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Talking Point: Is Monaco safe to race on?

THIS weekend sees the hosting of the ultimate jewel in the crown of Formula One, the Monaco Grand Prix.  The late team boss Enzo Ferrari once said that ‘winning Monaco is worth half a championship.’  It isn’t quite like that but after the unpredictable start to 2012, with five different winners in the first five races, Monaco could turn out to be a pivotal event when it comes to momentum for the rest of the championship.

Many of the greats have won around here.  The late Ayrton Senna won six times between 1987-1993 and was almost unbeatable at his peak.  2001 might have been his last success in the principality but Michael Schumacher didn’t win Monaco by accident on five separate occasions.  Graham Hill is another five time winner and the ‘Professor,’ Alain Prost triumphed four times.  Out of the current crop, Fernando Alonso, Schumacher, Kimi Raikkonen, Mark Webber, Jenson Button, Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton have all won around the principality.

However with the radical advances in modern day technology, especially in the car industry – have the streets of Monaco outgrown Formula One and is it time to stop racing there for good?

Last season’s race weekend had some lucky and frightening shunts that brought the safety around Monaco argument up into the mould again.  Nico Rosberg was incredibly fortunate to escape a nasty connection with the barriers on Saturday morning last year when he crashed his Mercedes on the approach to the Nouvelle chicane.  In qualifying, Sergio Perez wasn’t so lucky and missed the race following an even worse shunt at the same corner.  Perez was concussed, bruised and admitted later on that it took him at least three races to get over the accident psychologically.  In the race, a multiple accident triggered by Adrian Sutil clattering the wall at Tabac saw Vitaly Petrov hospitalised with bruising on his ankles and caused the race to be suspended.  It was the busiest weekend for the F1 medical team since the 2001 Australian Grand Prix.

The officials have listened and made some safety changes for the 2012 event.  The barriers where Perez crashed last season have been moved back in the hope of restricting a sudden impact should a car lose control at the fastest part of the track.  Like in 2011, the use of DRS has been banned from use in the tunnel and more of the corners will have the impact-absorbing barriers that no doubt saved Perez from even more serious injury.  The tunnel area has come in for criticism as a hotspot for potential serious shunts.  Karl Wendlinger crashed in 1994 and fell into a deep coma from his injuries.  Jenson Button was concussed and missed the 2003 event following a similar shunt in practice and Alexander Wurz escaped without injury after a huge smash in the 1998 race.  However the only fatality at the Monaco Grand Prix has been Ferrari’s Lorenzo Bandini, way back in 1967.

Michael Schumacher told BBC Sport last week that the risk of racing in Monaco is justifable as it is just once a year; “For so many years we have successfully campaigned for more track safety and then we race in Monaco but in my view this is justifiable once a year – especially as the circuit is so much fun to drive.  Every time you go there, you just look forward to finally getting out and driving the track.”

I asked the opinion of some F1 fans through the Planet F1 forum about this subject;

Laura23: “Schumacher says it’s worth the risk because it’s once a year.  I’m sure all the other drivers, Petrov excluded perhaps, share the same views.  If they don’t go to Monaco because of the risk then I’m afraid F1 won’t be F1 anymore, it’ll be a nanny stated sport.  The real reason they should stop going to Monaco, if they ever do, is because it doesn’t exactly provide good racing unless it rains.”

JohnnyGuitar: “Monaco is probably safer now than it’s ever been.  The top speeds the cars hit around the circuit has been pretty similar for two or three decades probably but trackside barriers have improved and the safety of the cars themselves has increased immeasurably.  If it was safe to race there throughout the 70s, 80s, 90s and 00s – I see no reason why there should be any talk of stopping the event on the grounds of safety now.”

Lt. Drebin: “Not safe but safer than before.  Still, the possibility of a disastrous crash is enormously high in comparison with any other race track.”

j man: “Personally I love Monaco, precisely because it is a laughably unsuitable setting for an F1 race.  It presents a totally unique challenge for the drivers, provides a totally unique setting for the fans and the race’s rich history means that it should never be removed from the calendar.”

slide: “No , it seems dangerous to race there but thats the draw.”

The Monaco Grand Prix is the most prestigious event on the calendar and still king of the street circuits, despite the glamour of night racing in Singapore.  If you’d say Monaco is dangerous, what about faster tracks with average speed like Spa, Suzuka and Monza?  Fingers crossed that the weekend goes through peacefully without any serious accidents but the risk has always been there.  It isn’t a deathtrap and as far as I’m concerned, if the race in Monte Carlo disappeared ever – there wouldn’t be much point of holding a Formula One World Championship.

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Vettel back on pole in the desert

Sebastian Vettel is back on pole position and the German's finger salute returns too! (Scotcars)

THE familiar German middle finger was shown in the Sakhir paddock yesterday as Sebastian Vettel returned to his customary spot of starting on pole position.  It is the world champion’s first pole since the season finale in Brazil last November.  Team-mate Mark Webber will start today’s race from third, confirming that Red Bull Racing’s qualifying pace is back.  It was a tense scrap for pole position in what has to be said is a tense backdrop to the Bahrain Grand Prix.

Whilst the TV stations worldwide and UK newspapers lead with the trouble in the country and led to the death of another protester during demonstrations on Friday night, this is a qualifying report and shall remain that.  The action on the track did cause a few unexpected surprises.

