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Monaco Grand Prix
The Strategy play that could decide the Monaco Grand Prix
Posted By: James Allen  |  20 May 2013   |  11:08 am GMT  |  146 comments

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.

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.

Total time needed for pit stop: 25 seconds.

Fuel effect (cost in lap time per 10kg of fuel carried): 0.28 seconds (very low)

Form Guide

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!

Weather Forecast

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.

Number and likely timing of pit stops

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 –

+9 Perez
+9 Gutierrez
+9 Sutil***
+8 Van der Garde
+7 Maldonado
+3 Button
+3 Chilton
+2 Alonso
+2 Hulkenberg**
+2 Massa
+1 Bianchi
+1 Pic
+1 Vettel
Held position
Di Resta
-9 Vergne ****
-8 Grosjean
-7 Ricciardo
-6 Webber*
-5 Hamilton
-4 Raikkonen
-3 Bottas
-2 Rosberg

*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

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.

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Excellent review.

My thoughts:

If a Mercedes is on pole there will be incredibly condensed traffic, meaning top 7 could easily be within 10 seconds of each other, with the Mercedes’ pace generating a train due to their slow race pace.

If there’s a mixture of pit-stop strategies (some will pit 1, some 2) this will decide the race, since total time needed to pit in Monaco is 25 seconds (very useful information given by the writer of this post).

This put together, I think Kimi could win this, if he manages to quali better than 6th.


Free practice 1 : Hamilton, Raikkonen, Hulkenberg

Free practice 2 : Rosberg, Alonso, Perez

Saturday (some rain)

Free practice 3 : Raikkonen, Rosberg, Massa

Qualif. : Rosberg,Grosjean,Hamilton

Race : 6 rookies, Maldonado, Grosjean, Perez, Sutil, Vergne, Di Resta, Webber :

IMO, Safety Car will rules!


the 6 rookies are not, obviously, the listed drivers…


James, why you say that Pirelli will bring 2012 tyre from Canada?

I though that as FIA said they do not allow to change tyre only for safety reason.

Did you hear that news?


Mercedes went well here last year with tire degredation issues. Rosberg was faster than Webber, but finished second. Schumacher was on pole before the penalty. He likely would have won the race.

Mercedes will dominate pole and the race with a 1-2. Hamilton will win. Third will be up for grabs between Webber, Alonso and Raikkonen.



slightly OT. As mentioned by another poster, in recent years many drivers used the pitlane exit as a short cut for St. Devote at the start.

Will the stewards do something about that this year?


Good question. I’ll ask FIA


Mercedes have to be the favourites for Monaco as the characteristics of the circuit suit the characteristics of their car, and the way they work the tyres. Red Bull and Ferrari will be the main challengers I feel, with Lotus, Force India and McLaren battling behind them. They will be followed by Toro Rosso, Sauber, Williams, Marussia and Caterham.


Merc and RBR will win at Monaco because they will just place it on pole and then they have already won the race. Now that they rigged the tyres to favour them its even easier.


Stephen Taylor

The FIA have said nothing can be changed on the tyres unless there is a safety reason for doing so.


And plus the changes are only from Canada on …


I don’t believe, from what I have read, that they can build this years tire with the same technique as last years which is why they changed the construction while changing the compounds.


Off topic but I would love any insights;

Quoting JA here

“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.”

Despite all the complaints about tyre wear, I’m not so convinced it doesn’t create a more exciting/entertaining race. However if more tyre debris from the Pirellis(as compared to Bridgestones etc) discourages the racers from deviating at all from the racing line and driving the “train”, isn’t it more detrimental for the excitement of the sport than the tyre wear issues? I’ve read 1000 complaints about the latter but none on the former. Any thots?


An undercut might just work for the cars NOT on pole. Reminds me of Lewis’ win in 08 when he inadvertently gained an undercut because of a puncture when he hit the barrier. He had to pit early and moved to the pack of the field when everyone at the front made their scheduled stops. It just might work.

Although I can see Rosberg taking this race from pole.


Some advantage to the drivers whose residence is Monaco? NR & LH live there!


Think Di Resta does too.


I really think Ferrari will win the race. But Kimi will chances too.


I would not bet against Lewis Hamilton for pole – and the race as well if the tyre situation proves not to be such a massive problem for the team as at recent races.

Either Red Bull driver must be in with a shot but Monaco is the one race where Webber might just be able to outperform Vettel.

I doubt whether Alonso will be far away at the end of the race but the Ferrari could be some way behind the front row at the end of quali.


Hi James, great insight as always. What about the prospect of the Ferraris & Lotus’ saving their tyres whilst potentially behind the slower Mercedes before turning on the pace when the track opens up. Bit like what Alonso did last year to jump past Hamilton after his one stop.


I think its going to be a two stopper – at least. Despite what the genius’ at Pirelli are telling us I don’t think anyone knows how long the supersofts will last. No doubt it will not be for very long. If you can make it to Q3, but can’t get on pole it might be better not to send your car out, save your tyres and start on the harder compound. On race day start cautiously. No point in going full out, you will wreck your tyres and not a lot of opportunities to pass at Monacco. Drive to a target delta time in the beginning. When the leaders pit you will be in clear air and can drive to a higher delta time and hopefully build up enough of a cushion from which to comfortably pit onto another set of the mediums and finish the race on the softs.

