Formula 1: A Race Against Time in Monaco
In other sports such as motorcycling and horse riding, they say the best way to get over a fall is to climb back on immediately and try again and this is very much the mentality within Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro right now. At the Catalunya circuit on Sunday, Fernando Alonso delighted the home crowd with a bravura display that saw him take the lead at the start and maintain it under enormous pressure for the first two stints. However, inevitably he then had to give best to the two Red Bulls and McLarens, as the 150° Italia’s comparative lack of of aero downforce saw it unable to match the pace of the quickest. On top of that, both the Spaniard and team-mate Felipe Massa struggled to make the hard Pirellis work, adding to their difficulties.
But now there is very little time to cry over spilt milk, because already this Thursday the cars will be on track for free practice at the most famous venue on the calendar, the Monaco street circuit. As was the case last year, all the teams face one of the biggest logistical challenges of the year, moving the F1 “circus” from Spain to Monte Carlo in the tightest time frame of the year. “The biggest difficulty stems from the fact that normally, we take three days to set up the motorhomes for example and now, we have to do the same work in practically one day,” explains Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro’s Logistics Manager, Max Balocchi. “Also, it has to be done in a much more confined space, as the Monaco motorhome paddock is so tight and all the teams arrive from Barcelona at the same time and try and finish the job as quickly as possible, because free practice at this race starts on Thursday not Friday. We get the job done by doubling up the numbers of personnel and working round the clock. Even the trucks that go from Barcelona to Monaco are kitted out with bunks so that the crew can get some sleep on the road and then, once in Monaco they get back to work, erecting the motorhome structures. We aim to be out of the Catalunya paddock early on Monday morning for what is about a ten hour journey in a truck.”
Building up the team units in the harbour-side paddock is a very complex operation. “We have a team of about ten logistics people along with eight truck drivers and a further ten people to build up the motorhomes in Monaco, hoping to get it all done by Tuesday evening, into the early hours of Wednesday morning,” continue Balocchi. “We tackled this logistical challenge for the first time last year when the calendar also had these two races back to back and we learned a lot from that experience. We try and coordinate our work with the other teams, especially those that are near to us in the paddock, so that we don’t get in each other’s way. It should be more straightforward this time. Some of our people have been on site in Monaco since Saturday to do the groundwork and because space is extremely restricted, to ensure that material from other teams is not encroaching on our own allocated space. There is a time schedule for which teams move in to the paddock when, but it only takes a problem on the road for one truck for this to be further complicated.
As for the race cars themselves, they are partly prepared in Spain with the rest of the work being completed on arrival in the Principality. The 150° Italia cars will run in high downforce configuration, although the current regulations mean that the days of running a truly “Monaco-only” aero package are in the past. Wings will be set to give maximum downforce, while mechanically, the car set-up must also factor in the very bumpy nature of the track surface. Given that the track itself is open to normal road traffic when not in use for racing, the surface is very dirty and slippery at the start of practice, improving dramatically throughout the weekend. How the Pirelli tyres will react to these conditions is still something of an unknown quantity, especially as the Italian manufacturer is bringing out its Soft and Super soft tyres for the first time this year. Once again tyre use throughout the weekend will be a key factor, even if Monaco is less demanding on tyres than many other tracks. It may be the case that the recently adopted strategy of sacrificing some qualifying performance in order to preserve new tyres for the race will be less important than in the past couple of races and, given the difficulty of overtaking at this track, even with KERS, DRS and high tyre degradation, this weekend could see a good grid position become once again the most important factor, as was the case up to the end of last season. If the traditional image of Monaco is of a sun-drenched paradise by the sea, the truth is that the mountains above the bay give the Principality its very own micro-climate and current weather forecasts are predicting rain at times and maybe even a thunderstorm, over the four days of the race meeting: in these conditions, the vagaries of the roulette wheel in the famous Casino are probably easier to predict than the outcome of the race.
Scuderia Ferrari has won this race a total of nine times, to put the Prancing Horse second in the record list behind McLaren on fifteen. However in recent years, the top step of the podium has proved to be too hard a climb, with the last victory dating back to Michael Schumacher’s win in 2001. Of our current drivers, Fernando Alonso has won twice, both times from pole, in 2006 and 2007, while Felipe Massa started from pole in 2008. Last year, the Brazilian started fourth on the grid and finished in the same place, while the Spaniard never took part in qualifying, after a heavy crash in free practice and on the Sunday, he went from 24th and last on the grid to sixth at the flag.