By Tom Keeble, U.S.A.
Following their dominant win in Spain, McLaren seem to be the favourites to win in Monaco, but the Monte Carlo circuit always provides unexpected results, and all their rivals will be pushing hard to savour glory at the most glamorous race of the year. Tom Keeble previews the race and rates the teams' chances of success ahead of the sixth round of the 2005 season
The Monaco Grand Prix is hosted on the streets of Monte Carlo. The weekend is not expected to see inclement weather and track temperature should be moderate. Overtaking is almost impossible, so qualifying is vital. The circuit particularly emphasises the driver and a drivable package, so there is opportunity for talent to shine.
The streets of Monte Carlo represent one of the utmost tests of driver skill, eliciting mistakes from even the most experienced world-beaters. Despite being a clear master of the circuit with five wins, recent history has not been kind to Michael Schumacher in the Principality. Jarno Trulli and Juan Pablo Montoya are recent winners, whilst David Coulthard has topped the podium twice. In their current form, this is not going to be an easy weekend for Ferrari.
Track: Monaco is the slowest, tightest circuit on the calendar. There is almost no run-off space anywhere, so driver error inevitably results in barrier contact - and typically the end of the race. The circuit is cambered off the centre, like other normal streets, resulting in unusual racing lines, whilst painted lines and manhole covers are a particular menace in the wet. With relatively slow speeds, the cost of drag is nothing compared to the benefits of downforce, so the teams will all crank it up as much as possible. Ride heights have to be high in order to accommodate the road surface, and though engines are barely stressed, gearboxes will to be put through the mill.
Tyres: Michelin's lead in the tyre war is looking very solid, but the low wear street circuit is closer to San Marino than any other visited so far. Admittedly, Michelin did not have the best compounds available there, but with overtaking impossible, this is a race to the final pitstop, and so it presents a real opportunity for Bridgestone to close the gap.
The tight corners tend to cause graining on the front tyres, leading to early understeer, before continued traction wears the rears to bring about oversteer; this will make it tough to set up the cars effectively for the whole race distance, probably causing issues in the second qualifying session.
Weather: Whilst there is always a very real chance of showers in Monaco, the current prediction is for a moderately warm, but overcast weekend.
Strategy: Overtaking is almost impossible, so there is a huge emphasis on qualifying well - drivers who make mistakes that cost track time in practice typically pay a heavy price. Running early is also expensive, so both sessions will be important.
Pit strategies are probably going to be a mix of one and two stops: single stopping has some interesting strategic possibilities, but the compromise of carrying the extra fuel in qualifying should make it prohibitive for the front runners.
Surprises: Toyota may make the podium, despite their poor bump handling reputation, while Sauber and Red-Bull could both, potentially, surprise their better funded competitors.
Conclusions: Monaco is undoubtedly a special race, so most of the teams make considerable efforts to up their game for the event. Bridgestone are something of an unknown - if they have come up with a tyre as effective as the San Marino effort, then Ferrari will be very strong; however, the most likely outcome is a straight fight for honours between Renault and McLaren, with the remainder picking up the pieces from what should be a high attrition event.
Team by Team
After another poor showing in Spain, it was apparent that the sudden return to form in San Marino was more to do with Michelin dropping the ball than Ferrari and Bridgestone stealing a massive march. Whilst this has made it easy for Ferrari to lay the blame for their woes at Bridgestone's door, without another major player on the same rubber, it is hard to know if the issues lie with Bridgestone alone, or if the team are simply not using their tyres effectively. The Spanish outing was not all doom and gloom, however. The car has made considerable progress since the season opener: Schumacher's exit from tyre damage did not let the relatively heavy fuel load show the full race distance performance, though Barrichello's inability to make progress through the field was not a good sign.
Package: the overriding question for Ferrari is whether Bridgestone have closed the gap to Michelin. With the cars so dependent on tyres as a component of their overall performance, it is critical that the team are working on at least a level playing field in order to challenge at the front. The latest Bridgestone incarnation seems to offer good qualifying pace, which is particularly important in Monaco, so even if they are short of race pace, the team could interfere effectively with the plans of the Michelin runners. Of course, they are also expected to have further developments available on the car, as the extensive test programme continues to grind out enhancements.
