F1: Monaco GP Preview
Every year, right around this time of spring, Formula One decamps to the French Riviera for the crown jewel of the calendar – the Monaco Grand Prix. Say Monte Carlo and a collection of images springs to mind: yachts, sportscars, the glitz and glamour of one of the world’s most exclusive locations. Monaco is the cliché of Formula One, it’s the champagne-soaked poster child of the sport and one that lives and is reinforced by its stereotypes.
For the teams racing there, of course, Monaco is different. Monaco is a test of strength, willpower and resistance for drivers and crews alike: in the cockpit, it’s a relentless mental challenge, corner after corner requiring millimetric precision to avoid a race-ending rendezvous with the barriers; it’s pure performance, one of the places where the skill of those behind the wheel most comes to the fore. In the garage – the cramped garages, on three levels, with trees sticking through the floor and ceiling – mechanics contend with conditions they don’t experience anywhere else in the world – but cannot compromise on precision. Driving Monaco may be like “riding a bicycle in your living room”, but working in these garages could be described as being more akin to a crossfit workout in a broom closet.
Monaco is unique in every aspect: it’s a track from a different era, on which qualifying means as much as the race, a circuit on which the wider, larger F1 cars of today tread the same streets on which Jackie Stewart’s and Graham Hill’s slender machines darted. The paddock, away from the garages on the Quai Antoine 1er, is a world on its own, yachts bobbing quietly on the sea in front of busy hospitalities; the fans, ubiquitous, crowd the hill over Rascasse and every other open space – they’re the closest they can be to Formula One here. They’re as much part of the story as the cars on track.
Despite every challenge, Monaco is still Monaco. Each crammed space, each oddity, is just making this race unique: for every fan, for every driver, for every team member, doing Monaco is a badge of honor. Because one thing is true to all those who experienced it: nothing ever feels like Monaco.
The Monaco Grand Prix is one of the most iconic events on the sporting landscape. It was first run in 1929 while in 1950 it was part of Formula 1’s inaugural World Championship season. It has been a near-permanent fixture of the sport ever since, absent on only four occasions, most recently in 2020 due to the pandemic.
The Circuit de Monaco stretches out across only 3.3km of the tiny Principality and while it is Formula 1’s shortest circuit it packs a lot into its layout. The 19-turn track means drivers rarely have a chance to draw breath, with the challenge heightened by the proximity of the barriers, and the blind nature of several of the corners. Drivers must build up speed through the course of the three practice sessions as confidence and track conditions ramp up.
Given that overtaking is a near-impossibility Saturday’s qualifying session, and the timing of the mandatory pit stop in Sunday’s race, takes on added importance compared to most grands prix. Teams and drivers must also be on alert for the probability of Safety Car periods, or even red flags, which could upend the situation at any moment.
The Safety Car has been used in three out of the last five races, with a single Virtual Safety Car appearance in that time. Despite the narrowness of the circuit and the proximity of the walls, this race can go without incident. Last year’s wet race was red-flagged due to barrier damage.
This is the hardest circuit on the calendar to overtake on. If a move is to be attempted, the Nouvelle Chicane at the end of the tunnel is the best place for it, while Sainte Devote and Mirabeau also provide relatively decent opportunities. Any on-track pass is well-earned here.
Monaco traditionally has been a one-stop race, utilizing the two softest compounds of Pirelli’s range. With no change to the compounds, expect similar again this year. Track position is key here, and car setup will likely prioritize one-lap pace over race pace. The pit time loss is below the season’s average.
Unlocking the Lap
The lap opens with a short run to the first corner, Sainte Devote. The braking point at the end of the start-finish straight is difficult to judge, and the exit is key for the blast up the hill at Beau Rivage. It’s not uncommon to see drivers who have misjudged the braking into this first corner take to the escape road. One of the heaviest braking zones on the circuit, coming at the end of the only DRS zone, Sainte Devote can present an overtaking opportunity but it has been notorious for collisions over the years.
After the famous Fairmont Hotel Hairpin is the tricky Portier section. This double right-hander is fiendishly tricky. The first part requires mounting the pavement for the best line, while the second requires a good exit for the run through the tunnel that follows. It can also be a passing zone if a driver can catch another off guard.
A good lap can very quickly go wrong at the Swimming Pool complex. The first part – a very fast left-right chicane, is one of the most spectacular places to watch a Formula One car. There is no breathing room before the second part – a slightly slower right-left, where it is easy to clip the barrier on entry, or the curb on exit.
Monaco GP Fact File
- Clocking in at just 3.337 km in length, the Circuit de Monaco is the shortest track on the current F1 calendar. The next shortest circuit we visit is Zandvoort, which is nearly a full kilometer longer at 4.259 km.
- The race sees the highest lap count of any event with 78 tours of the circuit forming the Monaco Grand Prix. It is the only race that does not adhere to the FIA’s mandated 305 km minimum distance, measuring 260.286 km.
