on which to overtake. The track is narrow and lined with barriers and there are few opportunities for a car to get alongside another. The only possible overtaking place is the exit of the tunnel into 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, which is a particular feature of the Pirelli tyres used in F1 today.

From a strategy point of view it’s a very tricky race as running in slow traffic is always a problem and there is a very high (71%) chance of a safety car, which can turn strategies on their heads.

Track Characteristics
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 160km/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); Total fuel needed for race distance – 120kg (very low); Fuel consumption – 1.55 kg per lap (very low)

Time spent braking: 12% of the lap (high); 13 braking zones; Brake wear – Medium; 48 gear changes per lap.

Loss time for a Pit stop = 20 seconds
Total time needed for pit stop: 25 seconds.

Fuel effect (cost in lap time per 10kg of fuel carried): 0.28 seconds (very low)
Monaco is a unique street circuit, which offers no real reflection on the way cars will perform at other venues. It is a one-off.

The track layout is tight, with no high speed corners, two short straights and the lowest average lap speed of the season at 160 km/h (100mph).

Form Guide

The Monaco Grand Prix is the sixth round of the 2012 FIA F1 World Championship.

Qualifying well is critically important at Monaco and it is also true in general of this F1 season, despite the shake up in the form book imposed by the way the Pirelli tyres degrade. This season we have had five different winners in five different teams (the first time it’s happened since 1983) but four of the five winners have come from the front row of the grid and on three of five occasions the leader on the opening lap has gone on to win the race.

Cars that tend to go well in Monaco have plenty of downforce and good traction in slow corners. The Williams was the fastest in the slow Sector 3 in Barcelona, which is usually a good indicator of pace for Monaco, the Lotus also has good low speed traction, which is a weakness of the Ferrari. The McLaren is the best qualifying car at the moment with 3 pole positions out of 5 (albeit one was later rescinded) but its race pace doesn’t match it.

Monaco requires a particular technique of driving close to the barriers and this is a venue where a driver can make a real difference.

As far as drivers’ form is concerned at Monaco, Sebastian Vettel won the race last year, while other previous Monaco winners in the field are Kimi Raikkonen, Jenson Button, Lewis Hamilton, Fernando Alonso, Michael Schumacher and Mark Webber.

Weather Forecast

The forecast for Sunday looks good with temperatures around 21 degrees and a low chance of rain. Showers are forecast for Saturday. Being coastal however rain can arrive quite suddenly.


Likely tyre performance and other considerations

Pirelli tyre choice for Monaco: Supersoft and Soft.

Monaco is generally quite gentle on tyres, the track surface is smooth and there are no high energy corners.

This race sees the first appearance in 2012 of the supersoft tyre, which is largely unchanged from 2011; the compound is the same, but the profile is slightly different with a wider shoulder to reduce blistering. Last year the tyre lasted around 15-16 laps in the first stint before requiring a change.

The teams have done little testing on it this year.

The soft tyre is the same one that has appeared at every race so far in 2012. It is slightly softer than the 2011 soft compound. The difference in performance between the two tyre compounds is expected to be around 0.6 seconds per lap in qualifying and slightly less in the race.

Last year the winner Sebastian Vettel managed to make a set of softs last 56 laps, so there will be some teams thinking about doing only one stop in the race.

Number and likely timing of pit stops

Last year saw three different strategies in the top three finishers; Vettel stopped once, Alonso twice and Button three times,

They had all started the race on the same tyre (supersoft) and all ended up on the same tyre (soft) but in between had done three completely different strategies.

This year it’s likely that the contenders will be more aligned, mostly doing two stops, with three stops and one stop both a bit of a risk. However, our strategy calculator shows that a car doing one stop on L37 for new option (soft) tyres is ahead after final stops of the two stoppers and of the driver who stops once for new primes, but can the driver hold the others up to the end on fast-fading tyres?

The pit lane at Monaco is long and slow so the time needed to make a stop is quite long at around 25/26 seconds. This encourages teams to make less rather than more stops.

With the performance gap between the soft and super soft tyre it is likely that everyone will qualify on the super soft and then two stoppers will mostly run on the soft, while three stoppers will take an extra run on supersofts.