Drivers: Michael Schumacher is an undoubted master of the circuit; for all that, the last few visits to the Principality have been less than kind to the reigning World Champion. Nevertheless, given any opportunity - particularly bad weather - he is likely to do exceptionally well. Rubens Barrichello is no slouch there either, but nor is he expected to be quite as quick as Schumacher. Should neither driver suffer reliability issues, they will be looking for a double points finish, but getting on the podium will be tough without progress from Bridgestone.
Objectives: podium finish, race win unlikely.
Following their exclusion in Spain, and despite helping Michelin test tyres for this race, BAR will not be taking part as they continue their ban.
Despite losing to a dominant Kimi Raikkonen in Spain, Renault should be in a position to take the race back to McLaren in Monte Carlo. The Barcelona result was a reflection of the some solid work by the Woking outfit that improved the aerodynamics of their car and its reliability, offering them a chance to leverage their biggest strengths. It should not be forgotten that Renault also put on a respectable show: they had little new for the event, but still stayed close to the pace.
Package: For Monaco, the team are bringing out a new aerodynamic package that ought to be a reasonable step forwards; however, the real strength of the car is its excellent balance and predictability, so getting up to speed ought to be a relatively quick affair. Considering their propensity for working on race pace during the earlier sessions, it is entirely possible that the team will fail to shine in the laptimes on Thursday's practice session, but that is little indication that they would be slow on Saturday. McLaren, however, present a very real threat, and there is always the chance that Bridgestone could surprise Ferrari with competitive tyres.
Drivers: Fernando Alonso's mistake whilst passing a backmarker last season ended hopes for a Renault one-two at the Principality; nevertheless, he ought to make another excellent showing this year. Giancarlo Fisichella has twice landed podium finishes in Monaco with unfancied teams: this is arguably the best chance he is going to get to win a race this year, as the car is competitive, and his affinity for this circuit could give him an edge over his teammate. Rough luck in Spain has costs points - and a podium in Spain - so a change of fortune could be overdue.
Objectives: winning - though getting both cars on the podium will be the challenge.
A disappointing showing in Spain has left Williams with plenty to prove. BMW identified a problem with the exhaust valves that necessitated engine changes: Heidfeld took the ten-place penalty, whilst Webber did not run on Friday, and neither had a good race. The result has added fuel to the rumours that BMW are unhappy with Williams and considering their options. Ironically, the last time rumours of BMW unhappiness were doing the rounds, Montoya handed Williams a win.
Package: The car will feature further aerodynamic enhancements for Monaco, whilst the team have been testing tyres extensively for this race. Despite the relative lack of recent form, the team put a strong focus on this event and are expecting the car to show an improved performance. Continued efforts with the traction control should offer smoother acceleration off the line and out of corners, though the wear impact at Monaco is going to be an issue.
Drivers: Nick Heidfeld has never had a Monaco really worth remembering, but until now, he has always tackled it in a Sauber or a Jordan; he is another driver who won there in F3 and F3000, so it will be interesting to see what he can do with a better machine: improved qualifying and solid racing should give him a chance to land some points. Mark Webber, on the other hand, has not finished either of the races he started at Monaco with Jaguar, so he is something of an unknown; at least his ability to qualify well should be a real asset.
Objectives: finish with both cars in the points. Podium finishes are unlikely: could struggle to beat Sauber.
After working out how to use their tyres better, then threatening to win races, the team finally gave Kimi Raikkonen a car that could make the end of the race, and he duly delivered the win in Spain. Given their excellent Monaco record, this return to form comes at an opportune time. Whilst Raikkonen dominated in Barcelona, Montoya's race was more modest, including an unforced spin, but also an aggressive overtaking manoeuvre on Schumacher after the restart: the Colombian is showing the beginnings of a return to form, even if he is struggling to dial the car in.
Package: the team have worked on set-up for Monaco; they will run full downforce and are expected to run revised, tougher suspension in order to handle their drivers brushing the barriers. Although they brought out a major update for Spain, they will probably have a more updates on the aero package specifically for Monaco.
Drivers: Raikkonen is clearly on form, but he does not have a Monaco win to his name: right now, the car seems to be fast enough to do the job, but there are still question marks over reliability. Raikkonen should be disappointed if he leaves without a podium finish. Juan Pablo Montoya won two years ago, but last year struggled to get his car set up effectively. Considering his lack of running this season, getting on his teammate's pace would be an accomplishment, but he is still capable of a very strong performance, even winning, if he gets the car dialled in.