Also look for another delamination this weekend hopefully with the tight circut and less runoff areas no one will get hurt. You heard it here first.


how many times are we going to hear about the silly tyres this weekend?

i predict that we will see no racing & will see nothing but cars running to a lap delta desperately trying to conserve tyres as in every other races in 2013.

i’ll watch practice/qualifying, if tyres look marginal i wont bother watching the race as im tyred of watching this tyre stupidity, 1st i’d have missed in about 30 years.


You kniw what….if I stop reading all that media have to say…and if I stop reading what never happy fans write…I would not even notice that there is something wrong with tyres.


From a safety perspective this race should be out of the calendar- yet it gets a dispensation. WHY? All of a sudden safety is thrown out the window? Utter hypocrisy!

The race itself will be more of a procession than usual because overtaking on the Pirelli marbles off line is nigh on impossible even at the best of times.

Unless it is a partial wet race which will throw an element of uncertainty into the equation, this race is always an utter bore- regardless of Pirelli strategy.. Roll on Montreal!


From a safety perspective this race should be out of the calendar- yet it gets a dispensation. WHY?

Money makes the world go around

The world go around

The world go around

Money makes the world go around

It makes the world go round 🙂


Alonso won at Monaco 2 years in a row, 2006 & 2007

Truth or Lies

Ferrari 1,2

Raikkonen 3


While it might be true that Monaco is not so well suited for F1 anymore, it is still one of the great race on the calendar.

Qualifying here is more than having the fastest car over a lap. I don’t think that Mercs will capture the front row so easily. If they do and play it smart, the win could be theirs.

Hopefully, the race won’t be decided on Saturday and that Sunday’s race will be a thriller. Marc


Every one knows that Mercedes tires will not last long, If I was hamilton or Rossberg, and I was leading the race at one point, I would run super slow to trick people behind me to think that I have no tires left, and soon will pit, so the ones behind just wait and wait, and suddendly I pile 3 or 4 super fast laps to make room for a pit stop.

That the enemy knows your weakness can be use to your advantage.


That would sound like science fiction, if it wasn’t for the fact that something similar has been done before. I remember Schumacher in Imola in 2006 slowing down Alonso on purpose, so Renault decided to pit earlier than expected to try to do the undercut. They thought that even with a full tank they could be faster than MS. Wen ALO pitted, MS suddenly put several fast laps and then pitted himself. When he returned to track, he was still infront. He won that race, with a much slower race package than the Renault. It was a masterpiece, and a revenge for what happened the year before, when ALO beat MS in a similar fashion.


Mr Allan, your analogy of forth coming

Monaco F1 is simply superb thank you.

I would like to spin the question, why every

one and that include you Sir, take for

ganted that Mercedes will lock the front grid in qualifying for the race.

I do not think that would be happening?.

Two weeks since last F1 meeting is a long

time in F1 terms,and a surprises may arise

at this weekend F1 meeting.


I think Mercedes has to sacrifice one of its drivers for Mercedes to have a chance at victory. I think its pretty clear that they are going to have the front row locked out, which means that the driver on pole will go for the win while the other driver holds up the rest of the field.


If Mercedes could lock out the front row, the P2 spot would be at a disadvantage on the dirty side. I wonder if Mercedes could agree that the pole sitter assist his teammate through Ste Devote and then both control the race from there? Team orders later could restore the original positions as a gesture to the faster Q3 time. Or is that too much cooperation to expect among hyper competitive teammates? Rosberg and Hamilton seem to be a cut above the rest when it comes to sorting these things out.


Well I see the possibility of a Merc – RBR front 2 row’s lock out.

If so you can write off Lotus and Ferrari.

Ferrari surprised me in Spain by having the best strategy of the race. They further surprised me by executing their plan flawlessly.

I look for Webber to do well as he seems to love this track.

Lotus has downforce issues, this helps with tire management but kills their qualifying pace. Same thing with Ferrari to some extent.

This will be my first real Monaco and I can’t wait.

As a matter of fact what a great day of racing, first the Monaco GP and then the Indy 500, and my wife thinks I am going to Church…


My wife thinks I’m in Monaco the whole w/end for the race.


Yes, I say amen to worship at St. F1’s Octane Cathedral.


It is a better religion than anything the so called religious leaders would have us believe. That’s another story..


I think your love of F1 is entirely rational



People are saying Mercedes will be able to hold off the other cars if there tyres go again because this is Monaco need to remember Michael in 2011. Lewis nailed him into sainte devote and Rubens got him into Mirabeau. So I really can’t see Mercs being able to do 30 odd laps on a soft tyre at a competitive pace to make a 2 stop work which is the likely strategy I think. Kimi is the guy easiest on his rear tyres this year so could potentially make a 1stop work but sounds difficult to me.

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