The 2001 Monaco Grand Prix Preview

By Ewan Tytler, U.S.A.
Atlas F1 Magazine Writer

Formula One moves to its most glamorous and historic circuit: Monaco. Next weekend the air will be filled with screaming V10s on a circuit that has its roots in the roaring 20s.

The Monaco Grand Prix was the brain-child of Anthony Noghes, the General Commissioner of the Automobile Club de Monaco in the 1920s. Legend has it that Noghes completed the design of the circuit while he walked around Monaco in 1925. Noghes recruited fellow Monagesque Louis Chiron and sold the idea of a Monaco Grand Prix to Prince Pierre Grimaldi. After gaining the approval of the AIACR, the ancestor of the FIA, Monaco held the first ever motor-race on a street circuit in 1929.

The modern circuit is quite similar to Noghes's original 1929 circuit and the last corner has been named in Noghes's honour. At 3.370 km, Monaco is the shortest and slowest Grand Prix circuit, and as always, the 59th Monaco Grand Prix is held on Ascension Sunday.

Even among street circuits, Monaco is unique. Six times winner Ayrton Senna once made the comment, "I felt that the circuit was no longer really a circuit, just a tunnel of Armco." Senna's perspective is correct; due to the height of the Armco barriers, much of the circuit is visually a tunnel, with the exits of many corners being blind. It takes a long time for a driver to master Monaco - Senna won the Grand Prix on his 4th attempt, while Alain Prost and Michael Schumacher both won on their third. And, there are many missing names from the list of winners at Monaco, including World Champions Mario Andretti, Jim Clark, Damon Hill, Emerson Fittipaldi, Alan Jones, Nigel Mansell and Nelson Piquet.

Sir Frank Williams sums up the feelings of most Monaco enthusiasts: "I love it. Having said that, it is the most stressful race for many participants, but the most exciting Grand Prix of the year. Whatever it is that is so special - the endless noise, the amazing proximity of the cars, the ability to watch such skilled racing drivers driving real racing cars as they power 800 horsepower through Rascasse - it is just a great privilege to be so close and watch it all happening right in front of you, or from great overhead vantage points. Unfortunately, this only happens once a year and that is at Monaco."

BMW Motorsport Director, Gerhard Berger described some of the challenges of the race weekend at Monaco. "Monaco is the classic race that the whole world watches," Berger said. "This race is the main event of the F1 season for both the fans and those involved in the sport at the top level. The teams and the drivers are under extra pressure as everybody wants to do particularly well. There is a kind of love-hate relationship; a good performance in Monaco stays for long in everybody's memory but achieving that is massively difficult. The track isn't forgiving; there's so little room that every false step can end with an accident or a crash into the barriers.

"In Monte Carlo, the drivers' performance play a big role. The quality of the whole package is particularly significant. A lot of engine power is needed on the long uphill slopes and the tunnel straight, but even more important is the aerodynamic downforce on the rest of the track. A well functioning traction control is also needed. The surface of the streets is a sensitive matter for tyre constructors. Overtaking is possible only when another driver makes a mistake or a pitstop."

Shell Motorsport Account Manager, Ian Galliard, added: "The drivers spend hardly any time at maximum speed around this circuit - it has the lowest average speed of any GP track, and therefore they need driveability rather than top-end power." BAR's Team Manager, Greg Field, also added: "You also have to deal with the surface of the circuit being very dirty. It's market day in Monaco on Friday and the roads are re-opened to the public. As a result, there is no chance for the track surface to 'clean up'. The way to a good time around Monaco is generally to get out on the circuit and stay out, and then usually the lap times will come down consistently."

Jaguar's Pedro de la Rosa gave a driver's perspective: "There's simply no room for error at Monaco. The driver has to concentrate 100% of the time and one small mistake will always manifest itself in a big way around here! This street circuit provides us with a never-ending series of challenges and a seemingly endless guardrail. Combine this with the very narrow track and continuously changing camber and it's not hard to see why this race is so unpredictable." Ferrari's Rubens Barrichello added: "Monaco is bumpy and incredibly uncomfortable. Never a moment to rest and a constant workout for your arms and legs. A lap can be the biggest thrill of your life but also the bumpiest!" Barrichello also predicted, "With traction control, accelerating out of the hairpin will be easier."

