Monaco still the favourite race for drivers
23 May 2012
Every now and then, someone points out just how impossible it is to race on the streets of Monaco with modern racing cars. The track is too narrow, the corners too tight, the Armco too close. Disaster is never more than inches away. And despite - or maybe because - of all the challenges of this place, it's still the runaway favourite for many of the drivers who will take to the streets on Thursday.
"Monaco is a very special track, it's unique," said Racing Engineering's Nathanaël Berthon. "I have loved this city ever since I've been a little child. Monaco was the first F1 Grand Prix I ever saw. So racing on the same track as those drivers I watched when I was a kid is a very special experience and feeling for me."
Not that he was overlooking the difficulties he faced over the race weekend.
"You have to be very careful, more than all the other tracks, because at the first mistake you are in the wall," he agreed. "I think this is one of the first limitations, to be afraid of having a crash and not finishing the race.
It's has a very different grip compared to other race tracks because we race on normal roads, you need to be aware of this," he added. "One of the most important points for me is to have a good rhythm from the first time you are on track, and to take the best references."
Over at Carlin, Max Chilton was equally in love with the challenge of the principality.
"It's definitely the most exhilarating track we drive around!" he said. "You're never too far from trouble with the barriers so close, which is really exciting. To do a good lap here feels like nothing else. The echo of the cars is incredible and the glamour means that it's a really great place to race and of course sponsors love it."
"I can't wait for Monaco; it's the one weekend I've been looking forward to all year," agreed iSport's Jolyon Palmer, who has been beset by technical gremlins in the races so far this season and hopes that a new car built form scratch will tackle the issues. "I'm now just hoping we can get the car to work properly and then I'm confident of a strong weekend.”
"Monaco is special to any racing driver: it's in the history of our sport, it has been the background for incredible acts by the motorsport heroes of the past, a win there has more value that anywere else," said Coloni's Fabio Onidi.
"People usually say that a win in Monaco is like winning a title, so that gives an idea of how special this venue is for motorsport," agreed team principal Paolo Coloni, whose driver line-up also includes Monaco-born Stefano Coletti. "The local hero is racing with us, so the event feels like an home race!"
This year will see a number of changes to the format at Monaco, with teams getting an even split of two option and two option tyres from Pirelli (soft and super soft respectively) to cope with the uniquely high levels of mechanical grip required around Monaco.
And qualifying has also been changed, so that the cars will now go out in two different groups of 13 cars for 14 minutes each rather than have the entire field rush out and fall over one another, as happened last year to a rather embarrassing degree.
"This is a good move by GP2 because last year was manic with 26 cars as people have to do slow laps to cool down the Pirelli tyres so there is so much traffic," was Palmer's view of the change in qualifying format. "Hopefully this year everyone can have a clean qualifying with half the cars on track."
"I already know this kind of qualifying mode from last year, so it's nothing new for me," said Berthon, who raced here in 2011 in the Formula Renault 3.5 Series. "In my opinion, it is better for Monaco as the traffic management is so important when it comes to setting a good lap time.
"Apart from that, for me as a driver, it doesn't change anything," he added. "The aim is to be at the top of the field, whatever it takes."
GP2 schedule for Monaco
In order to fit around Monaco's unique shifted timetable, the 30-minute practice session for GP2 cars will be held a day earlier than usual on the Thursday at 12 noon local time (11am BST), with the new-look two-part qualifying session following at 4.55pm (3.55pm BST).
The schedule see the 42-lap feature race held on Friday morning at 10.30am (9.30am BST) while the 30-lap sprint race will be held on Saturday afternoon at 4.10pm (3.10pm BST) following the qualifying session for the F1 Grand Prix of Monaco. Coverage of all GP2 sessions will be available in the UK on Sky Sports F1.
The GP3 Series is also undertaking its first-ever Monaco race weekend this year. Practice will be on Thursday at 6.15pm (5.15pm BST), qualifying on Friday morning at 7.40am (6.40am BST) and the first race at 12.30pm (11.30am BST). The second race will be on Saturday at 5.55pm (4.55pm BST).