Heading into the Monaco GP, drivers and teams are concerned about weekend traffic. That’s not the normal everyday road traffic that circulates the streets of Monte-Carlo when F1 isn’t in town, but the potential threat that the new teams could ruin the laps of the frontrunners around the short and very narrow circuit.
The main area of concern is the 20 minute Q1 session where there will be 24 cars competing to get into Q2. If all 24 cars were on the track at the same time there would be an average gap of 139 meters between each car. Time-wise, there would be an average of 3.125 seconds between each car. Of course the cars won’t be spaced out evenly on the track so you get the potential for problems.
There were proposals over the Spanish GP weekend that Monaco GP qualifying should be split into two segments with 12 cars in each session.
Mclaren’s Martin Whitmarsh says: ”I think Q1 in Monaco will be very, very difficult and it's difficult for all of the cars. At the moment we have to accept that there are six cars that are very difficult to avoid."
He added: “When you're trying to open a gap you have cars behind you so you can't back off, and it's a circuit where you're going to catch cars and a circuit at which it's very difficult for those cars to get out of the way, even if they want to.”
Lewis Hamilton has suggested that backmarkers could make Monaco “a disaster” whilst Jenson Button opted to use the word “nightmare.”
It’s clear that the front teams are very nervous of messing up, and qualifying low down the grid, where due to the nature of the circuit, it would be almost impossible to fight back and score good points. Ferrari and Mclaren certainly don’t want to suffer the same fate they did in Malaysia and get eliminated after Q1.
Thankfully, Charlie Whiting has ignored the requests to alter the qualifying format which will remain unchanged.
The problem in F1 is that over the last few years everyone has got used to the standard throughout the whole field being so incredibly high. In 2009 there was regularly just over 1.0 second covering the entire field. With margins that tight in recent times the issue of lapping much slower cars hasn’t been an issue for a while.
Now all of a sudden we have three new teams who have started from scratch, so it’s no surprise that they are a long way off the pace. Also this makes it the first time for a very long time that there are a number of slow backmarkers to contend with at Monaco.
F1 seems to be have a short term memory issue. There always used to be a much higher number of slow backmarkers to contend with at the Monaco GP, with a larger time margin covering the entire field.
In 1994, out of the 24 cars that qualified for the Monaco GP 14 of them were over three seconds off the pace. However everybody still coped, without any major casualties to the expected front runners at the time. Paul Belmondo’s Pacific car was 11.424 seconds off the pace that day. That’s five or six seconds slower than the Hispania team’s current pace.
For the 2010 race the situation regarding traffic isn’t anywhere near as challenging as it was back then. This weekend there are only six cars that are likely to be over three seconds off the ultimate pace. That’s eight cars less than in that session in 1994.
The drivers and teams simply have to stop moaning and get on with the job, and stop being such cry babies. They are supposed to be the best drivers in the world, and get paid millions of pounds each year for it. Dealing with backmarkers is all part of the challenge of being a racing driver. When it comes to the race, dealing with the backmarkers efficiently is an integral part of good race craft.
Nigel Mansell was famous for how well he dealt with backmarkers. He could lap three or four backmarkers in one lap but yet still set a new lap record.
The front running teams simply have to adjust their strategy to deal with the traffic in the first part of qualifying. The teams have to remember that it is just about getting through to the next session, rather than posting the ultimate flying lap.
One strategy is to put four or five laps of fuel into the car and do a longer run staying out for the most of the session. Therefore there is a better chance of getting a couple of clear laps in and getting the required lap time.
Alternatively the front teams could wait for some of midfield and backmarker teams to finish their first runs, and go out just after they have pitted.
The teams also have to make use of their advanced GPS systems so that they can put their drivers into a clear space before they start their flying laps.
In conclusion traffic in both qualifying and the race is part of the unique challenge of the Monaco GP weekend, and quite rightly qualifying will remain the same. If drivers can’t deal with traffic then you have to question their place in motorsport’s premier category.
The likelihood is that the front-runners just wanted to make life easier for themselves to avoid such a result similar to Malaysia. Therefore trying to propose this 12/12 split idea was a case of nothing ventured, nothing gained, on the off chance that Charlie Whiting would fall for it and make qualifying far simpler for them.
In fact in this writer’s opinion blue flags should be banned in races altogether. The front runners should have to overtake the backmarkers, without expecting them to pull right over and destroy their own races by doing so. If you aren’t a fan of that proposal then you have no need to worry, the chances of persuading the front runners to agree to it would be nil.