The softest compound in Pirelli's Formula One range - the P Zero Red supersoft - makes its first appearance of the year at the famed Monaco Grand Prix circuit: the slowest, tightest but also most prestigious race of the season. Alongside it, the P Zero Yellow soft has also been nominated.
With the street circuit relying almost exclusively on mechanical grip, it is ideal territory for the supersoft - which benefits from a rapid warm-up time and is capable of generating very high levels of traction and cornering forces. This is particularly important during qualifying: with so few opportunities to overtake in Monaco, being as far up the grid as possible is even more important than usual. For the same reason, race strategy has a profound effect. It is often easier to make up positions in the pits through an effective strategy rather than by passing on the track. Tyre wear and degradation is the lowest seen all season, making a one-stop strategy a distinct possibility for some teams. As Monaco is a street circuit, there is a high degree of track evolution over the course of the race weekend, which lasts for one day longer than anywhere else as free practice takes place on Thursday with the circuit is open to normal traffic again for much of Friday. This consequently affects the amount of rubber that is found on the surface for qualifying.
Paul Hembery: "Monaco is a highlight of the season and a place where our supersoft and soft tyres have provided plenty of entertainment in the past. Last year, we had three drivers on three different strategies set for a grandstand finish - before a red flag got in the way. The supersoft is the only compound that remains unaltered from last year, as it proved to be so effective on circuits like Monaco, but of course the profile has been re-designed to better suit the 2012 regulations. With the wear rate being so low in Monaco, the drivers will be able to push at their hardest from start to finish. Tyre strategy will be very important in Monaco, where on-track overtaking is more difficult than anywhere else. Having said that, the Principality has a history of often springing a surprise. With the cars so evenly matched now, even the slightest advantage or smallest mistake can have a big impact on the final outcome of a race, as we've seen so far this season."
Technical tyre notes:
The track surface is the least abrasive of the year, and added to the slow average speed (including the slowest hairpin bend on the calendar, taken at just 47kph) this leads to a very low level of tyre wear. The soft tyres are capable of lasting for 50 laps or more, making a one-stop strategy entirely realistic - although McLaren's Jenson Button used a three-stop sprint strategy to finish on the podium last year.
The tight and twisty confines of the circuit, with no run-off area, have an important effect on race strategy. With a high risk of incidents that can bring out the safety car, the teams need enough flexibility in their strategies to be able to adapt to changing circumstances.
The brakes are used heavily in Monaco, and this transmits heat to the tyres that adds to the stress placed on the structure. Going into Sainte Devote, for example, the cars lose 160kph in just 100 metres. The tyres are also heavily challenged at the swimming pool complex. They hit the kerbs at more than 200kph, generating a lateral force of 3.65g.