This weekend the F1 cars race on the streets of Monaco, one of the oldest and most prestigious races in all of motorsport. To win it at all is a considerable feat, but to win it three times consecutively, as Nico Rosberg has done, is quite something. This year he goes out to join a very select group that has won it four times in a row.
So what does it take to win Monaco? How much of it is the car, the driver or the engine? And how influential is the race strategy in the outcome of the race?
Narrow, with short stretches of track between corners lined with barriers, Monaco is unique and it’s not an easy race to win, even with the fastest car. The driver plays a larger role here than at many venues and those in the know say that it’s a track that favours drivers building up to their maximum, rather than trying to push too early. The engine has less influence than at many venues, but the best engine is still the best engine and driveability out of the low speed corners is very important.
There is a very high (80%) chance of a safety car; it can turn a race on its head and hand the advantage to a rival. That happened last year when Lewis Hamilton threw away the chance to win due to a request to his team to make a stop under the safety car near the end of the race and the team’s miscalculation of the shrinking time gap back to the next car, Rosberg, as Hamilton was held up by the Safety Car in the final sector.
Everyone tells you that to win Monaco you need to qualify at the front, but it’s not the case 100% of the time. In the last ten years we have had two drivers who qualified on pole but didn’t win the race; Hamilton last year and Massa in 2008, when ironically Hamilton won after pitting for a puncture he caused himself, but it was the ideal moment to stop.
Also we have seen drivers come through the field from the back to finish in the top six, like Michael Schumacher famously did in 2006 after he crashed at Rascasse in qualifying.
But just in case the lap in qualifying isn’t good enough for pole, is there anything that can be done on race strategy?
There is scope for teams 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.
In 2013 Mercedes were vulnerable to this, as they had high tyre wear. So they played a strategy of running at low speed, bunching the field up and protecting their tyres at the same time. It was the slowest race anyone can remember!
This year we will see the first ever appearance of the Pirelli Ultra soft tyres (with purple sidewall), which will be the favoured qualifying tyre. Strategists say that even the supersoft, which will be one of the two alternates, along with the soft, was too hard last year so the Ultra Soft should be the ideal tyre for the low grip Monaco track. The grip level comes up over the weekend significantly, so the lap times fall by multiple seconds from practice to qualifying.
This is the only race of the season where you prioritise track position over the fastest strategy; so you can have a mighty drop off in pace and still hold position on worn tyres, for example, which you can’t get away with one most F1 venues.
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.
For the last two years we have seen the majority of the top ten finishers all doing a similar one stop strategy. The benchmark time to stop is usually around laps 27 to 30. A car trying an undercut may come in a lap or two earlier than that.
The pit lane at Monaco is long and slow at 60km/h 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 fewer, rather than more stops.
Teams will try to do whatever strategy they believe is the quickest and will allow them to run in as much clear air as possible.
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.
Monaco – the key numbers
Qualifying is always important in F1, but the narrow nature of Monaco’s streets means pole position is perhaps more significant that at any other circuit. Since the 2004 race, the driver starting in first place has led 819 of 933 laps (88 per cent).
Lewis Hamilton, who was on pole in Monaco last year and last time out in Spain, could still tie Michael Schumacher’s all-time F1 record of 68 poles later this season, but he needs to take all of the remaining 16 poles to match that feat, starting this weekend.
One streak Hamilton will want to change as soon as possible is that on all three occasions on which he has started from pole so far in 2017, the world champion has lost the lead at the first corner.
Nico Rosberg is also hoping to bounce back from the lap one collision with Hamilton in Barcelona, which ended his streak of seven consecutive wins, that tied him for the second best in F1 history alongside Schumacher (from 2004), and two behind the out right record of nine, which is jointly held by Alberto Ascari (1952-1953) and Sebastian Vettel (2013).
Monaco is where Rosberg has his best track record in F1 and the German driver has won the event for the past three years, which made him the first driver to do so since Ayrton Senna won five Monaco races between 1989 and 1993.
One team that is hoping to improve its Monaco form is Ferrari. The Scuderia has not won the race there since 2001, and has only won it three times in the last 37 years. That 15-year streak is the longest that Ferrari has gone without a win at any of the current circuits on the F1 calendar.
Max Verstappen stats
In recognition of his first ever F1 win, and the records he broke in the process, Max Verstappen has earned his own special stats breakdown.
The Dutchman’s win in Barcelona, which he won aged 18 years and 227 days, meant he broke the records for youngest driver ever to lead a race (previously held by Sebastian Vettel at 20 years and 89 days from Japan 2007), and made him the youngest ever podium finisher and youngest winner – also previously Vettel at 21 years and 73 days, from his win at Monza in 2008.
Verstappen also became the first Dutch driver ever to lead a lap of the Spanish Grand Prix, and his fourth place on the grid at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya equalled Jan Lammers’ fourth for ATS at Long Beach in 1980 as the best qualifying by a Dutch racer in F1.
The Red Bull driver also equalled (and surpassed) his father Jos Verstappen’s claim to being the only Dutch driver to secure a podium finish for the Netherlands.
Verstappen’s win ended a run of 30 consecutive races in which the German anthem was played at some stage during the podium ceremony.
Until the Spanish race earlier this month, there had been no driver to switch teams in the middle of an F1 season and go to win on their debut for their new squad since Juan-Manuel Fangio went from Maserati to Mercedes and won the French Grand Prix back in 1954. The Argentinean driver went on to win that year’s world title.
As well as becoming the first driver to win in F1 with the number 33 on his car, Verstappen’s Barcelona triumph also made him the first driver to win a Grand Prix to have been born in the 1990s.
What do you expect from the Monaco Grand Prix? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below or head over to the JAonF1 Facebook page for more discussion.