- It also has the shortest run from pole position to the braking zone for the first corner, measuring just 114 meters.
- Just 34% of the lap is spent at full throttle. That is significantly lower than the 43% of the lap at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez in Mexico that is spent at full throttle, the next lowest total on the calendar.
- Taken at just 45 km/h, the hairpin at turn six is the slowest corner F1 cars negotiate across the season. Being the tightest 180° corner on the calendar, special steering racks are used that allow for more steering angle.
- With three victories around the streets of the principality, Lewis is the most successful driver on the current grid at the Monaco Grand Prix. Fernando Alonso has taken two wins, whilst Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez have claimed one apiece.
- From the seven races in F1’s inaugural 1950 season, only four of them remain on the calendar in 2023: the British, Monaco, Belgian and Italian Grands Prix. All four races take place on the same circuits they did in 1950: Silverstone, Circuit de Monaco, Spa-Francorchamps, and Monza.
- The first-ever Monaco Grand Prix was organized in 1929 by Antony Noghès. The final corner of the circuit is named in his honor.
Dave Robson, Williams Head of Vehicle Performance
This weekend we take on the huge challenge of the Circuit de Monaco. Although the layout of the track is very familiar, it never fails to offer up a new challenge. The weather is currently forecast to be cool but dry; however, there will inevitably be cloud on the mountains, which could move over the circuit. Even if the weather remains fair, the sessions will be interrupted as drivers push the limits of their cars.
The tire compounds are the softest that Pirelli offer and are the same as we raced in Baku and the same as we would have had for the Alternative Tyre Allocation event in Imola. They should work reasonably well in Monaco by Saturday afternoon, but they may be a little trickier during Free Practice on Friday.
Overtaking will remain very difficult and the drivers will be pushed to their limits during the 78 laps of the Grand Prix.
Champion Leader Max Verstappen
I am excited to get back to racing this week. Not racing in Imola was the right decision and I know it was not taken lightly but some things are obviously more important than racing and this was one of those occasions. Looking ahead to Monaco, qualifying is so important there so we need to make sure we are as strong as we can be in that session. The circuit in Monaco is super tight, even more than other street circuits. So, nailing a quali lap here is extremely difficult but at the same time very exciting. The race is usually heavily dependent on the strategy as overtaking is almost impossible. And of course, I live in Monaco so it’s nice to go home every evening during the Grand Prix weekend.
MARIO ISOLA – MOTORSPORT DIRECTOR
“A race that has made history”
“We’re heading to a Monaco Grand Prix that’s somewhat different to what we expected. It should have been the second race of a European triple-header but instead it’s going to be the first due to the cancellation of Imola. Those images of devastation are still fresh in our minds and we want to express our solidarity once more with the families of the victims, as well as all those who have suffered such huge losses.
Monaco has written its own chapter in the history of Formula 1. The characteristics of this unique circuit, largely unaltered for more than 60 years, make it a true one-off that has often sprung surprises. No other track can allow a driver to compensate for any technical shortcomings of their car in the same way, and just one incident can shake things up entirely. The difficulty of overtaking can sometimes detract from the spectacle in the race, but that only makes Saturday’s qualifying all the more exciting, as grid position assumes a particular importance to the final result on Sunday. As is often the case on street circuits, Pirelli has nominated the softest tires in the range. One of the peculiarities of Monaco is the fact that the track is opened to normal traffic every evening, which means that it’s very hard for rubber to build up on the racing line, making the surface even more slippery. With Imola having been scrubbed, Monaco could now become the debut for the new Cinturato Blue full wet without tire blankets, obviously depending on weather conditions: another potential random factor this weekend.”
- The three softest compounds in the Pirelli Formula 1 range will take to the track in Monaco: C3 as the P Zero White hard, C4 as the P Zero Yellow medium and C5 as the P Zero Red soft.
- The total length of this historic track is just 3.337 kilometers, with 68 races having taken place and the most successful driver (in terms of wins) being Ayrton Senna. The legendary Brazilian was first past the checkered flag on every occasion from 1987 to 1993, with the sole exception being 1988 – when he retired on lap 66 while leading.
- Monaco has the lowest average lap speed of the whole championship, at around 150kph.
- There’s very little grip and limited wear. The softest compounds offer a good level of adhesion when it comes to traction but mechanical grip is limited. This doesn’t prevent some sliding: a determining factor in surface graining.
- All types of tire brought to Monaco were used in the variable weather of last year’s grand prix: Cinturato Blue full wet, Cinturato Green intermediate, and all three slick compounds. On a dry track, the race is nearly always a one-stopper for everybody, but last year most drivers stopped three times.
- The new Cinturato Blue full wet tires that don’t need tire blankets should have made their debut at Imola but could now be used in Monaco – as well as throughout the rest of the season.