Monte-Carlo tech file Monaco may be the most unique race on the Formula 1 calendar, but for the engineers the challenge remains the same: fine-tuning the car to achieve maximum performance around the demanding street circuit. It's an unforgiving place, and getting the most from the R29 around the twisty streets will require an unusual set-up and total commitment from the driver. As a street course, the track usually offers low grip in the early part of the weekend, but come Sunday, the track will be nicely rubbered-in and will continue to improve until the final lap of the Grand Prix.
The roads in the principality may feel billiard-table-smooth at the wheel of a road car, but they are incredibly bumpy for the stiff suspension of a Formula 1 car. To cope with the variations in track surface, ride heights are raised between 5 and 7mm relative to the norm. The public roads are also sharply cambered and very slippery – especially on the traffic markings that are dotted around the circuit which require caution, especially if the track is damp.
In order to maximize the car's grip, the team will use softer suspension settings than normal. This helps the car to ride the bumps and changes of camber. The surface also means that the wheels must be able to move independently to cope with the bumps and so we soften the anti-roll bars to achieve this. Special attention is paid to suspension camber angles too. The key objective is to give the driver a neutral, drivable car that he can have confidence in around the circuit, especially in the fast Massenet-Casino Square complex, as Fernando explains:
“The run through Massenet and Casino Square is one of the fastest parts of the lap. The first left-hander seems to go on forever and is quite bumpy so you have to be careful to balance the car on the throttle to avoid oversteer. You have to hug the barrier as much as possible to make a late apex and get online for the next right-hander which is a blind corner. The car becomes very light as there is a bump on the exit, but it's important to get on the throttle as early as possible for the approach to Mirabeau.”
Monaco demands the highest downforce levels of the season. Contrary to popular belief, the primary benefit does not come in the corners, as many of them are taken at such low speeds that mechanical grip is of greater importance. Rather, the gains from high downforce come under braking and acceleration, keeping the car stable into the corners and ensuring optimum traction on the exit.
Nelson: “The biggest braking zone on the circuit is the chicane of turns 10 and 11. You come out of the tunnel, which is the fastest part of the lap in seventh gear and have to brake down to 70 km/h for the chicane. It's probably the best overtaking opportunity of the lap and you need good stability under braking.”
The famous hairpin at the Grand Hotel is the tightest of the year – along with the sharp turn at Rascasse. Monaco therefore demands the highest steering angle of the season, some two times greater than anything required at the previous race in Barcelona. Dedicated Monaco front suspension is produced to ensure the necessary steering lock can be applied.
Fernando: “The Grand Hotel hairpin is the tightest and slowest corner of the year. It's taken at under 50 km/h and requires full steering lock and is quite a technical corner. It's important to hit the apex so you don't lose too much time through this part of the lap.”
Previously this season the Bridgestone tire compounds supplied to the teams have been two steps apart in terms of their characteristics. However, Monaco sees a change to this allocation philosophy due to the unique demands of the street circuit. Bridgestone will therefore bring the super-soft and soft compounds, which are well suited to working at lower temperatures.
Superficially, Monaco may seem the least demanding circuit of the year, with just 45% of the lap spent on full throttle. Appearances, though, do not reflect reality. The bumpy surface means the engine can easily over-rev if the wheels leave contact with the ground. A drivable engine and good traction from very low revs are extremely important.