Monaco GP: Preview - Ferrari


Since the championship started in 1950, the Scuderia cannot consider the trip to Monte Carlo a truly profitable one, as the last victory for a Prancing Horse car dates back to Michael Schumacher's win in 2001, the final one of five times that the German won here. In fact, after a victory for Gilles Villeneuve in 1981, Ferrari had to wait until Michael was first past the flag in 1997 to record another Monegasque win. When Niki Lauda took victory in an incident packed 1975 race, it was the first time the Scuderia had won since the 1955 win from Maurice Trintignant, in a race more famous for Alberto Ascari's dive into the harbour.

Although there are no points handed out for a race fastest lap, it does say something about one's real pace and in 2002, '04, '05, 06 and '08, a Prancing Horse car did set the quickest lap in Monaco, which is an encouraging statistic to have on one's side. In 2008, it was an all-red Ferrari front row, but still the Scuderia failed to win. In fact, in the past, it has often been the case that the dominant team of the year has failed to secure victory in the most famous race on the calendar, with a less fancied runner taking top honours. Could it be that, in 2009, Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro fits that designation? This year will be the first time that the F1 teams arrive in the Principality without the benefit of having tested on a track configured to reproduce the demands of the slowest, twistiest circuit of the year. For Ferrari that used to mean running at its own Fiorano facility and in more recent years, using the slowest of the several layouts available at Le Castellet in the south of France. The ban on in-season testing has had an effect on the Ferrari team, as much of its work method was based on track activity and the Scuderia is still working to adapt its philosophy to the new world of Formula 1.

The major step forward in performance seen in Barcelona a fortnight ago is the result of the team adapting well to the new methods of bringing innovations to the track without the benefit of pre event testing.

Felipe Massa expresses a mix of optimism and caution when it comes to this weekend's Grand Prix. "For the last two years, I've made it to the podium in Monaco and it would be great to go for a hat-trick this time," says the Brazilian. "It will be very tough, but we'll give it our best shot. Thanks to the aerodynamic updates we introduced in Spain, the F60 is much improved, which is why I should have been in the fight for third place at the Catalunya Circuit right up to the end, if a refuelling problem hadn't meant I had to back off for the final part of the race. In terms of performance, we have made significant steps forward, while there is still much to do on the reliability front."

Monaco provides the exception to the rule in so many cases in Formula 1, from its "Friday holiday" to the need for scuba divers on standby, to the thrill of racing through a tunnel and this year sees an additional exception when it comes to tyres. Bridgestone is required by the regulations to bring tyres with distinctly different characteristics to each race, in an attempt to improve the show: for example, the "super-soft" can be brought with the "medium" and the "soft" with the "hard." However, here at Monaco, which is much more tyre dependent in terms of lap times and race pace, Bridgestone will be bringing its "soft" and "super-soft." This should suit Ferrari, as it has been evident this year that the F60 has tended to struggle on the harder tyres, while working better on the softer side.

Much has been written about the value or otherwise of running KERS in Monte Carlo and currently the F60s are due to be fitted with the power boosting device. Admittedly, its use will be more limited than at more flowing circuits, but given that the F60 was designed around carrying KERS and this is factored into its weight and distribution of its weight, it is logical to run it, no matter how minimal the benefit, given how much closer the grids have been this season. Furthermore, given that close grids have always been a feature of the Monaco Grand Prix, then the slightest advantage has to be worth having.

On top of that, it was clear that all the work of the past few weeks has produced a car package clearly superior to the one that tackled the opening four races of the season. The F60 now has far more grip and downforce and these two qualities are in much demand around the streets of the Principality. For all the pieces to finally fall into place at Monaco would be a fantastic boost for the team, which is still working towards the goal of winning races again, whatever the scores in the championships.

As Kimi Raikkonen said, "the situation in the championship is very difficult, given that both me and Felipe have only managed to score three points each. But we won't be giving up and we continue to work hard to get back on top and, only at the end, will it be worth adding up the points. The car has improved since the earlier races and so it should mean we are more competitive, although it's best to wait until Thursday's free practice to get a clearer picture."

Monaco is without a doubt the biggest draw for spectators, TV viewers and those with a commercial interest in the sport, however, it is no longer truly unique because, as of last year, we have another street race in the shape of Singapore, with the added factor of it being a night race. However, while it might be the most exciting race for the fans who can almost feel part of the action, for the team personnel, Monaco is possibly the toughest on the calendar. Since the pit garages and a new pit lane were created a few years ago, the situation has improved, but the lack of space, the complicated garage layout, the pit signalling area at the back rather than the front of the pits and the need to fight through the crowds all makes for a stressful time and the longer weekend simply adds to the pressure. As to the weather, Monaco's unique coastal setting, alongside the Mediterranean might make for a picturesque backdrop, but in meteorological terms it can be more of a headache. Currently, the forecast for the weekend is good, but trapped between the sea and the mountains, Monte Carlo can produce its own micro-climate, which can change in a matter of hours, adding to what is always something of a Sunday afternoon lottery.

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Published: 19/05/2009
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