The top ten will start on the super softs they qualified on. Depending on how long they can keep the first set of tyres going will determine whether they make one, two or – if they have to – three stops.

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 free air.


Chance of a safety car

There is a 71% chance of a safety car and 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 last year, 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.

Last year there were six changes of position in the top ten cars.

Although he’s having a poor run of results, Felipe Massa is the outstanding starter of 2012, having made up and average of over 4 places at every race start. Ferrari team mate Fernando Alonso is also making good use of the starts with an average gain of 2.6 places off the line.

As far as 2012 start performance is concerned drivers have gained (+) or lost (-) places off the start line this season, on aggregate, as follows –

Gained:

+21 Massa
+15 Kovalainen
+13 Alonso, Glock
+11 Raikkonen
+8 Maldonado
+8 Perez ***
+7 Schumacher*
+6 Kobayashi, Senna, Vergne
+5 Hamilton
+3 Button
+2 Pic

+2, Karthikeyan
+1 Rosberg, Di Resta, Petrov

Held position: None
Lost:
-1 Grosjean**, Vettel,
-3 De la Rosa
– 5 Hulkenberg
– 7 Webber
-13 Ricciardo
* Senna, Ricciardo and Hulkenberg were all involved in accidents on 1st lap in Australia
** Schumacher and Grosjean collided on Lap 1 in Malaysia, Senna and Perez pitted for wet tyres on opening lap
***Perez punctured on lap 1 in Spain and went to back of field


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 and a half seconds by F1 teams. Here again Ferrari leads the way consistently this year.
It is also clear that the field has significantly closed up in pit stops. The top four teams fastest stops were within 4/10ths of a second of each other in Spain. It shows how much work has gone on in this area.
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. The positions from previous race are in brackets.
Worth noting is that Force India continues to perform well above its championship table position and Lotus has seen a massive improvement from 8th in the league to 3rd. Also worth noting is that Marussia did a faster stop than Caterham.
1. Ferrari 19.456 (3)
2. Red Bull 19.624 (1)
3. Lotus 19.777 (8)
4. Force India 19.867 (4)
5. McLaren 19.888 (5)
6 = Mercedes 20.059 (1), Toro Rosso (6)
8. Williams 20.218 (7)
9. Sauber 20.381 (9)
10. Marussia 20.669 (12)
11. Caterham 21.275 (10)
12. HRT 21.471 (11)

Now you’ve read the briefing, why not go on our our Race Strategy Calculator and see if you can beat the default strategy loaded into it. The calculator is based on a top ten qualifier so, remember, it assumes that you will start the race on used supersoft tyres.

The Race Strategy Briefing is written by James Allen with input and data from several F1 team strategists and from Pirelli.

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134comments

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1
..:: swift ::..

Aah, I just love Monaco! It’s one of the world’s greatest and most challenging motor-racing events!

James, who is your favorite for the win this year? If you can’t name a driver, name a team 🙂

2

I think Hamilton will finally get his first 2012 win

3

i think so too james

even if he is in tyre trouble he can do

what ayrton did in 92 and vettel did last year

just weave his car all over the circuit so nobody can get past ,should be easy for him once he gets his customary pole position.

4

Hey first time posting here : )

The race at Monaco highlights a weakness of the strategy calculator. Is there any way to have the default strategy be adjusted to take into account track position? It’s obviously simplified so that the simulations are run in clear air the whole race. If we could have that then it would be easier to see the effect of undercutting and longer one stop strategies! Is this possible? I might have a go programming one myself : D

5

We could, but it’s very complicated and the idea here is to give people a general introduction to it.

6

Thanks for the reply James. Yes thinking about it more it would seem to be opening a can of worms! You would have to assume o% chance of overtaking, which in the case of Hamilton is never true! It would be a fascinating piece to do though – what information the teams like McLaren take into account in producing real-time strategy updates. I imagine it’s given as a range of projections updated every lap in the race with effects of safety cars, traffic, weather and likelihood of overtaking etc. Also there could be strategies that are have higher variance in the finishing position but have a better chance to win than collect-the-points low variance ones. I guess Raikkonen in China is an example of a high variance strategy. Can someone give me this job!

