Heikki Kovalainen has predicted that experience will be a real boon in this year's Monaco Grand Prix – even more so than ever in the new Pirelli era – as Team Lotus team-mate Jarno Trulli prepares to return to the scene of his sole F1 triumph, as one of only six drivers in the present field to have prevailed in the most glamorous race of them all.
Kovalainen achieved a milestone for Lotus in F1 2011 in Barcelona last weekend, by making it through to the second phase of qualifying for the first time this season and going on to secure an excellent 15th spot on the starting grid, as the Anglo/Malaysian outfit continues to gradually inch up on the sport's traditional midfield contenders.
Such qualifying prowess will be vitally important around the narrow, tortuous confines of the Monte Carlo street circuit, and the Finn argues that allied to the reduced significance of aerodynamic performance in the Principality, the combined experience of himself and Trulli – who between them, have made no fewer than 18 Monaco Grand Prix starts – could be pivotal to Lotus' chances of again getting in amongst the more established competitors this weekend.
“In Monaco, we take on one of the most fascinating challenges of the season,” the 29-year-old acknowledged. “You obviously need a good car, but you don't necessarily need the peak performance that you have to have at some of the other circuits, as the demands on aero are lessened by the nature of the track.
“As it's a temporary street circuit, it's very dirty at the start of the race weekend and experience plays a massive part in how well you perform. I've always felt very comfortable in Monaco, and as the performance difference between the cars is always less around here, I hope we can use our experience to take the fight to the guys ahead.
“There has been some talk about the use of DRS here, and even though it's only at certain parts of the track, I'll definitely be using it whenever I'm on full throttle – and I think that's true for the whole grid. As we don't have KERS, it's important we use whatever we can to keep fighting, so there's no question of not using it. I'm very comfortable with DRS, and I don't think it'll be a distraction at all. We'll just get on with it.”
“Monaco is a unique race and one that is challenging, slightly chaotic and a bit mad, for the drivers and all the teams,” added Trulli, who aside from his 2004 success with Renault, has invariably shone there, particularly in qualifying. “I'm very proud to have won here, and I count myself so lucky that I can say I'm a Monaco winner.
“I remember when I won, it was so busy – I went to the dinner with the Prince that night and that was special, but the minutes and hours straight after the race were almost more intense than the race itself! However, I don't really like looking back. It'll be great for my kids in the future to know their dad can say he won Monaco, but I want to keep looking ahead.
“I think this year, the race will be fascinating. We've already seen how much the tyres are influencing qualifying and race strategies, and here that could be even more true. We're on the super-softs and the softs here, so I don't think there will be quite the same difference in lap times as there was in Spain. Obviously in Monaco aero performance is less important, but I think strategy will play a critical role and we have some very good guys looking after that, so I think we'll be okay.”