Circuit guide: Circuit de Monaco
Known for: F1
Type: Street Circuit
There’s an awful lot to find annoying about at the Monaco Grand Prix (the ridiculous prices, the near-impossible nature to get in and out of the place and the tasteless, nouveau riche feel of the harbour and its residents etc etc) but while those things are off-putting, they are also the very things that make this race absolutely unmissable.
Indeed, if you only ever go to one grand prix but want to experience everything that’s good and bad about F1 then Monaco is at the top of the list. Here the smell of gear oil and brake fluid is tempered by the grubby smell of filthy lucre, in vast quantities. It’s a very heady brew and one that makes the weekend’s opening days one long, dark (but very enjoyable) cocktail party of the soul.
The good news is that the Monaco GP is also the only race on the calendar with a recovery day built into the programme. The first two free practice sessions take place on Thursday, which means that unless you’re fanatical about GP2 or Formula Renault 3.5, then you can pretty much spend Friday in detox… err… sightseeing.
Qualifying and race day are intoxicating for other reasons, however. There is an old saying that while the cars never go as slow as they do in Monaco, they never look so fast. This is a race where you can get up close and personal with the cars, with some of the grandstands remaining wonderfully close to the action. In short, despite the lack of overtaking and the often processional racing, Monaco is still an enthralling place to watch racing drivers go about their work.
In terms of that work, the tight and twisting streets demand a high downforce configuration and while the days of cars sprouting all sorts of strange additional wings are long gone, expect the teams to bring mods of their high downforces packages in an effort to get their cars stuck to the track as efficiently as possible.
If you can’t maximise adhesion through aero trickery then the only avenue left open is good mechanical grip, and that means sticky tryes. Pirelli will bring their Super Soft compound to a grand prix for the first time this year, along with the more familiar Soft tyre.
Unlike others in the range, the Super Soft compound is unchanged from last year. In 2011, the teams and Pirelli expected to get no more than 10 laps out of the tyre so were very surprised to find it a lot more durable than forecast. Of the drivers who started the race on it, Michael Schumacher discarded his used Super Softs earliest (12 laps), while Rubens Barrichello remarkably hung on to his new starting set until lap 32. Getting the most out of those tyres may well prove crucial this weekend.
With overtaking tricky here, qualifying is of course of huge importance in Monaco. Surprisingly, though, pole position isn’t as important as you might think. In the past 20 years, 10 winners have started from second or third place. However, just one winner in the past two decades has started from further back than third. That was Olivier Panis, who started 14th in a rain-affected race in 1996. The picture changes when you look at the decade since 2002, however. Just three times in the past decade has the race winner not been the pole sitter – David Coulthard in 2002 (started second), Juan Pablo Montoya in 2003 (started third) and Lewis Hamilton who started third and won in 2008.
Smack bang in the middle of the Principality of Monaco. On a regular day these are regular streets and as such they’re bumpy, greasy and not at all suited to Formula One cars. But, that’s the beauty of it. For mere mortals who can’t afford the silly prices asked for accommodation in the Principality during race week, Monaco is easily reached by a quick and cheap train that chugs along the coast from Nice to Monaco and Ventimiglia.
Monaco is all about the grand prix. No, really, that’s it. The only other time the circuit is used is two weeks before the grand prix weekend when, every second year, the streets are taken over by vintage racing cars for the Historic Grand Prix of Monaco, a sort of teaser for the main event. On the Grand Prix weekend itself, GP2 and Formula Renault 3.5 both get a look in. Just as in F1, winning a junior series event here marks a driver out as the real deal and plenty of current F1 stars have triumphed here in junior series, including Pastor Maldonado (twice a winner in GP2 here in 2007 and 2009) and Daniel Ricciardo (twice a winner here in Formula Renault 3.5 in 2010 and 11).
Away from circuit racing, Monte Carlo also of course hosts the legendary Monte Carlo, which made a reappearance on the World Rally Championship calendar this year for the first time since 2008. The rally is traditional curtain raiser to the WRC season and takes place in January each year.
DID YOU KNOW?
This year marks the 70th edition of the Monaco Grand Prix. The race began in 1929 and joined the F1 calendar in the year of the series’ inception in 1950. It then took a break until 1955. However, in all that time just two drivers have ended up crashing into the harbour. In 1955, Alberto Ascari made a mistake at the chicane and crashed into the harbour. He swam to safety. However, having survived that scrape, Ascari was tragically killed four days later, testing a Ferrari at Monza. Ten years later, Australian Paul Hawkins ended up in the drink after 79 laps of the 1965 race. He also swam to safety, but like Ascari, racing took his life and Hawkins fatally crashed out in a sports car race at Oulton Park in 1969.
Race distance 78 laps (260.520km)
Start time 2.00pm CET
Circuit length 3,340km
2011 winner Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull Racing); 78 laps in 2hr 09m 38.373s (120.574kph)
2011 pole Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull Racing); 1m 13.556s (163.467kph)
Lap record Michael Schumacher (Ferrari F2004); 1m 14.439s (161.528kph)
- Visit the 2012 Monaco Grand Prix event page for more content
- Official Vettel and Webber team kit from the Bull Shop
- Visit the official Formula 1 website
- Search for Formula 1 videos on YouTube
- F1 New car launches for 2012
- Visit Red Bull Racing