7

11 overtakes in 2011 (after lap 1) the lowest of any race last year

8

James – I feel your calculations are slightly off for the strategy calculator. Here are some of my notes from last year’s race weekend:

According to my notes, no one ran supersofts in FP1. FP2, Vettel did a 23-lap stint on the supersofts (outlap, 21 fliers, inlap). I must’ve missed FP3 – I’m drawing a blank on my notes.

The longest “used supersoft” opening stint was Massa with 26 laps.

The longest “new supersoft” opening stint was Barrichello with 32 laps.

The single longest “used supersoft” stint was Sutil – 34 laps (L34 to L68)

The single longest “new supersoft” stint was Liuzzi – 40 laps (L32 to L72).

If you want data from someone other than a backmarker, single longest “new supersoft” goes to Kobayashi with 38 laps (34-72)

9

I just meant that I think you might be putting in slightly conservative estimates for the tyres. I think they’ll last better than your calculator says, and make a 1-stopper a very viable strategy.

10

One stopper coming in lap 37 for new options is ahead at the final stops, but can he stay ahead to the finish on fast fading tyres.

The tyre model is bang up to date with data from F1 team strategists and Pirelli.

11

New options? What happened to the primes then? I suppose you mean new primes?

12

Yes

13
Tornillo Amarillo

The secret is to buy tickets for this next weekend “tyre lottery”!

14

Hi,

James, slightly off topic.

I do not know if you covered this in a previous post or article (if you did, please refer to it), I recall you stating that Hamilton is the most improved driver this season in your opinion.

Now if I may ask, who do you think is the BEST driver so far this season?

15

Has to be Alonso, surely?

Joint points leader & Led most laps (66) of anyone in what is clearly a very poor car. Look at Massa.

Alonso is driving out of his skin this year.

16

What’s the secret, Monaco being the only place to stage the F1 Circus on a fixed annual date, and undergo Thursday trainings?

17

Because they’re so “special”. They don’t even have to pay a hosting fee like everyone else – presumably because they can’t afford it!

18
"Martin" one time F3 driver

All the races so far have been about “understanding” the tyres. But each race it’s a different driver / team combo.

All of a sudden Hamiton is fastest, yet Button is nowhere !

I think I found the answer on Fromula 1 website: it’s the FIA that alocates the tyres to teams / drivers.

I spy bErnie’s hand behind the scenes ensuring the SHOW stays unpredictable.

Hey, even Eddie Jordan now calls it a SHOW, instead of a RACE.

Not believeable ? But you don’t know Bernie like I know Bernie 😉

I recon it’s Lotus’s turn to win, Kimi, or maybe even Grosjean, that would go down very well in Monaco. Ladies and Gentlemen place your betts. It’s a rullete, what else do you expect in Monaco ?

But is the wheel crooked ?

19

james,

you say ferrari is weak in traction, but i remember seeing ferrari were 3rd fastest after williams and mclaren in 3rd sector in barcelona

20

Thanks. I figured that Alonso was somehow gonna podium!!!

21

The Lotus is not good at low speed traction. Even Alan Permane said that. It is actually one of the weakest points of their car. Looking at Spanish GP qualifying the Lotus’s third sector was their worst sector with Grosjeans being the 7th quickest and Raikkonen’s being the 11th quickest. This is preciseley why they ended up behind Alonso on the grid because in the first two sectors they were quicker then Alonso, which brings me up to the second point of the Ferrari of being weak in the low speed traction since Fernando Alonso was the third quickest driver in the slow final sector at Spain behind Maldanado and Hamilton. Ever since the exhaust configuration changed the biggest problem for the Ferrari is front end downforce.

22
Max Nalborczyk

Hi James,

I am currently writing an extended essay on Formula One, and the figures on how much fuel is used per race is an integral part of my essay. Is there any way that you could provide me with the figures for the remaining race of the year, as I need to finish it before the season comes to a close.