Pitstop and tyre strategies

Only 10 cars were classified in last year's race and most of these finishers opted for a one-stop strategy, while Jaguar's Johnny Herbert opted for a 2-stop strategy. Most of those on a one-stop pitted between laps 45-56, while Herbert pitted on laps 27 and 40. Five of the field were eliminated at Ste Devote. Only 12 cars were classified in 1998, 10 cars finished in 1997, 9 in 2000 and although 7 cars were classified in 1996, only 4 cars were actually running at the end of the race.

It would be no surprise if most teams again adopted a one-stop strategy on Sunday. Technical Manager of Bridgestone Motorsport, Hisao Suganuma, stated: "Testing in Spain and Italy last week was useful preparation for Monaco as all our teams were given the opportunity to try out the new compound and constructions. Monaco is a difficult race to test for - recreating its unique characteristics is impossible, not least because all the normal test tracks are much more abrasive. But all our teams were able to contribute to the final choice we made on tyres for Monaco. The softer of the two dry tyre options is the softest compound we expect to use this year. The new construction was developed to give higher grip. At a circuit like Monaco, the adjustments you can make to improve a car's handling are limited, but tyre choice can have a big influence over the handling and stiffness of the car.

"Tyre construction can be equated to the foundations of a house - if the construction is developed to suit the particular circuit then what is built around it will work better. During testing for Monaco and later this week at the track, we will be working very closely with our teams to help them find the best set-up and, of course, which tyre to choose. I expect it to be a one-stop race. Although the new tyres were produced for Monaco, the results of their performance will contribute to our on-going development program." Michelin's motorsport director Pierre Dupasquier added, "For tyres it's more a hell than a heaven. The track is covered with ultra-slippery, painted road markings, while the kerbs and the manhole covers offer risks of tyre damage. The drivers are also constantly kissing the guardrails."

Wet conditions at Monaco are a possibility - the 1997 race was wet, while the 1996 race was damp and both races were stopped after two hours.

Past Experience

This is how well (or bad) the current drivers have qualified in the past at Monaco:

* F3000 Result

Down the Pitlane

Ferrari still lead the Constructors' Championship. Ferrari have won the Monaco Grand Prix eight times and have scored 56 points from 1990 to 2000. In 1999, Ferrari scored an impressive 1-2 victory but in last year's race had to settle for second place.

The leader of the drivers' World Championship, Michael Schumacher, is the most successful and consistent driver at Monaco since 1994. He has won this Grand Prix 4 times - in 1994, 1995, 1997 and 1999 - matching Alain Prost's own record. If Schumacher wins on Sunday he will equal Graham Hill's record of five wins. Ayrton Senna's record of six wins is still safe. Schumacher set pole position in 1994, 1996 and 20000 and set fastest lap in 1994 and 1997. This most impressive victory was probably the wet race of 1997.

Rubens Barrichello has consolidated his third position in the drivers' Championship. Barrichello finished 2nd in last year's race for Ferrari and 2nd in the rain for Stewart in 1997, while his highest grid position was 5th in 1999 for Stewart.

McLaren trail Ferrari by 18 points in the Constructors' Championship after six Grands Prix. McLaren set the pace at a 3-day test at Valencia in Spain, although the team are still mourning the loss of Paul Morgan, the co-founder of Ilmor. McLaren Team Principal, Ron Dennis, stated: "Monaco is a difficult race for the drivers and the team, the circuit's original characteristics demand the utmost concentration and focus from everyone involved over the whole weekend and limit the preparation which can take place prior to the event. The result in Austria was fantastic for David and the team and we are looking to continue the championship challenge at this race." McLaren is the most successful team in the history of the Monaco Grand Prix, having won there 11 times and scoring 83 points at Monaco between 1990 and 2000.

