Round six of the 2009 FIA Formula One World Championship takes the F1 circus to Monaco for the most prestigious motor race in the world. The annual dash through the Principality s tortuous streets is a unique test of man and machine performed in front of the glamorous backdrop of the Monaco harbour.
The 3.340km (2.075mile) street track requires the cars to run with maximum aerodynamic downforce and the proximity of the barriers makes the 78-lap race one of the most mentally demanding for the drivers, despite the average lap speed of 160kph (100mph) being the one of the slowest of the year.
Such is the Monaco Grand Prix s profile and history that it retains many of the traditions from the inaugural race staged in 1929. The most idiosyncratic of these customs is the expansion of the race weekend to four days, with the on-track action starting a day earlier than usual, on Thursday.
- Circuit Length: 3.340km
- Race Distance: 260.520km (78 laps)
- Winner 2008: Lewis Hamilton McLaren
LEWIS HAMILTON: “Monaco is my favourite circuit. The sensation you get from racing up the hill at 175mph, trying to make as straight a line as possible between the barriers while just shaving them with the walls of the tyres is unbelievable the best sensation you could ever have in a Formula 1 car. There s an expectation that Monaco will be another good circuit for our car package because the combination of low-speed corners and absence of any really fast stuff should suit MP4-24. I really hope so because it would be fantastic to have a competitive car and to be fighting at the front again.
ROBERT KUBICA: “I’m a big fan of street circuits, so I’m looking forward to the race in Monaco. I always have a really good feeling going into the weekend here and enjoy driving between the barriers and walls. There is no margin for error, which makes things particularly interesting. Of course, you can’t tell in advance how the 2009-spec cars will feel there with the new aerodynamics and slick tyres. We’ll find out more on Thursday.”
HEIKKI KOVALAINEN: “I really enjoy driving on street circuits and I m optimistic that we ve got a good package for Monaco. Although the results don t show it, because I was forced to start from the pitlane, I had a very strong race here last year and charged up from the back to finish eighth.
Hopefully, I ll have an easier race this year! We will be using KERS in Monaco and one of the questions will be whether we ll actually be able to use it to get past other cars as usual, KERS will be a benefit for us, but anything can happen in Monte Carlo. Coming off the back of a disappointing race in Spain last week, I m more determined than ever to get a strong result under my belt.â€
NICK HEIDFELD: “Monaco is one of the highlights of the season. It’s crazy that the venue least suited to Formula 1 is also the most popular. The tight and twisty street circuit is brilliant. Only Macau is comparable, but we don’t drive there in Formula 1.
“There may be a bit less hype nowadays, but the Formula 1 weekend in Monte Carlo is still something special. It’s all about Formula 1 and parties. There are a lot of famous people around, the harbour is packed with yachts, the sound of the F1 engines reverberates across the principality, and the track is jammed with crowds of people through the evening. In Monaco the spectators get closer to the action than at any other venue. For me, every time I come here it’s a wonderful sight.
“On a few occasions already this season, the new, larger front wings have proved to be a bit awkward in the tight confines at the start of races. It’s extremely tight through the first corner in Monte Carlo, so there’s a big risk of knocking your front wing off against another car.”
Technical Insight with BMW Sauber’s Willy Rampf:
In Monaco we run the cars with maximum downforce and cooling on account of the circuit s low average speed. The new aerodynamics regulations for 2009 mean that the cars will have significantly less downforce available to them than last year, but that will be evened out through the slow sections, in particular, by the superior grip of the slick tyres. Achieving good traction is the main priority for the cars under acceleration out of the many slow corners.
LAP OF THE TRACK WITH ALEX WURZ:
Driving a Formula One car around Monaco is a crazy experience because it s so narrow, but it s also a fantastic challenge. You have to decide everything on the corner entries and there s no space for error if you get it wrong. As a result, you need to build up your rhythm because you need to learn how much you can slide the car.
To take you around the lap: there s a surprising amount of grip away from the start line, given that it s a temporary racetrack. There s then a very short run down to Sainte Devote, where the trick is not to out-brake yourself and to let the car roll in, touching the inside kerb a little bit. You then accelerate up the hill towards the Casino. The car gets very light over the hill at Massanet and just as it lands, you start to brake. To be quick through here, you don t want to destabilise the car by being too harsh with the brakes; you want to let it glide in, which takes a lot of confidence.
The right-hander through the Casino is third gear and it will be tough getting back on the power without traction control. Mirabeau comes next and the track drops away in the braking area, so you have to be patient.
The front end goes very light initially, then when it grips, you can floor the throttle. The Fairmont Hairpin is very tight, but you can get through it with one turn of the wheel. As you accelerate out, you quickly select second gear to limit wheelspin before turning into the next right-hander. This leads into Portier, from where it s very important to make a good exit because you carry that speed through the tunnel.
The tunnel isn t that challenging with the V8 engines, but it s still very fast. The cars are doing about 300kph at the exit, which feels pretty quick, and you only brake for the harbour chicane at the 100-metre board. The braking area is downhill and a bit bumpy, so it s easy to lock up a wheel. Next is the left-hander at Tabac, which is a pretty amazing corner. You can enter faster than you think and the apex is a barrier, so you have to be inch-perfect with your line to ensure you don t clip it. There s a lot of grip at the exit, so you can enter very fast and wait for the front tyres to grip.
There is only a short straight before the Swimming Pool, which is taken almost flat-out. The car bounces over the kerbs and you get a bit of oversteer on entry, which makes it pretty exhilarating. The next chicane is fairly routine, but there are still walls to hit if you get it wrong.