Monaco GP – A challenge for seventy years By: Ferrari S.p.A.
At the previous round of the championship in Barcelona, where Fernando Alonso produced yet another fantastic drive in his Ferrari F2012 to take second place, the majority of teams had introduced new packages to coincide with the first European race of the season. If some elements had failed to deliver a clear picture of their benefits, there was usually talk of waiting to see how they would perform in Canada. Had the designers and engineers forgotten that, before going to Montreal, the F1 circus stops off at its most famous venue in Monte Carlo? Not at all, it's just that the Monaco Grand Prix throws up such a unique technical challenge it simply does not fit into the overall picture of how the season is evolving. 'You have to set the car up quite differently for Monaco,' explains Scuderia Ferrari's Technical Director, Pat Fry. 'On the street circuit you don't attack all the corner entries as hard as you would on a normal circuit, because the barriers are so close to the track at the entry and exit. However, trying to get the right car balance is as difficult as at the other venues.'
The Monaco Grand Prix is older than the World Championship itself and in fact it celebrates its seventieth birthday this year. One element that has not changed in all that time is that the lap is short and very slow, the slowest on the calendar in fact. 'This means it is more about downforce and less about efficiency and engine power,'' continues Fry. 'You need as much downforce as possible and a car that behaves consistently.' Even if Monaco is unique, many of the updates introduced on the F2012 in Spain were aimed specifically at generating aerodynamic downforce and will therefore prove useful this weekend. 'As a result of a lot of work in the wind tunnel and on the track, we had a lot of updates including a different front wing, floor, turning vanes, brake ducts and a new rear wing. All in all, we're reasonably happy with the update we made, but obviously we've still got a long way to go and we have to keep on working at a similar rate. In fact, we will have a few more small updates this weekend to add a bit more downforce to the car and, as usual this season, it will be interesting to see how each car uses its tyres.'
It is true that tyre behaviour has been the single most influential factor on the evolution of the five races so far this year and Monaco's unique characteristics will not make this weekend's race immune to that. 'We have seen that just a small change in track temperature can have a large effect on tyre performance,' maintains the English engineer. 'And apart from this sensitivity to temperature, they are also quite sensitive to the way the drivers use them. In a race where three pit stops would be considered the norm, if the driver is very very careful on the rear tyres, you might be able to keep them in good enough shape to do just two stops. But if you push hard on the tyres they degrade and a driver can damage them a little bit by pushing. So, when you are fighting in traffic, you take more out of the tyres than you would do if you're running in clean air.' Given that Monaco is synonymous with traffic, whether or not a race is taking place, finding that elusive clean air is the main challenge for the strategists. 'Monaco is a short lap, so your thinking time is reduced,' says Fry turning to the subject of race planning. 'While you look at all the usual factors such as tyres degradation, you have to be very aware of trying to keep the drivers out of traffic so as to try and give them a clear run. So if you are starting from the mid-field it's always a challenge, therefore starting at the front of the grid makes the job a little bit easier.'
After two pairs of back-to-back races to kick start the season, we are now back in the classic routine of a race every fortnight all the way through to the Germany-Hungary double-header at the end of July. Therefore, while for Fry and the team the immediate focus is on Monaco, the work never stops on developing the car for each coming race. 'In the medium term we are constantly driving to bring in updates, as indeed is the case for all teams,' reveals Fry. 'For Canada, we will have a different rear wing and front wing package, which will deliver a slightly different downforce level for this circuit. Work on the exhaust system is ongoing and we have new versions to test. Having learned a lot at the start of the year, we were able to address some of our problems at the Mugello test prior to the Spanish GP and I think now we have a good understanding of our car, trying to add performance to it in a constant drive that will go all the way through to the final race.'
As for this weekend, on the streets of the Principality, Fry believes that much of the improvement in lap times over the weekend comes from having good trouble free practice sessions, which allows the drivers to reacquaint themselves with the idiosyncrasies of the circuit, gaining confidence with each passing lap. Both the Scuderia's current drivers have proved they have that confidence. In fact, Fernando Alonso will be trying to record a third Monegasque win with a third different team, having won twice before in 2006 and 2007. The Spaniard also finished second last year and has twice started from pole position. As for Felipe Massa, he has two third places to his name, in 2007 and '08, the latter after he started from pole, while the following year, he set the race fastest lap. As for the Prancing Horse, the most famous team in the sport does not have the greatest record at the most famous race in the world, with a total of just eight wins since the championship began in 1950. In a topsy turvy season, could this be the weekend for Scuderia Ferrari to end a Monegasque drought that dates back to Michael Schumacher's win in 2001?