The last few Grands Prix have been decided by race strategy; good planning and execution. And Monaco looks set to be the same. Mercedes has taken three poles in a row, but lost out on race day. Will Monaco offer them a chance to hold on and win the race?
If the race is a marginal one or two stop race, will Lotus and Ferrari be able to play a strategic game to get the win? Ferrari hasn’t won Monaco for 12 years.
From a strategy point of view the Monaco Grand Prix is a very tricky race as cars can lose a lot of time running in slow traffic and there is a very high (80%) chance of a safety car, which can turn strategies on their heads.
Although Monaco is a unique proposition, a narrow street track on which it is almost impossible to overtake, there is potentially a game to be played this year on race strategy.
Traditionally a one stop race, there is scope for teams like Lotus and Ferrari 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. So the question is, how early will the teams dare to stop?
With the likelihood that Mercedes will take pole and the front row in Monaco in qualifying, this is a very real possibility as a tactical play for Lotus and Ferrari and it will be fascinating to see whether they do it.
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).
The track is narrow and lined with barriers, which means that a safety car is often deployed while marshals clear accident debris and this can greatly influence strategy if it falls at an opportune moment.
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, which is a particular feature of the Pirelli tyres used in F1 today.
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.
Total time needed for pit stop: 25 seconds.
Fuel effect (cost in lap time per 10kg of fuel carried): 0.28 seconds (very low)
The Monaco Grand Prix is the sixth round of the 2013 FIA F1 World Championship.
Cars that go well in Monaco have plenty of low speed downforce and traction, for good corner exit performance. The Mercedes was the fastest car in the slow Sector 3 in Barcelona, which is usually a good indicator of pace for Monaco. It has also had pole position at the last three Grands Prix, but has then faded each time in the race as it overheats its tyres. This is less of a problem at Monaco as the track puts less energy into the tyres, so Mercedes may well be able to hold on and win this race.
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, 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. Mark Webber has won it twice. Red Bull has won the race for the past three seasons. Ferrari hasn’t won Monaco since 2001, a wait of 12 years!
The forecast looks good with temperatures around 20 degrees and a low chance of rain. Being coastal however rain can arrive quite suddenly and there is a threat of rain for race day.
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 second appearance of the supersoft tyre, which was used in Melbourne. The teams have done little running or testing on it this year. In Melbourne it lasted only nine or ten laps, but with the shorter lap in Monaco and less energy going into the tyre, it should go further.
However, to make a one stop strategy work you will need to do more than 50 laps on a set of soft tyres. Based on what we saw in China, where the soft was good for only six or seven laps, this will be a struggle. Pirelli has acknowledged its mistake in making the construction of the 2013 tyres too aggressive and this is the last outing for them before they return to the 2012 construction from Montreal onwards.
To pull off a one stop strategy the cars that qualify on supersofts will need to get to at last lap 27. This may prove too much for many runners, who are likely to be forced into a two stop strategy. This creates a great opportunity for a car, like the Lotus, that may not qualify at the front, but can potentially do the race on one stop only. It is more likely that the race will be like the 2011 edition which saw a mixture of one, two and even three stop strategies.
Last year saw the top ten finishers all doing a similar one stop strategy. Of the podium finishers, Webber pitted on lap 29, Rosberg on lap 27 and Alonso on lap 30.
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, and the risk of losing time on slower traffic, encourages teams to make less rather than more stops.
But with big question marks over both tyre compounds, ahead of a change of construction by Pirelli from Canada onwards, free practice running will be crucial to identify the optimum strategy and stop laps.
Teams will do whatever strategy they believe is the quickest and will allow them to run in as much clear air as possible.
Given the performance gap between the soft and super soft tyre it is likely that everyone will qualify on the super soft.
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.
Chance of a safety car
Very high – there is an 80% risk of Safety Car intervention with a total of 14 Safety Car periods in the past ten years. And if one is deployed 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.
Last year 13 cars ended the opening lap in a different position from their grid slot.
As far as 2013 start performance is concerned drivers have gained (+) or lost (-) places off the start line this season, on aggregate, as follows –
+8 Van der Garde
-9 Vergne ****
*Webber dropped from second to seventh after a clutch problem in Australia ** Hulkenberg did not start in Australia *** Sutil suffered puncture from contact with Massa in Bahrain ****Vergne retired following collision.
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.
Worth noting is that the leading times are around one second faster than last year at the same event, showing the progress made in this area.
1. Ferrari 18.471s
2. Red Bull 18.606s
3. McLaren 18.810s
4. Sauber 19.324s
5. Mercedes 19.352s
6 Force India 19.481s
7 Toro Rosso 19.498s
9. Lotus 19.743s
10. Marussia 19.830s
11. Caterham 20.734s