Many thanks,

Max

23

If you Use the Archives section on this site and search through last season’s races for Strategy Briefings you’ll find all the data you want

Austin I don’t have the data at the moment

24

It would be interesting to see a front runner starting with hard tyres and holding up rest of the pack. That will make some stragists to work overtime during the race.

25

You have to start on the tyres you used in Q3. If you use the primes you will be 8/9/10

26

As the EBD has gone downforce levels will be less, cars will move around more, and therefore we can expect tyres not to last as long as last year.

27

That’s a GREAT summary, thank you.

28

James,

Any concern in F1 circles about the Canadian GP going ahead given the rioting the city has seen these last few weeks?

Peter J

29
Bring Back Murray

They didn’t seem to care too much about Bahrain!!

30

FEATURE REQUEST 🙂 it would be great to be able to compare two (2) custom strategies in the race strategy calculator.

Would also be super cool if one could add a lap time deficit (and perhaps offset) to the second custom strategy to simulate running in traffic.

31

How to win at Monaco.

Pray for warm weather.

Take 50 seriously hot girls in bikinis along and station them opposite the pits of everyone else’s team..

Done deal.

32

Sounds good. That would put them right underneath my commentary box!!!

33
hero_was_senna

Does Mrs Allen ever read this site, lol

34
Antony Hamilton

It would certainly be a good vantage point to keep abreast of the situation

35

“keep abreast”???? Genius!! 🙂

36

Hi James,

Bit of a personal question here, but I am curious as to how you became an F1 analyst.

I’m a 17-year old student in Australia and got into F1 and other motorsports a few years ago, and I wanted to become an F1 driver, but my family had not the resources to help me start racing. But as motorsport is my passion, I still want to have some kind of career in motorsport and that is why I’m asking what sort of a career path you took to become an analyst.

Thanks very much 🙂

37

My Dad was a racer in the 1960s with Lotus. I didn’t want to drive, as I didn’t have the ability or the desire. But I love the sport having grown up in it and I love communications so it was a natural fit.

Career path you can read in the About section.
Thanks

38

Thanks heaps James. I’m also going to try and send a request or two to Greg Rust and a few others for their opinions.

One last question; you became the Brabham press officer in the 1990s after studying English in Oxford. What whould you say is more suitable in the here and now; a path through sports journalism (or something similar), or something similar to your approach?

39

Depends how far you want to take your formal education.

Important thing is to get into the discipline of sub-editing, captioning, headline writing and journalism asap so it becomes second nature to you. Then you just build up based on the opportunities you can create for yourself.

40

Vettel would not have won the race last year had it not been stopped under a red flag which allowed Red Bull to change his tyres. If they had not stopped Vettel’s tyres would have fell away, and would most likely have ended up third if Alonso and Button both managed to get past.

41

I seem to recall McLaren changing one of their rear wings during that red flag period too.

Vettel won. He won everything last year. Move on.

42

No I disagree while the rules are the same for everyone gaining an advantage through Red Flag seems unfair as does pitting during a safety car. The rules should only allow them to change things during a normal pitstop. Yes Vettel did win everything last year because he had the best car with often the best set up by a country mile, but that’s the way it goes in F1.

43

Then again, Vettel had a slow pitstop earlier in the race, which forced him onto the one stop strategy. He was otherwise leading from pole.

44

Indeed, but it only emphasises that this is a team sport not just about drivers. Personally I disagree with the rules on a red flag situation that allows teams to re-prepare a car for the re-start. They should re-start as they stopped. It saved the day for Vettel. By the same token cars should not be allowed to pit under a safety car. In other words teams should not be able to gain an advantage in that way.

45

It’s the fact they re-start off the grid that bunches them up again, but I agree a timed restart would be a fairer way to do it. I suppose they think it too complicated, but easily done with pre-set electronics in this day and age. Re-starting behind a safety car is more complicated, but again could be done these days as all the times are recorded.

46

That would disadvantage cars. Some drivers could be 30s ahead but have yet to stop. What then? They lose their 30s but don’t get to stop?

47

Are there DRS zones at Monaco? If so, where?

48

Pit straight.