Mika Hakkinen has slipped to 10th equal in the drivers' Championship after his disastrous DNF at Austria. Hakkinen revealed: "I always enjoy racing at Monaco, it's a very individual and exciting circuit, steeped in history, that offers different challenges to any of the other tracks on the calendar. The team has had a positive test session in Valencia this past week, the MP4-16 was quick and reliable and I am looking forward to driving the car round the streets of Monte Carlo."

Hakkinen holds the race lap record for Monaco (1:21.571), which he reset last year on the way to finishing 6th. Hakkinen's 1998 race was a textbook victory from pole position, setting the fastest lap along the way. Hakkinen also finished 3rd in 1999, after setting pole position and fastest lap, and also scored his first point at Monaco with a 6th place finish in 1996.

David Coulthard has closed the gap at the top of the drivers' Championship to four points after his victory at the A1 Ring. In Austria, Coulthard took a leaf out of Alain Prost's tactical book, stepping up the pace only when it was needed. Coulthard admitted: "Last year's race was very special to me as, along with the majority of drivers, Monaco is one of the tracks where I had always wanted to win and I am aiming to do the same this year. In Austria we once again demonstrated the speed of the car and the excellent strategy capabilities of the team, the latter of which can be very important in Monaco." Coulthard won last year's race, pitting last on lap 56, and he also finished second in 1996. Coulthard's highest grid position was second in 1998.

Williams are still third in the Constructors' Championship despite scoring no points at the A1 Ring. BMW Motorsport Director, Gerhard Berger, admitted: "The surface of the streets is a sensitive matter for tyre constructors. Michelin enters an unknown territory here and it's difficult to say where we will be with tyres. Anyway, we have set our aims high, especially for qualifying as a good grid position here is more important than at any other track."

Williams have under-achieved at Monaco recently, having scored only two points in the last four Monaco Grands Prix. Williams have only won this race twice and it has been 18 years since Keke Rosberg drove a Williams to victory on this circuit. Williams have scored 36 points at Monaco during 1990-2000.

Ralf Schumacher is still fourth in the drivers' Championship. Ralf commented, "For drivers Monaco is a big challenge, especially as it is very easy to make a mistake there and have an accident. Having said this, it is one of the highlights of the season. My only worry there is the circuit doesn't match up to the current high safety standards demanded in Formula One. We should be well prepared, especially after the work done in Valencia. The main question mark is how the tyres will work, but I know Marc Gene has been doing a lot of work with Michelin and so am sure they will have come up with some good compounds." Ralf has yet to finish at Monaco in four starts. His highest grid position was 6th in 1997 for Jordan.

Juan Pablo Montoya is still 7th equal in the drivers' Championship. Despite scoring no points at Austria, Montoya has made a statement for the second time this season that he feels his rightful place is at the front of the pack and that he will fight tooth-and-nail to get or stay there. Montoya revealed: "I am pretty familiar with the Monaco circuit as I spend quite a lot of time in the Principality so drive on these streets regularly. Last time I raced there was in '98, in a F3000 car, and I had quite an exciting race, finishing 6th.

"In Valencia we have been testing a few new components for Monte Carlo and I think that it should be an interesting race for us. I don't really feel the special atmosphere of Monaco because - besides spending quite a lot of time there - at the end of the day when you are concentrating on your job that is the most important thing." Montoya also has had success on other Armco-lined street circuits during his two seasons in CART. Should Montoya win, he would be the first driver to win the Monaco Grand Prix at the first attempt since Juan Manuel Fangio in 1950. Montoya qualified 7th in the 1998 F3000 race and he set the fastest lap during the race.

Benetton have slipped to 7th equal in the Constructors' Championship and show little sign of improving on this. Historically Benetton have done quite well at Monaco, scoring 44 points during 1990-2000.

