In years past it hasn’t taken some obscure algorithm by Stephen Hawking to predict the winner at Monaco. You qualify on the pole and you’re expected to win the race. Not this year. The 2012 season has been the most unpredictable of the modern era. The reasons are a grab bag: The Pirelli tire degradation rate, which is a moving target depending on which tire Pirelli hands out at each race, the weather in testing and at each track, and finally the nature of the cars performance having become more track specific than at any other time in recent memory. You can’t get more track-specific than Monaco.
No one, drivers and engineers included, really know just how deeply their car is going to fall in love with the Monaco layout. Pat Fry, Ferrari’s Technical Director, seems to have a probable answer, but probable still places any explanation in the “Who Knows” category. According to Fry, “It is certainly unpredictable, it varies, and small changes in track temperature have a large effect on tire performance. I think it was China where that showed up the most.”
China or no, the swings in car set-up married with driver style along with weather conditions (you can add your own specific opinion here) has created a guessing game that has even the most powerful Cray computer rolling dice. If you add all these variables together then you have Monaco.
Monaco is the only track left on the Formula One calendar that is a true street course. It’s narrow, it has precious little run-off area, it’s bumpy and it’s mercilessly unforgiving. Not a good scenario when trying to plan a strategy. Constructing and executing a race strategy has been tantamount to a best guess so far this year.
Now there’s a new star in the show: The Super Soft Pirelli tire. This is the first time that tire will be employed at Monaco. Tire degradation management is of paramount importance to winning or losing this race and make no mistake, if the tires aren’t managed at Jenson Button levels, then all the race strategies that the team principles have concocted are useless. It’s one thing to have a plan, it’s entirely another matter to execute that plan. In this weekend’s race, truly the mission will not survive the first shot.
The nature of driving Monaco is that it’s tight with huge acceleration coming out of the many slow corners. Wheel spin will be a challenge to say the least. Jenson Button is generally considered the smoothest driver in F1, but the McLaren isn’t optimal for this track. Mechanical grip will be more important than aero and getting the power down without burning up the rear tires will be difficult. This is one track where having good traction on turn exit is imperative. Has Ferrari successfully cured that glaring problem? It seems they have, but Barcelona is only one race and doesn’t represent Monaco.
Monaco in a ‘normal’ season, which is to say whoever is on the pole will run away, is not necessarily what we’re going to see. No matter, we will see Herculean efforts to start from the pole, this track is notoriously difficult to execute full-on racing passes and being up at the front gives the driver clean air and the ability to dictate their lines. But this one may be different. It appears that no one is going to run away at the front, despite their best efforts-and, their best efforts may be too much.
Should you choose to use statistics from the last five races, which is foolish at best, then you would have to look at the drivers who’ve been the most consistent: Sebastian Vettel, Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton. But wait…Hamilton doesn’t have a win and Pastor Maldonado does, and, Maldonado will get another win, Monaco, just ask him.
This writer isn’t betting for or against Williams repeating. Right now Pastor, the “Macho Man”, Maldonado is reveling in Latin American glory. He has shown flashes of brilliance beyond the maiden win and has a great deal of past experience at this track in the lower formulas, but if you really unpack what Ferrari has done with their exit speeds, stability and the fact that Fernando Alonso is at the wheel they could pull off a victory. Sauber? Sergio Perez can still taste that “almost” victory at Malaysia. What if Raikkonen and Boullier actually pull off a strategy that doesn’t look like a game of twister with old people?
Do you really want the bottom line?
Trying to pick a winner here is like men trying to pick out women’s clothes.
No one wins, everybody’s mad and you wont get laid.