Formula 1: Monaco Grand Prix 2012 Preview
Round Six of the FIA Formula 1 World Championship takes place this weekend in the tiny principality of Monaco.
The Monaco Grand Prix has been held every year since 1955, and winners include all-time greats such as Ayrton Senna, Juan Manuel Fangio and Graham Hill. The jewel in F1's crown, this is the one race every driver wants to win.
It's also the one race which, after such a huge push toward improved safety in recent years, shouldn't really be on the calendar. Walls surround the entire track, there's very little run-off and the circuit is hardly suitable for a Ford Focus, let alone an F1 car.
Triple world champion Nelson Piquet famously described the track as similar to "riding a bicycle around your living room," and that's not far from the truth.
If there had never been a race in Monaco, the FIA wouldn't even think of allowing one to take place. But the history and importance of the event allow the circuit to keep hosting Grands Prix, and most people in F1 are thankful for that.
Even if it is somewhat difficult to overtake.
With the field the closest it's been for a long time, plenty of drivers will go into the weekend believing they can claim victory.
Circuit de Monaco
Monaco Track Map by Will Pittenger
The Monaco Grand Prix takes place in a country which has an area of just 0.76 square miles (1.98 square kilometres). That makes it a little over half the size of New York's Central Park, or 1/800th the size of London.
But if size does matter, no one bothered to tell this tiny principality. Snaking around the narrow seaside streets in the districts of Monte Carlo and La Condamine is one of the world's greatest race tracks—the Circuit de Monaco.
Every corner has seen a moment of high drama. Most were used in the very first Monaco Grand Prix all the way back in 1929, and their names are etched into the memory of anyone who has followed the sport for more than a few years.
It seems almost wrong to allocate them numbers, but I'll do so, along with a link explaining the source of each name where possible.
From the start-finish line midway down the wonkiest pit-straight on Earth, the cars have a short run down to St. Devote (Turn 1). The corner is a tight, almost 90-degree right and home to one of the few run-off zones at the track.
It's also one of the overtaking spots at the track, but don't be fooled—without an error or a significant speed differential (perhaps caused by severely worn tyres out of the final corner), a chasing car will never get cleanly past into here.
The cars then head uphill along an almost-straight road through Beau Rivage ("Beautiful Shore") which counts as Turn 2, but isn't really a corner. TV cameras show off the degree of slope here, which is quite substantial.
Next up is the long left-hander of Massenet (Turn 3) which leads immediately into the slightly tighter right-hander at Casino Square (Turn 4).
The cars then file down a short straight, swerving to avoid a substantial bump at the left of the track before braking for the very tight, slow, downhill right-hander Mirabeau (Turn 5). I believe it's named after the hotel of the same name, but it could be the other way round.
A very short run downhill follows, into the slowest corner on the F1 calendar, Loews (Turn 6).
Well, strictly speaking it's the "Fairmont Hairpin" now, but to me it'll always be Loews, the name bestowed upon it in 1973. Other names the corner has had through the years include Station hairpin, Grand Hotel hairpin and Sun Casino hairpin.
The TV cameras don't always show exactly how much the elevation changes here, but these pictures do.
Out of Loews it's downhill again towards what I call the double right-hander of Portier (Turns 7 and 8). Each is a little over 90-degrees, and the second leads out onto a straight and into the only proper tunnel in F1 (Yas Marina's pit lane exit tunnel doesn't count).
The tunnel is just one of the unique things which sets Monaco apart. It curves to the right through a long, flat-out right-hander aptly named "Tunnel" (Turn 9).
It's very dirty off-line through here and accidents are likely if a car goes wide for whatever reason. DRS is banned through the tunnel on safety grounds, but even without it the cars exit into the daylight beside the Mediterranean at around 170 mph.
Shortly after the tunnel exit comes the Harbour or Nouvelle ("New" after it was remodeled in 1986) Chicane—Turns 10 and 11. The approach here is the fastest section of the Monaco track, and the best overtaking opportunity on the circuit.
Of course, this being Monaco it's not a good overtaking opportunity, and we'll be lucky if we see as many as five moves taking place into the chicane during the race.
The cars next race beside the water to Tabac (Turn 12), a tricky left-hander requiring precision on the entry to ensure a fast and safe exit.
Shortly after Tabac comes a quick left-right chicane (Turns 13 and 14), followed immediately by a tighter, right-left chicane (Turns 15 and 16). This section is known colloquially as the "swimming pool chicane".
But officially, the first corner is named after Monegasque racing driver Louis Chiron, and the rest is named "Piscine" ("swimming pool" in French). As one might expect, this corner complex is so named because it was constructed to navigate around a swimming pool built in 1973.
Out of the swimming pool it's a lightly-curving straight into the tight La Rascasse (Turns 17 and 18), a slow, almost 180-degree right-hand corner.
The final corner, Anthony Noghes (Turn 19) is a tight right-hander which pinches in at the exit. This is a great spot to watch how close the cars come to the walls, especially when a driver hangs the rear end out a little.
Then it's onto the anything-but-straight pit straight, and the start-finish line is around halfway down.
The pit entry is just after Turn 18, while the exit is just after Turn 1.
Tyres and DRS
Ker Robertson/Getty Images
Pirelli are bringing the super-soft and soft compound tyres to Monaco. Super-soft have red markings, soft have yellow.
The nature of the circuit means tyre wear is lower in Monaco than anywhere else. This means some teams could try for a one-stop strategy, particularly if one of their cars qualifies poorly.
Front-runners will probably do two.
The Drag Reduction System (DRS) detection point will be between Turns 16 and 17, with the activation point as soon as the cars leave Turn 19. As previously stated, DRS use is banned in the tunnel for the entire weekend.
Mike Powell/Getty Images
Certainty is not possible at this point, but several forecasters suggest rain could have an impact on the weekend.
Weather.com suggests a 40-percent chance of rain for Saturday and Sunday.
Accuweather predicts an even higher probability of some precipitation affecting both the race and qualifying.
Formula1.com agrees the outlook is bleak.
But BBC Weather is a little more optimistic, indicating a chance of showers on Saturday, but a dry day on Sunday.
Oli Scarff/Getty Images
Something else that makes Monaco unique is that the free practice sessions are held on the Thursday prior to the race, rather than the Friday.
I believe it started this way because Friday was the market day in the early years of the Monaco Grand Prix, and tradition has done the rest.
Other sources say it's this way in the modern era to ease the disruption caused by the event—Monaco is almost shut down by the race, so the track days are broken up to give the residents a break.
Whatever the exact reason, that's the way it is.
Session times are as follows:
All are Monaco time. Formula1.com has a handy function to translate them to your local timezone.
Enjoy the weekend!