Giancarlo Fisichella has slipped to 13th equal in the drivers' Championship. Fisichella has been very successful at Monaco with inferior equipment, finishing 2nd in 1998, 3rd in 2000 and 5th in 1999 for Benetton. Fisichella's highest grid position was 3rd in 1998. Jenson Button, on the other hand, continues to struggle. For the past three races, the 21 year old has qualified 21st. And, in last year's race, Button did not finish after qualifying 14th for Williams.

Jordan are still 4th in the Constructors' Championship after a disastrous weekend in Austria, when both the EJ11s stalled on the grid. Jordan were competitive during testing at Valencia as they worked on suspension geometry, tyre testing for Bridgestone and general car set-up work for Monaco. Jordan last scored a point at Monaco in 1999.

Heinz-Harald Frentzen is 7th equal in the drivers' Championship. Frentzen revealed: "You need huge concentration to race in Monaco. It's a demanding and risky circuit, but that's what makes it enjoyable. Monaco is definitely the highlight of the F1 calendar. My mental preparation for this race starts much earlier than for other races as living in Monaco, I drive along these roads most days. Scenarios and questions about the track and corners will whizz through my mind for weeks before the race." Frentzen holds the qualifying lap record (1:18.216) for Monaco, which he set in 1997 for Williams. Frentzen's best finish wa 4th position, in 1999 for Jordan and in 1996 for Sauber. Frentzen was classified 10th after he crashed out of last year's race at Ste Devote.

Jarno Trulli is still 6th in the drivers' Championship.. Trulli stated: "Monaco is a very special race and you want and need everything to run smoothly, as if you make one small mistake you will damage the car and hinder running time. Every year you want to improve on the last year's performance. The track is unforgiving and there is no time to relax as the car needs constant attention." Trulli's best finish at Monaco was 7th in 1999 for Prost while his highest grid position was 2nd for Jordan in last year's race.

BAR are still 6th in the Constructors' Championship and were quite competitive at Valencia.

Olivier Panis is now 9th in the drivers' Championship after his 5th place finish at the A1 Ring. Panis's Ligier-Mugen Honda was the unexpected winner of the 1996 Monaco Grand Prix. He also finished 4th in 1997 for Prost. Panis has not qualified in the front half of the grid at Monaco, his highest positions being 12th in 1995 and 1997.

Jacques Villeneuve has slipped to 10th equal in the drivers' Championship. Jacques has outperformed his father Gilles Villeneuve in almost all benchmarks but he has never won the Monaco Grand Prix, the race his father won in 1981. This is surprising, given his CART experience on street circuits. Jacques Villeneuve's best finish at Monaco was 5th in 1998 from 5 starts and his highest grid position was 3rd in 1997. In last year's race, Villeneuve finished 7th.

Sauber are still 5th in the Constructors' Championship and have scored 10 points at Monaco during their history. The head of Sauber's test team, Jacky Eeckelaert, stated after the test in Valencia: "Despite a minor problem this morning which required us to remove the gearbox before we could effect a repair, we completed our intensive program of tyre evaluation today in readiness for Monaco. Kimi Raikkonen also worked on damper settings and mechanical set-up for Monaco, and did more running with our hydraulic differential. This has been a very important test for us all week, and we are satisfied with the results."

Nick Heidfeld is an impressive 5th in the drivers' Championship, despite collecting no points at the A1 Ring. Heidfeld won the 1998 F3000 race at Monaco from the second position on the grid, he finished 7th after setting pole position in the 1999 F3000 race. In last year's Monaco Grand Prix, Heidfeld finish 8th after qualifying 18th for Prost.

Kimi Raikkonen has climbed to 10th equal in the drivers' Championship, although his points from the Austrian Grand Prix are still provisional following BAR's protest over alleged overtaking under a yellow flag. At Valencia, Raikkonen stated: "We got going well this afternoon and had another productive day. I'm particularly pleased to have set the fastest-ever time for the team on the Valencia circuit."

Jaguar have yet to score a point in the constructors' Championship. Team Principal Bobby Rahal revealed: "We have worked very hard indeed on improving the Jaguar R2's aerodynamic efficiency and this hard work culminated with a new aero package that we tested last week in Valencia. The results were encouraging with both drivers reporting positive feedback. As I've said before, there's no miracle cure to our relative lack of pace and this new aerodynamic development is a significant step in the right direction with more development in progress.