The difference in time between the prime and option tyres in Bahrain led to the demise of Michael Schumacher’s Mercedes in Q1.  Schumacher had been amongst the top five in every practice session leading into qualifying, but by not chancing it on the option tyre, the German was knocked out by Heikki Kovalainen’s Caterham Renault.  Later, it was revealed that an issue with the DRS meant the seven times world champion couldn’t get the lap time he wanted.  To compound Schumacher’s nightmare, a gearbox change overnight means he will start 22nd.  It will be interesting to see his progress today.  Jean-Eric Vergne also missed the cut and then ignored a pitlane red light which ordered the rookie to stop at the weighbridge.  This was an excludable offense 20 years ago but amazingly, no action was taken against the Frenchman!

In Q2, a KERS problem left Pastor Maldonado high and dry in the pits and like Schumacher, the Veneuzelan has been hit with a five place grid penalty for changing his gearbox.  Felipe Massa made his expected exit and the former double winner in Sakhir will start from a distant 14th.  Kimi Raikkonen was squeezed out as the track temperature dropped and the track continued to evolve.  The Lotus driver will start 11th and revealed afterwards that he only had himself to blame for his shock exit.

Paul di Resta made the final part of qualifying for the first time this season and will start tenth.  Considering that Force India missed FP2 due to safety concerns following the events of this weekend, this is a notable achievement.  With no option tyres left, Fernando Alonso decided to save his remaining sets for raceday and seemed content with ninth, setting no time like di Resta in Q3.  The star of qualifying was the young Australian for Toro Rosso, Daniel Ricciardo.  The Italian team has never scored a championship point around this circuit but they have a great chance today after Ricciardo charged to sixth place on the grid.  It is his best ever qualifying performance and he showed his delight to Sky Sports F1 afterwards.  “We had a pretty good morning and we thought all going well, we might have a crack at Q3 today.  Each little step seemed to be very beneficial and I’m really happy, I’ll enjoy this today.”

Nico Rosberg couldn’t repeat his Shanghai heroics and he had to settle for fifth place, making a tiny error in the final corner on his best lap.  This meant that the Red Bull and McLaren teams disputed the pole battle.  After the first runs, Lewis Hamilton looked to have his third pole position of the season.  However, Vettel and Red Bull had saved a set of option tyres from Q2 and he used them to perfection.  His time was left than a 0.1secs quicker than Hamilton, but enough for his second Bahrain Grand Prix pole position.  Webber has his best ever grid position here, which was previously fifth for Williams back in 2005 whilst Jenson Button aborted his final attempt and seemed satisfied with P4 on the grid.  Relief more than delight was echoed on Vettel’s face after his return to the front of the field.  Speaking to BBC Sport, he said: “We didn’t have the best Q1 or Q2 and I made a couple of mistakes.  I knew though in Q3 we could make another step and the first run I was happy with, although it wasn’t perfect.  I knew I had more to give on the new set and I was pleased.  I owe this one to the boys in the garage for their hard work.”

With Red Bull back at the front after qualifying, this season continues to have many twists and turns.  The race begins in just under an hour’s time and it is highly conceivable that we could have four different winners in the first four events for the first time since 2003.

2012 GULF AIR BAHRAIN GRAND PRIX QUALIFYING RESULT

POS DRIVER TEAM LAPS BEST TIME
1 SEBASTIAN VETTEL RED BULL RACING RENAULT 18 1.32.422
2 LEWIS HAMILTON MCLAREN MERCEDES 13 1.32.520
3 MARK WEBBER RED BULL RACING RENAULT 17 1.32.637
4 JENSON BUTTON MCLAREN MERCEDES 12 1.32.711
5 NICO ROSBERG MERCEDES GP 10 1.32.821
6 DANIEL RICCIARDO TORO ROSSO FERRARI 17 1.32.912
7 ROMAIN GROSJEAN LOTUS RENAULT 13 1.33.008
8 SERGIO PEREZ SAUBER FERRARI 17 1.33.394
9 FERNANDO ALONSO FERRARI 11 NO TIME in Q3
10 PAUL DI RESTA FORCE INDIA MERCEDES 15 NO TIME in Q3
11 (Q2) KIMI RAIKKONEN LOTUS RENAULT 6 1.33.789
12 (Q2) KAMUI KOBAYASHI SAUBER FERRARI 13 1.33.806
13 (Q2) NICO HULKENBERG FORCE INDIA MERCEDES 12 1.33.807
14 (Q2) FELIPE MASSA FERRARI 14 1.33.912
15 (Q2) BRUNO SENNA WILLIAMS RENAULT 14 1.34.017
16 (Q2) HEIKKI KOVALAINEN CATERHAM RENAULT 10 1.36.312
17 (Q1) JEAN-ERIC VERGNE TORO ROSSO FERRARI 8 1.35.014
18 (Q1) VITALY PETROV CATERHAM RENAULT 7 1.35.823
19 (Q1) CHARLES PIC MARUSSIA COSWORTH 8 1.37.683
20 (Q1) PEDRO DE LA ROSA HRT COSWORTH 6 1.37.883
21 (Q2) PASTOR MALDONADO WILLIAMS RENAULT 8 NO TIME IN Q2
22 (Q1) MICHAEL SCHUMACHER MERCEDES GP 5 1.34.865
23 (Q1) TIMO GLOCK MARUSSIA COSWORTH 7 1.37.905
24 (Q1) NARAIN KARTHIKEYAN HRT COSWORTH 7 1.38.314

PASTOR MALDONADO RELEGATED FIVE PLACES FOR GEARBOX CHANGE    

MICHAEL SCHUMACHER RELEGATED FIVE PLACES FOR GEARBOX CHANGE