Objectives: front row in qualifying and podium finish - aiming for the race win.
After a difficult weekend in Spain, Sauber are looking for restitution in Monte Carlo. Their Barcelona outing showed that the car is capable of performing quite well, but a water leak forced Villeneuve out whilst Massa suffered a puncture from a cracked wheel. With a tight budget continuing to limit in-season developments, Sauber are starting to lose ground to their better funded manufacturer-backed rivals, so it is vital to take what opportunities they can to score now.
Package: The package will sport a revised aerodynamic package in Monaco, and they are continuing to tune the traction control. However, despite this development work, performance will not improve much. The team are looking to offer their drivers a good balance to give them faith in the car for qualifying, before they trundle around and wait for retirements in the race.
Drivers: Although Felipe Massa has improved considerably, he is still prone to the small mistakes that will leave a car in the barriers at Monaco. He is usually quick in qualifying, but will need to maintain solid concentration if he is to complete the event. Looking at Jacques Villeneuve's relatively mediocre performance in Spain, the Canadian needs to get his car balanced rapidly if he is to make anything of Monte Carlo. More than any other circuit on the calendar this year, this is the best chance he will get to make a difference and end the criticism.
Objectives: qualify in the top ten; score points - beat Williams.
Red Bull continue to confound their critics as the season wears on, scoring points whenever the major players have dropped them. David Coulthard offers a strong lead to the team, and they have responded with a growing confidence in their ability to race effectively. Despite a small budget and limited development, Monaco is seen as another chance to pick up a point or two.
Package: small improvements to the package - recently from an update to the under tray - have made the car more drivable. With balance and confidence in the car a key to speed in Monaco, this improved ease of setup can only help performances. The team are bringing revised aero components that should improve efficiency, and they have been working on traction control.
Drivers: Coulthard has won twice in Monaco and brings tremendous track knowledge to the team. The Scot must be looking for an opportunity to show what he can still do at one of his favourite circuits: another points finish has to be on the cards. On the other hand, whilst Tonio Liuzzi did well in F3000 - he won last year - he has limited experience of running an F1 car in races. If his exuberance doesn't get the best of him, he might not end in the barriers.
Objectives: qualify in the top ten, score points. Beat Sauber.
With last year's race winner on board, and the man who should have been alongside him on the front row, barring an engine change, Toyota have to be very optimistic for their chances in Monte Carlo. They made a strong showing in Spain, illustrating that the car has its aerodynamics and engine working very well, and they are able to get it well balanced.
Package: Toyota are developing their car continuously, so they are expected to have some updates for Monaco in order to maximise downforce. The car is well balanced and ought to be very useful in the Principality, but their suspect bump handling could leave a disadvantage alongside Renault and McLaren - who are both expected to be right on form.
Drivers: Jarno Trulli won last year, and has been driving at the top of his game for Toyota this season: his motivation is on a high. Ralf Schumacher was stunningly quick in qualifying a year ago, and judging by his qualifying sessions in Spain, he finally seems to be getting on top of this car. Both drivers should be aiming for the podium, and they have a shot at winning if the Renault and McLaren trip over each other.
Objectives: two points finishes, podium. Race win unlikely, but possible.
There is little doubt that Jordan's role this season will remain to act as a buffer between Minardi and the remainder of the grid, but Monaco is still special for the outfit - and one of their best point scoring opportunities of the year. If there are few finishers, or it rains, then Jordan can reasonably look for minor points.
Package: The package is showing little development; there will probably be a couple of enhancements to maximise downforce, but the team do not look likely to make any significant steps forward. The effort for the weekend will be on dialling the cars in sufficiently for the inexperienced drivers to make the finish...
Drivers: For a change, Tiago Monteiro should have a distinct advantage over his teammate, as the rookie has driven street circuits in CART. Narain Karthikeyan has limited experience (though it includes Macao) so his work will be cut out closing up on his teammate.
Objectives: make a showing, beat Minardi.
This is going to be a tough outing for Minardi, who are looking to demonstrate that their first new chassis in three years has closed the gap to the front. Of course, at a circuit that places a tremendous premium on experience, their drivers are going to have their work cut out just keeping the cars out of the barriers, let alone worrying about getting off the back of the grid in qualifying.
