Monaco Grand Prix 2011: Preview


As Sebastian Vettel was spraying champagne on the Spanish Grand Prix podium, a huge logistical operation was swinging into action behind the scenes, preparing to move the entire F1 operation from Barcelona to Monaco in just a matter of days.

A huge army of trucks will ensure that everything is in place for the two Free Practice sessions around the streets of Monte Carlo this Thursday.

The Monaco Grand Prix is one of the most eagerly anticipated tracks on the F1 calendar, despite it being the slowest race of the season, and on a narrow track that heavily limits the amount of overtaking possible.

However, the glamorous setting – a track surrounded by five-star hotels, casinos, and a harbour full of luxury yachts and boats, the chance to see drivers thread their car between unforgiving barriers at stupidly high speeds, a venue steeped in tradition, and the presence of numerous celebrities, all mean that this race is a spectacle to behold.

In fact, Monaco is such a valuable location to Formula 1 that Bernie Ecclestone's Formula One Management apparently collects no fee for the race – a heavy contrast to places like China and Abu Dhabi, who reportedly pay Bernie and Co. tens of million pounds for the privilege of hosting a grand prix.

It is certainly the case that Monaco is completely unique amongst the circuits that F1 visits. The teams develop aero parts specifically to generate the huge amounts of downforce needed to find grip around the tight bends of Monte Carlo.

What remains to be seen is whether or not the new regulations will end the usual procession into which most dry races in Monaco descend. The Pirelli tyres certainly livened up what is usually a pretty dull race in Barcelona yesterday, but the DRS did not do much for the overtaking.

After much discussion between drivers and the FIA, there will be a DRS zone in Monte Carlo this weekend. Some drivers were concerned that opening the rear-wing would be unsafe, and Autosport are tonight reporting that the FIA have banned its use in the tunnel to allay their fears. The activation zone will be along the start/finish 'straight' (inverted commas necessary as it is not actually particularly straight). Whether the device actually increases the amount of overtaking or not remains to be seen.

Tyres will, without question, be a factor in Sunday's race. Pirelli are again bringing their soft 'yellow' tyre to this race but, unlike in the previous five races, it will be the prime tyre in Monaco, rather than the option. That title falls to the super soft red tyre, which will get its first outing this weekend and, while it will provide excellent grip levels, it is unlikely to last much more than ten laps.

This will lead to another race with a wide variety of strategies, a huge number of pit stops, and plenty of changes in positions. It will certainly be more exciting than a 'usual' Monaco race, but will be unlikely to satisfy the self-styled F1 'purists' who believe that Pirelli are ruining modern-day grand prix racing.

Red Bull's rivals are keen to point out that, in Monaco, the form book could go out of the window, thanks to the unique set-up required and the extreme aerodynamic challenges of the circuit. This may just be wishful thinking though, especially considering the team from Milton Keynes won in both Spain and Monte Carlo last season without too much trouble, and are already halfway to repeated the same feat this season.

Regardless of the 'Monaco-factor', McLaren showed in Spain that they have a car that is, if not faster than the Red Bull, certainly a match for the RB7 on race pace. Unfortunately for Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button, they still need to find some more time in qualifying, a session that is even more important in Monaco than it was in Barcelona.

Ferrari also promises improvements this weekend, and so does Mercedes. The Monaco Grand Prix could throw up a surprise winner, as it has been known to do on occasion, like when Jarno Trulli was victorious in 2004 and when Olivier Panis took a surprise win in 1996 – a race which saw just three drivers finish. Who knows, Michael Schumacher might even take his sixth victory on the streets of Monte Carlo this weekend.

Interestingly, Sebastian Vettel has never won in Monaco – he was second behind Mark Webber last year and crashed-out in 2009, and he never seems particularly at home there. Lewis Hamilton, on the other hand, has won this race in every series in which he has competed that uses the track as one of its rounds. Fernando Alonso is a double winner in the principality and, if Ferrari get their act together, may well be a contender on Sunday.

  • Qualifying for the Monaco Grand Prix begins at 13:00 BST on Saturday, with the race beginning at the same time on Sunday. Coverage in the UK is available on BBC One and BBC Radio 5 Live.
  • There will be reports and reaction to event in Monaco throughout the weekend on TheCheckeredFlag