"Because of this new aero package, expectations are unrealistically high as we head to Monaco and it's very hard to predict anything until the cars roll out for Thursday Free Practice. While we are fairly sure of the gains made, it's impossible to know what gains our competitors have found. Eddie has a good record here and I'm confident that we can make available the necessary equipment that our drivers need to do business with at Monaco." Jaguar scored three points at Monaco with both the R1s finishing last year's race. Given the high rate of attrition at Monaco, a finish in the points for either Eddie Irvine or Pedro de la Rosa is indeed a possibility.

"Everything that can be said about this race has been said already," Eddie Irvine commented, "But you can't get away from the fact that it's still a great challenge, racing a car from this era on a circuit from a past one. As you roll out the pit lane for the first time on Thursday morning, the track looks impossibly narrow, but come Sunday, it's beginning to look wider. I have always enjoyed this race, not least because, staying on the harbour gives me the shortest walk to work of the year! As overtaking is so difficult, Monaco is all a bout Saturday afternoon and qualifying, as a good grid position is more than half the battle. The race itself is a case of keeping out of trouble and avoiding the barriers. If you make it to the end, chances are you might pick up points.

"I am reasonably optimistic about our chances this weekend. I have a good track record here with a second, a third and last year a fourth place to my name. On top of that, I am pleased with our progress on the new aero package which we ran for the first time at last week's Valencia test: a positive step forward with more development to come. However, its real benefits won't shine through on such a slow circuit, where other parts of the performance package play a greater role." Irvine has gone consistently well over the past four years at Monaco. He was 2nd in 1999, 3rd in 1998 and in 1997 for Ferrari, and was 4th in last year's race for Jaguar. Irvine's highest grid position was in 4th in 1999.

Pedro de la Rosa stated: "We arrive in Monaco after having spent a productive three days testing in Valencia where we ran the new aero package. While there are certainly improvements in the car's aerodynamic efficiency, I would prefer to reserve judgement until we've experienced it on the racetrack. Most teams will upgrade their aero packages for the next couple of races and it's only fair that we're judged relative to the competition as opposed to testing times alone. Contrary to what gets written by the press, team spirit is quite good and we are all working towards our goal of being more competitive. Last week's test session certainly helped in raising team morale but it was never as bad in the first place as some media would lead you to believe.

"The team spirit at Jaguar Racing is as good as I've experienced anywhere else and the reward for the hard work will pay off very soon I'm sure." De la Rosa has yet to finish a Monaco Grand Prix retiring from the 1999 and 2000 races. In last year's race, De la Rosa qualified 16th. De la Rosa stated, "Monaco is a very difficult circuit and one where teams don't expect to achieve great speed. I think the race will be very open as anything can happen on this circuit, but the team is working to get more down force and we are already in the top 12 so can do a good job. Monaco is also a drivers' circuit so we must really concentrate".

Arrows are now 7th equal in the Constructors' Championship, after Jos Verstappen's sixth finish at the A1 Ring. Arrows were about two seconds off the pace during testing at Valencia, but team principal Tom Walkinshaw stated: "The whole team has been working hard since picking up the first point in Austria, because nobody can afford to stand still in Formula One. We've shown our package is improving so our target now is to get a good position in qualifying which is more important in Monaco than anywhere else."

Arrows have scored 6 points at Monaco between 1990 and 2000, but neither Arrows finished last year's race. Jos Verstappen is now 13th equal in the drivers' championship. Verstappen confessed: "Monte Carlo is a difficult circuit and I'm not sure how we will get on there but for sure it should be a spectacular race as always. The hardest part is overtaking, especially for me with what I normally do at the start! We'll just have to wait and see how we do but hopefully we will have another good race." Verstappen's only finish at Monaco was 8th in 1997 for Tyrrell, and his highest grid position was 12th in 1996 for Footwork.

