For the sixth round of the 2009 F1 world championship, the teams and drivers head to the small principality of Monaco—the jewel in the crown of the F1 calendar. Monaco is arguably the most famous race on the F1 calendar, and until last season was F1's only street circuit.
There has been a race on the streets of Monaco since 1929, and is one of the original races from the first world championship back in 1950.
It is unique amongst the circuits because it is so tight and twisty with no run-off areas and very little overtaking spots—Nelson Piquet once described racing there as 'riding a bike around your living room' which I feel is a pretty good description.
The average lap speed here is around 90mph—pedestrian speeds when compared to the average speed of around 160mph at the likes of Monza.
As for the circuit characteristics, it tests the driver's concentration to the maximum with no resting place at all for the drivers—the straightest piece of the circuit being a small section between the chicane and Tabac corner.
But in order for anyone to understand just how demanding the circuit is, you need to see and what the drivers will face. So heres my track guide to Monaco:
The approach to the first corner is quite tricky as the start-finish straight (if you could call it that) curves to the right, making the braking point very difficult. And due to the large apartments blocks lining the outside of the circuit, it can appear to be very dull and dark, making seeing the marker boards even more difficult.
But it is a corner that rewards bravery and commitment. The drivers must clip the apex of the kerb as they go through the corner, and then go as wide as possible on the exit for maximum traction without ending up in the barrier—get it wrong, like many drivers have done in the past, and your race ends in the tyres.
After the run up Beau Rivage, the drivers enter the long, tricky Massinet corner, which always seems to go on forever and frustrating to get the power down.
A well set up car will always gain speed through this section—a poor set-up will see the driver drifting towards the barrier on the outside of the corner in the way that Bourdais and Coulthard did last season.
After getting through the corner the drivers needs to be careful, as the barrier on the inside tends to come towards them on the exit, so the drivers cannot hug the inside barrier too much.
Then from Massinet its straight into Casino Square, a corner which many drivers enjoy. Similar to St Devote, the drivers have to attack the corner and clip the apex, getting the power down as early as possible.
But like so many areas in Monaco things aren't as straight forward as that—the track drops away from the drivers on the exit and the back end of the car gets very light, and you will often see drivers fighting the car on the exit
Mirabeau/ Grand Hotel/ Portier
Out of Casino Square the drivers run into Mirabeau, which is more tricky than it first appears. Although it looks like a straight forward braking zone into the corner, we have seen many drivers over the years lock up the inside wheel and run into the small run-off area of the corner, causing either a loss of time or a race-ending crash.
From Mirabeau it is a short squirt of the throttle into Grand Hotel hairpin—the slowest corner on the calendar. The drivers are on full steering lock in order to get through the corner, and even with that they still struggle to get round.
Grand Hotel is often the scene of some chaos—particularly in 2000 when a clash involving Pedro De La Rosa seen the circuit completely blocked, and 7 drivers stuck at the scene. If a driver gets over-excited going into this corner expect the same this year
And the final corners of this sequence is the Portier corner, which is split into two sections. The first section is a very slow area, and one where the drivers use a lot of kerb in order to gain time. But if it's wet the kerb is to be avoided—something which Eddie Irvine failed to do back in 1996, taking out Haikkinen and Salo in the process.
The second part of Portier is very important as the speed gained on the exit of this corner determines the drivers speed the whole way through the tunnel down to the chicane—get it wrong like Ayrton Senna famously did in 1988 and the race ends here
As the drivers exit the tunnel at around 290kmp, they hit the brakes at around 75m for the harbour chicane. The braking area for this section is very difficult as the track has a slight right kink in the braking zone and is very bumpy, giving the drivers a very difficult time scrubbing the speed off.
Drivers will be very brave to try and overtake here, but we have seen successful moves here in the past—Nick Heidfeld on Fernando Alonso springs to mind. Once the drivers get the speed off they turn the car left then immediately right, over the kerb and back on the power for the exit.
Quite possibly the most important corner on the circuit as any time gained or lost through here is vital to the lap time. The drivers approach the corner at around 105mph, then dab the brakes, flick down one gear and straight back on the throttle.
It is a very impressive corner which requires a lot of bravery in order to be fast, and the barriers can be very tricky on both the entry and exit—it is easy to clip the barrier on entry and rip the front left wheel off (like Ralf Schumacher in 2005), or else run into the barrier on the exit.
Piscine/ Swimming Pool
The Swimming Pool section is one which is very impressive on entry then frustrating on the exit. Since the circuit organisers removed the walls from the first section it has become extremely fast, allowing the drivers to attack both the inside and outside kerb.
Once the drivers come through the first section it is immediately onto the brakes for the tighter, slower second section of the corner.
The drivers have to be careful on the entry to the second section not to clip the inside barrier—like Raikkonen did in qualifying in 2007. Then on the exit the drivers need to be careful not to run into the outside barrier, and if they manage that then they need a good traction to get them down to the final sequence of corners.
The final sequence of corners are very frustrating for the drivers and one of the corners where the drivers can gain or lose time. They brake as straight as possible going into Rascasse, turn the wheel as right as possible then blend the throttle on the way out of the corner—being careful not to clip the inside barrier on the exit of the corner.
Then it's past the pit lane entry and into the final corner Noghes.
This corner is very tricky as the track drops away from the drivers, making it easy to understeer into the outside barrier. Should the drivers manage to keep it away from the barrier, it is then a matter of getting good traction out of the corner for the run to the end of the lap
As for the pit lane here, it will cost the drivers 17.8 seconds, and being one of the shortest on the calendar it can see the teams doing a variety of strategies.
But usually the favourite here is a one-stopper, despite the fuel consumption of 2.58kgs a lap, because tyre wear here is not an issue due to the slow average speed, meaning the drivers can run longer.
Expect the front runners to do a two stopper with a long middle stint, while those from ninth downards to run as long as possible on a one-stopper