Ferrari race engineer Rob Smedley says he never fails to be impressed by the level of commitment drivers show as they tackle the Monaco Grand Prix
However, the Briton, who tends Felipe Massa's car and is frequently heard talking to his charge during a grand prix, admits that getting as close as possible to the unforgiving barriers remains the quickest way of getting around the unique street venue.
“We always ask the drivers to brush the barriers as much as possible, because that's where the lap time comes from,” he told the Scuderia's official website, “Then there's the factor of confidence…. Gradually, as a driver does more and more laps, he gets an ever clearer picture of how far he can push before getting to the limit. When all is said and done, that is one of the factors that has the biggest impact on improving lap time!”
Having witnessed first hand just how close the drivers – and not just those in the top flight – get to the Armco, Smedley admits that he thinks twice about getting on their case.
“Once, me and a colleague went to watch a race in one of the junior formulae from the entrance to the Swimming Pool section [and], when we saw how close they got to the barriers at over 200 km/h, we said to ourselves that maybe we ought to have a bit more respect for the drivers!” he confessed.
Finding the right set-up to allow the drivers to develop that level of confidence, meanwhile, is not an easy task.
“Like all street circuits, the grip level from the track surface is very low at the start of the weekend,” he pointed out, “This factor, coupled with the need for the drivers to get used to such a unique circuit, always makes it difficult to understand clearly what effect a set-up change really has.
“The track evolution is very significant as, bit by bit, rubber goes down on the surface from Thursday through to Sunday and, usually, that masks the effect of the modifications made to the car.
“You need a very good front end to tackle the many slow corners as well as possible. At the same time, you need to bear in mind the undulations, the kerbs and the bumps: the car jumps a lot and so you have to keep a close eye on the braking and acceleration points.
“Mechanical grip counts for a lot as there are hardly any fast corners, only slow ones, some of which are very tight, like the Loews hairpin. From an aerodynamic point of view, you therefore look for the configuration with the most downforce, without getting too concerned about drag. On paper, it's an inefficient choice, but that's how it works here.”