Enrique Bernoldi agreed; "Monaco is a real challenge for the drivers and the cars," he stated. "I have raced there twice before in F3000 and last year was running as high as third with ten laps to go before I retired. The corners are very slow, the track is bumpy, it's difficult and there are a lot of gear changes! Monaco is also very tiring, both physically and psychologically but I'm really looking forward to the challenge. We'll have to do a good job in qualifying though as it is more important than ever on this circuit." Bernoldi finished 15th after qualifying 22nd in the 1999 F3000 race and qualified 6th in last year's F3000 race.

Minardi tested for one day at Fiorano and were 3 seconds slower than the Ferraris. Minardi have scored 3 points at Monaco during 1990-2000, but they have not scored a point since the late Michele Alboreto's sixth place in 1994. In last year's race, neither Minardi finished. Fernando Alonso set the race lap record in last year's F3000 race at Monaco, on the way to finishing 8th after qualifying 13th. Tarso Marques has never competed in a premier formula at Monaco. Whether his experience on street circuits during his CART years will help him on Sunday remains to be seen.

Prost were about two seconds off the pace during testing at Valencia last week, and the team have had mixed results at Monaco, having only scored 3 points with Olivier Panis's 4th place finish in 1997. Team principal Alain Prost has won himself there on four occasions, however.

This will be Jean Alesi's 12th Monaco Grand Prix. He finished second in 1990 for Tyrrell in his Monaco debut, was third for Ferrari in 1993 and was fifth in 1994. Alesi led the later stages of the 1996 race before his Benetton's suspension broke. Alesi set the fastest lap in the 1995 and 1996 races and his highest grid position was 3rd, in 1990 and in 1996.

Luciano Burti is matching the pace of Alesi in his first month with Prost. Burti has yet to compete in a premier formula at Monaco.

My Predictions:

In the event of rain, anything can happen at Monaco. If it is dry during qualifying, I'm picking Ferrari, McLaren and Williams as the top three teams with Jordan and BAR completing the top 5.

Starting grid:

  1. Michael Schumacher,
  2. Mika Hakkinen,
  3. David Coulthard,
  4. Rubens Barrichello
  5. Ralf Schumacher
  6. Jarno Trulli
  7. Juan Pablo Montoya
  8. Heinz-Harald Frentzen
  9. Jacques Villeneuve
  10. Eddie Irvine
  11. Olivier Panis
  12. Nick Heidfeld

The Monaco Grand Prix Preview in a Nutshell:

  • Who will ascend the steps of the palace on Ascension Sunday?

  • Michael Schumacher could equal Graham Hill's record if he wins on Sunday.

  • McLaren set the pace at Valencia, will Mika Hakkinen or David Coulthard score their 2nd victory in the principality?

  • BMW-Williams are the Best of the Rest but they have underperformed at Monaco over the last 5 seasons. Can either Juan Pablo Montoya or Ralf Schumacher end Williams' 18 year drought at Monaco?

  • Sauber and BAR are closing the gap to Williams and Jordan. Who will be most reliable in the Best of the Rest contest?

  • Jaguar, Prost and Minardi have yet to score points this season. Since at least half the field is likely to retire, reliability could earn these teams an elusive point.

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    Print Version

    Volume 7, Issue 21
    May 23rd 2001

    Atlas F1 Special

    Interview with Burti
    by Pablo Elizalde

    Silly Season Review
    by Roger Horton

    Yearly Roar
    by Pascal Straatsma

    Monaco GP Preview

    The Monaco GP Preview
    by Ewan Tytler

    Tech Preview and Track Map
    by Will Gray

    Focus: Graham Hill at Monaco
    by Marcel Schot

    Audio: A Lap of Monaco with MS


    The F1 Insider
    by Mitch McCann

    Elsewhere in Racing
    by Mark Alan Jones

    The Monaco Trivia Quiz
    by Marcel Borsboom

    Bookworm Critique
    by Mark Glendenning

    Rear View Mirror
    by Don Capps

    The Weekly Grapevine
    by the F1 Rumors Team

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