May 26, 2011

F1 Practice: Monaco 2011

The only thing to talk about from today's practice sessions in Monaco are the tires.  Of course, one could say that about every race, every session at every track, but Monaco is different.  There's never any testing here, since the circuit is 100% public streets.  Bridgestone and Michelin, longtime tire makers to F1, never quite got the hang of how their rubber would react on the pavement of the Principality and publicly admitted it.  There's just too many variables that change every year.  Think about the streets where you live, the route you take to work every day... how many different patches of asphalt and concrete do you drive upon?  Just off the top of my head, there are eight distinct stretches in the three mile drive from Pond Central to Duck U, all of them laid down in the past five or six years.  Of course each of them seems the same to our cars, but what about to a highly-strung F1 car going at 150mph and braking at 3g's? 

That's why Pirelli, the sport's new tire manufacturer, had such a daunting task ahead of them this year.  But then, just to make things even more "exciting," the city streets of Monaco demand all the traction a car can find.  Every wing on the cars are cranked as high as possible, the suspension is as soft as the teams can make it, and the tires?  For the previous five races, Pirelli brought their Hard and Soft compounds to the track.  Here?  The "hard" tire is actually the soft compound.  The "soft" tire is the season debut of the super-soft rubber.  Earlier in the week, Pirelli thought the super-soft compound would last about 10 laps, which doesn't sound too horrible.  It's hardly great, but it seems workable.

Until you realize that Monaco is the shortest track in F1, just a hair over two miles long.  By way of comparison, the Turkish Grand Prix is run on a 3.3 mile circuit.  THEN you think "how many laps comprise a race at Monaco?"  The answer is 78.  If your stomach just got a little queasy at that revelation, congratulations!  You too could be a strategist for a F1 team!

As it turned out, the super-soft tires might have a little more life in them than anybody thought.  Towards the end of P2, Seb Vettel went out with a full load of fuel and the red-lettered shoes and managed to keep them on the car for 22+ laps.  Again, that doesn't sound too bad... until you look at the timesheets and see that his last laps were over three full seconds slower than the first laps.  This at a time when he should have been faster simply because of fuel burning off!  Feeling a little more nauseous?

The super-soft tires are approximately one second faster than the softs, which are about twice as durable.  Pirelli claims that it's theoretically possible that someone do the race on two stops.  I think three is probably more likely, and maybe someone will go for a four-stopper.

To get a good lap around Monaco, a driver has to be 100% committed, 100% of the time.  At every other circuit on the calendar, there's at least one place where a driver can relax, even if it's only for a few seconds: Abu Dhabi leaps immediately to mind, with its nigh-on 3000ft long back straight.  Nothing like that at Monaco... even the front "straight" bends to the right.  Felipe Massa showed just how focused you have to be around the Principality on one hot lap in P2.  Through the Swimming Pool complex, he was actually turning while airborne over a curb.  He then drifted around Rascasse and fishtailed through Anthony Noghes.  There, he looked like he was going to permanently embed his left-rear wheel in the armco barriers, but the curbing there kicked him away... and right towards the armco on the INSIDE of the turn.  A quick flip of the wrists kept him clear of those, and he crossed the line with the third fastest time of the session up until then.  Breathtaking!  Heck, the Legendary Announce Team was actually laughing about it.

Yes, should be a fun race weekend... the way it's going, we just might see someone in the harbor.  See you Saturday for Quals!

Posted by: Wonderduck at 07:07 PM | Comments (3) | Add Comment
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I have mixed feelings about this whole tire business. It's not that it's unfair. Everyone is using the same tires, so it's even.

But the tires are so variable, and so much of a problem, that there seems to be a risk that they'll drown out all other factors in the race. This sport should be about driver and car design excellence, not about skill in conserving tire rubber.

Posted by: Steven Den Beste at May 26, 2011 07:30 PM (+rSRq)

2 I don't disagree with you, Steven.  However, the situation as it is now is lightyears better than the way F1 was during The Tire Wars.  Then, the tires really did decide who would win.  I'd much rather have it this way.

They did try to take tires out of the mix for a while there, when they said no tire changes during a race.  That didn't work well either.

What it comes down to is that tires and cars are impossible to separate.  At least there's some interest with the differing compounds.  Whether it's good is another question. 

F1 used to be all about technological innovation, but when they neutered things like the fan car and ground effects and all the rest in the name of safety, a lot of that went away.  I'd rather have my drivers alive, yes, but the old cars were a lot more interesting.

Posted by: Wonderduck at May 26, 2011 08:00 PM (n0k6M)

3 Well, but we know about the best car design - it's the Red Bull. We know about the best driver too, and last weekend just cemented it. I'd rather have at least SOME kind of variable, rather than have the entire field racing for second place...

Posted by: Avatar_exADV at May 26, 2011 09:40 PM (pWQz4)

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