Nevertheless, this race is expected to have its usual enormous attrition, so even Minardi have a chance of scoring a point, if they can make it to the end. Considering their troubles in the last two races, that is going to be a trial.
Objectives: complete race distance - beat a Jordan.
After sweeping the first five races of the season, the circus descended on Monaco with the Schumacher hot favourite to extend his streak to six. Amid the glitz and glamour, Michelin conspired with their teams to change the plot.
Jarno Trulli blazed around the circuit for pole, comfortably ahead of the competition: it was a strong session for Renault, who looked to be in excellent form all weekend. Ralf Schumacher was second, but docked ten places for an engine change, promoting Jenson Button to the front row. BAR looked very smooth all weekend and were clearly in good shape.
Alonso in third place looked as good as Trulli, but lost four tenths around the circuit, whilst Schumacher arrived in fourth as a consequence of heavy fuel, a poor first qualifying session, and struggling to get his Bridgestone tyres up to speed. Kimi Raikkonen was alongside, after man-handling his McLaren on to the third row: it was handling badly over kerbs.
Two tenths off Schumacher, Barrichello looked solid in sixth place, as he struggled with the car's handling. Sato qualified seventh in the second BAR after putting a wheel on the kerb in the tunnel, leading to a big lockup and slide. Coulthard lined up alongside, with Montoya in ninth - he was having a tough weekend - and Fisichella was tenth.
Panis was thirteenth and da Matta fifteenth for Toyota, with Massa in sixteenth and Heidfeld seventeenth.
The race started with Trulli leading a very slow parade lap - conserving fuel, but also ensuring little heat got in to the Bridgestone tyres on the Ferraris. At the start, Panis stalled, sending the cars around for a second lap whilst he was manoeuvred in to the pitlane.
In the event, the start went smoothly with Alonso jumping Button for second whilst Sato squeezed past both Schumacher and Raikkonen on a blinding start that took him to fourth behind his teammate. Klien ran in to Heidfeld, losing a wing and ending his race on a kerb.
Sato soon started to lose ground to Button as his engine went off colour, finally failing in spectacular fashion on lap five. In the smoke, chaos reigned: Fisichella inverting his car by driving it over Coulthard's, removing his rear wing. The safety car was deployed, letting Heidfeld and Ralf Schumacher make quick stops to top off on fuel.
At the restart, Montoya got a jump on Barrichello; positions remained static until the first round of stops - ironically led by Montoya, who rejoined behind Heidfeld, who proceeded to hold the Williams. By the time Montoya passed the Jordan, all hopes of a podium finish were over, as he had lost a minute to the next car forward.
At the front, Raikkonen was losing ground to the Renaults and Button, but easily keeping Schumacher behind. When he finally pitted, the Ferrari driver made the most of clear air to run much faster, getting within 9 seconds of the Renaults before they pitted. When he made his own stop, he had passed Button's BAR and was only a handful of seconds behind Alonso... though Renault was clearly running faster on new rubber.
Raikkonen stopped on lap 28, after the engineers decided his engine would not go the distance, whilst Ralf Schumacher parked his car in the pits ten laps later as his gearbox ran out of gears.
Shortly after, Alonso came up to lap Montoya, but lost his car on the marbles in the tunnel as he made his move; the safety car was immediately deployed, seeing Trulli, Button, Massa, da Matta and Montoya dive in to the pits for their final stop. Schumacher remained on track - almost certainly a tactical error - but allowing the Ferrari to lap Montoya. Unfortunately, whilst following the safety car, Schumacher went to warm up his brakes in the tunnel, forcing Montoya to react to the unexpected manoeuvre, but there was contact, pitching the Ferrari in to the wall, abruptly ending his race.
On the restart, Trulli easily pulled away from Button, and the order remained to the end.
Point Paying Positions
Pos Driver Team Time 1. Trulli Renault (M) 1h45:46.601 2. Button BAR-Honda (M) + 0.497 3. Barrichello Ferrari (B) + 1:15.766 4. Montoya Williams-BMW (M) + 1 lap 5. Massa Sauber-Petronas (B) + 1 lap 6. da Matta Toyota (M) + 1 lap 7. Heidfeld Jordan-Ford (B) + 2 laps 8. Panis Toyota (M) + 3 laps Fastest Lap: M.Schumacher, 1:14.439, lap 23 Classified: 10 from 20 starters