Monaco Critical Race for Red Bull's Rivals

Daniel ChalmersSenior Analyst IMay 12, 2010

BARCELONA, SPAIN - MAY 09:  Fernando Alonso of Spain and Ferrari leads from Jenson Button of Great Britain and McLaren Mercedes during the Spanish Formula One Grand Prix at the Circuit de Catalunya on May 9, 2010 in Barcelona, Spain.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
Mark Thompson/Getty Images

There is no respite for the F1 circus this weekend as we head straight to the streets of Monte-Carlo for the Monaco GP.

The track certainly couldn’t be any more different than Catalunya if it tried. The two tracks are at the opposite ends of the F1 circuit spectrum.

Whereas Catalunya has fast and long corners, Monaco is full of twists and slow fiddly corners. Also unlike Catalunya, the drivers can have a big influence on the lap time.

The Spanish GP gave the cars a thorough test on their aerodynamic efficiency. With no fast corners in Monaco, aerodynamic efficiency is much less important. For a car to go well around the principality, you need a car that is nimble and very strong mechanically.

Spain was an important race as we got the first real indication of what the pecking order could be for the rest of the season. It appeared that Red Bull took another step forward, as opposed to falling back, with their stunning pace in qualifying. This has now made Red Bull’s position as championship favourites much firmer than it was before.

Can they be stopped? At least despite their pace they aren’t leading either championship, which will be a big comfort to everybody else.

Stefano Domenicali says improving the downforce is key to catching Red Bull, "We don't have to over-react to that, but it is something that we need to look at very carefully. They [Red Bull Racing] have improved the efficiency of their car, so they are doing a very good job.”

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The first key question will be can they repeat their Spanish GP pace at Monaco, a track with completely different characteristics?

Let’s remember that this is a track where they struggled last season with Sebastien Vettel only qualifying fourth on a light fuel load, and crashing in the race, and Mark Webber only managing to finish fifth.

In recent times, the Red Bulls have completely destroyed the opposition on fast tracks such as Silverstone and Suzuka, and as we saw last weekend at Catalunya.

However on slower tracks the Red Bulls have been less dominant. Although their slow corner pace did improve at the back end of 2009, they are still not as awesomely quick as they are in fast corners.

This weekend’s Monaco GP could turn out to be a critical weekend for their rival’s hopes of winning the title. It could go one of two ways.

If the Red Bulls completely dominate the opposition on one of their weaker tracks, then that will be a huge body blow to their opposition’s chances. On the other hand if the others can take the fight to them, then there will be much optimism that Red Bull can be overhauled.

The reason for this is that there are many other tracks left dominated by slow corners such as: Montreal, Valencia, Hungary, Singapore and Monza.  These days in F1, there aren’t many circuits where high speed corners are the main feature, so there is less chance for Red Bull to use their ultimate strength

Montreal in three weeks time will be another critical race where the likes of Mclaren, Mercedes and Ferrari will hope to be able to challenge Red Bull. Red Bull’s straight line speed is currently poor compared to the others because of having a less powerful Renault engine and currently no F-duct device.

Spain Qualifying Speed Trap

1. F. ALONSO     311.9 kph

2. F. MASSA        311.8 kph

20. S. VETTEL      302.9 kph

21. M. WEBBER 302.9 kph

As you can see from that chart, Red Bull were a long way down in the speed trap order in Spain. They were over 10 kph slower than the pacesetters Ferrari through the speed trap. Therefore with the combination of slow corners coupled with long straights Red Bull’s rivals hope to usurp them in Montreal. Valencia and Monza have similar configurations.

So just how quick are Red Bull likely to be in Monte-Carlo?

It’s very safe to say that they will be much stronger than they were last season. The car has evolved and improved substantially since last May.

The last sector of the Catalunya circuit can give us clues on potential Monaco pace. Since the chicane was inserted before the main pit straight in 2007 it has become a slow and fiddly section, reminiscent of the streets of Monte-Carlo .

These are the top 5 quickest times in that sector during qualifying:

M. WEBBER        27.681

S. VETTEL             27.761

M. SCHUMACHER           27.969

J. BUTTON           28.059

F. ALONSO          28.101

As you can see the Red Bulls were comfortably the quickest in that section when it came to raw pace. Ironically Red Bull’s advantage was less in the high speed first section of the lap where you would have expected them to be the most dominant. This would suggest that Red Bull are becoming more of a complete package, and not just a one trick pony.

Something that should be noted though is despite their scary qualifying pace in Spain, their race pace wasn’t as ominous as many would have predicted. Lewis Hamilton managed to match Vettel in the race, and Alonso was also able to stay in touching distance. Webber appeared to be making the difference.

Martin Whitmarsh says, “ Red Bull may have had impressive qualifying pace in Spain, but we got a bit closer in the race.”

If they can do that on the ultimate car circuit then they have a reasonable chance of challenging at other circuits.

Red Bull’s rivals may also take some hope from the fact in previous years the fastest package very often hasn’t won in Monaco. In 2002 and 2004 when Ferrari were very dominant they were beaten in Monaco.

Who are Red Bull’s closest opposition likely to be?

Ferrari and Mclaren look to be the only realistic rivals, but Mercedes could surprise looking at Schumacher’s time in the third sector in Spain.

Mclaren though could prove to be a disappointment in Monaco. With the track being slow Mclaren won’t be able to take advantage from their F-duct system. The other problem is that Mclaren have one of the longest wheelbases on the grid. On a circuit as slow as Monte-Carlo that can be a disadvantage as the longer wheelbase makes the car less nimble.

That leaves us with Ferrari. However their recent history in Monaco has been very poor. They haven’t won at the principality since Michael Schumacher won for them in 2001.

In conclusion it looks very likely that Red Bull are going to be very strong again in Monaco. Although it’s hard to imagine them being as stunningly fast as they were during Spanish GP qualifying.

The drivers can make a big difference in Monaco. Alonso, Schumacher. Button and Hamilton are all Monaco specialists. If their cars are within three or four tenths of the ultimate pace then they could potentially make up that difference.

Also in Monaco it’s very easy to throw the car into the barriers. Backmarkers can also be a major issue and  just a little bit of rain can throw proceedings into chaos.

So whilst evidence suggests Red Bull as hot favourites, winning in Monaco is never a simple task, and we have seen the, throw away races already this season.

Jenson Button thinks the race is wide open, "I think the Monaco result is extremely tough to call.”

He added, "There are a lot of very competitive drivers so there is a good chance of a slightly unpredictable race."

Whatever happens, we will have a better indication after Monaco on whether Red Bull are likely to start stamping their authority on 2010, or whether the championship is still as wide open, as it has been.

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