49

Hi James, i believe that it would have been logical if you compare the average pit stop rather than the fastest. Mclaren’s pit stop is misleading, they should be down right with caterham .

50

I also thought the same – average pit stop is what matters in a race. You may have the fastest pit stop but all your other pit stops could be so poor that you are actually losing positions in the race. An average gives a very good idea of how good a pit crew is.

51

In qualifying for the drivers, the single fastest lap is what drives their results. However, for pit stops a single fast pit stop doesn’t drive the team’s results, instead its the aggregate of all the stops. So, I think average of racing stops makes more sense.

52

Fastest is fastest. Same in qualifying for the drivers, so why not measure fastest pit stop?

53

I think the point is that showing us average pit stop times would emphasize how badly MCL have been performing this year. Maybe places lost in pits….but that would be a combination of poor stops and poor strategy. Either way, there is nothing to suggest that McLaren would not be bottom of the table

54

I agree with you James but we could look at fastest _and_ best average stop time, may be worth a whirl if the numbers are available…

55

That info is around, but I prefer to keep it simple and focus on who was fastest. That’s easy for everyone to understand

56

Using that analogy, then mecca finished at least in the bottom half of the field in the race.

57

Because, in race, every pitstop counts; in quali, only the fastest lap counts.

58

Looking forward to the seeing how the Lotus’ get on here. In Spain it seemed like they ran less wing (I’m guessing they were expecting lower grid slots than 3 & 4) and still managed the tyres well and if I remember correctly, werent to far off the fastest times through the tight and twisty final sector. So with an optimum high d/f set-up, I expect them to do well here.

‘Undercutting’ here isnt going to be so easy, track position will be vital so I’m sure teams will keep a close eye on the gaps behind. Also the issue of having to hold a car in the pits to avoid a collison could prove to be pivotal.

Another point is that if the track rubbers in well, some drivers may be able to make the last set of tyres last longer. So I wont be surprised if I see some teams pushing for longer final stints.

Finally, I hope it stays dry and really hope no back markers spoil a fight for us!

59
Seán Craddock

How are Mclaren so high up on the pit stop chart after the woeful pits in Bahrain?

60

The time shown in James’s article is their fastest time, not the average of all their pitstops.

Hope this helps.

61

What is the secret to wining the Monaco Grand Prix? Shushhhh, don’t tell anyone but it is the same as every other race, cross the line first! Then wait a few hours if your name is Hamilton to see what the stewards can do, then celebrate!

62

What you need is acceleration, drive out of corners, plenty of downforce… and get lucky with the setup for the most fickle tyres ever.

63

Does the default simulation stop in lap 17? I don’t think the super-softs are going to last that much. Maybe in the Lotus…

Anyway, pitting later is the better choice in any pit-stop, you cover the SC and avoid traffic. Two stops if the tires allow it, bur the only way to do it is ala Williams, saving a couple of new softs for the race, or being Lotus. Then you have to do a long second stint in the softs, I think the default simulation fails at that point, pitting too earlier would make you destroy your tyres following the slowers cars that haven’t pitted yet.Besides a SC could make lose positions at that point, and you have to cover the Lotus…

My simulations

2 stops, LAP 13 (this could be changed, depending on tyre wear, always looking for a late stop) for softs, LAP 46 (again this could be changed depending on competitors, race position, and tyre wear) again for sofst. Both sets of tyres are new. But I think not all the teams are going to nurse their softs tyres so they last 30 laps.

3 stops, in the case tyre wear is bigger than the simulation predicts. Again LAP 13, this time for used super-softs, LAP 31 for new softs, LAP 59 for used super-softs. Saving a set of options for the race would make it faster of course.

I think this time the simulator is a little bit too genereous with the life in both, option and prime.

It’s so good not knowing who is going to fight for the win. I just hope this year race is better climaxed than the last one.

64

>I think this time the simulator is a little bit too genereous with the life in both, option and prime<

I'm not sure about that – the simulation has been surprisingly accurate so far, and Monaco is one of the easiest tracks on tyres.

65

Don’t forget the tyre life they got last year.

66

Some typos there. Sorry, didn’t bother checking, it’s too long.

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