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.
FORCE India’s fantastic winter continued today on the second day of pre-season testing at the Circuit de Catalunya. Nico Hulkenberg, who is returning to the sport after being a frustrated spectactor in 2011, set the pace in Spain. Hulkenberg gave his team some crucial data, pounding around Barcelona for 112 laps, setting a quickest time of 1.22.608. Although his time was on super-soft tyres, the new Force India looks consistent and fast, which bodes well for the early season events.
Hulkenberg edged out Sergio Perez today, who showed some pace from Sauber that has been seriously missing in early tests. Like Hulkenberg, Perez recorded his best time on super-softs, but still was an impressive second quickest, just 0.040secs shy of the German’s quickest time. Having set a benchmark yesterday, Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull looked at race simulation today, but the champion was the man to beat again until the late efforts from the top two. Vettel was third fastest, his best today was a 1.23.056. Fernando Alonso was next up, but a super-soft tyre run slower than Vettel’s on the prime tyre suggests Ferrari have a mountain of work to do before the first race in Australia on March 18.
Like Vettel, Lewis Hamilton focused on race simulation work today, doing 120 laps and coming sixth on the timesheets. However, the Brit later told BBC Sport that he is encouraged by the hidden pace McLaren have at the moment. Jenson Button, flying in from presenting an award at the BRITS last night, will take over driving duties tomorrow. Likewise, Mark Webber and Felipe Massa will be putting in the miles over the next two days, after Vettel and Alonso’s efforts at the start of this test.
However, Lotus have had to withdraw from the rest of this week’s testing. They went home yesterday, after Romain Grosjean felt uncomfortable with an unspecificed chassis problem. However, team principal Eric Bouiller is convinced they’ve fixed the problem. He said to BBC Sport; “On the positive side, we have quickly identified the issue with the chassis and our design office has already devised a solution. We will be present at next week’s test in Barcelona.” However, it leaves Lotus just four more days of running before Melbourne, so they are now seriously on the backfoot.
TESTING TIMES IN BARCELONA – DAY 2
1. Nico Hulkenberg (Force India Mercedes) 1.22.608 – 112 laps
2. Sergio Perez (Sauber Ferrari) 1.22.648 – 85 laps
3. Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull Racing Renault) 1.22.891 – 104 laps
4. Fernando Alonso (Ferrari) 1.23.180 – 87 laps
5. Daniel Riccardo (Scuderia Toro Rosso Ferrari) 1.23.659 – 50 laps
6. Lewis Hamilton (McLaren Mercedes) 1.23.806 – 120 laps
7. Nico Rosberg (Mercedes GP) 1.24.555 – 82 laps
8. Juan Bottas (Williams Renault) 1.25.738 – 117 laps
9. Vitaly Petrov (Caterham Renault) 1.26.605 – 69 laps
10. Charles Pic (Marussia Cosworth) 1.27.343 – 108 laps
MAKING THE NEXT STEP
THIS will be the third year without works support for Sauber, since BMW withdrew from the sport at the end of 2009. Resources have always been limited for the Swiss team as an independant, but Peter Sauber will never give up. The question is, can they make a significant jump up the grid in 2012.
The recent departure of technical director, James Key has to been seen as a blow to the team’s hopes. Although he would have had significant input on the new car, there is a worry that a lack of progress could see the team stagnate or even slip towards the back of the midfield. Despite finishing fourth in the 2001 championship on a shoestring budget, Sauber have a habit of starting a season strongly, then falling backwards as the year progresses – even during the BMW years. Development is something they keep getting outraced by and therefore, it must be frustrating for the drivers, knowing that despite their hard efforts, it might lead to very little.
At least the drivers remain for 2012 and it is a talented line-up. Kamui Kobayashi is spectacular to watch and defintely, Japan’s greatest racing driver in Formula One. Kobayashi went off the radar in the middle part of 2011 and probably didn’t establish himself as a natural team leader. However, his tenth place in Abu Dhabi and ninth place in Brazil was crucial to Sauber staying ahead of Toro Rosso in last year’s constructors championship. Kobayashi has a tendency to either be breathtaking or lacklustre. He needs to make a breakthrough this season and become a more consistent driver for the whole season.
Once again, he will be partnered by the Mexican, Sergio Perez. Perez’s form was one of the highlights of 2011. In his rookie season, he often put Kobayashi in the shade and many fans, including myself had him down as rookie of the year, despite Paul di Resta’s natural consistency at Force India. He was tough to pass, solid in qualifying and despite making some basic errors in judgement regarding the rules, showed a lot of potential which has him earmarked as a future Ferrari driver. Sadly, Sergio’s 2011 season will probably be remembered more for the horrifying accident he had in qualifying for the Monaco Grand Prix. However, he has his place on the grid on merit, not just through being wealthily backed by Telemex, one of Sauber’s key sponsors.
For me, Sauber need some form of investment, even if it isn’t from a manufacturing background. The team is good and will probably challenge for lower points finishes on a regular basis, but they only seem to do that and not threaten for serious points results. It will be upto Kobayashi and Perez to deliver and if they really do have lengthy careers in the sport, outdrive the car’s capabilities on a regular basis. We’ve seen what’s happened to the likes of Jaime Alguersuari, Vitaly Petrov and Adrian Sutil – if you don’t look like a future winner, you are more likely to miss out on a drive. I’m afraid Key’s abrupt departure will probably mean another season of mediocrity for a popular outfit.
JAMES Key has left the Sauber Formula One team on the eve of the launch of their 2012 car next week. Key, who joined Sauber midway through the 2010 season from Force India has moved onto pastures new as the Swiss team restructure their technical department.
On his departure, Key told Planet F1; “”I’ve enjoyed the past two years working at the Sauber F1 Team. It has been a very intense and interesting time, in which we had to manage the transition from a much larger team to a smaller one, and everybody handled that very well.”
In his time with the team, Key has managed to downsize the team and keep it as a competitive midfield contender since BMW withdrew works support at the end of the 2009 season. The team finished seventh in the constructors championship last season, although they struggled in the second half of the season through a lack of development. Key has taken on a new role in the UK, although this has not been specified. Rather than bring in a specialised replacement, Peter Sauber has revealed that it will be shared responsibility now between Sauber’s leading engineers.
The Sauber challenger will be launched in Jerez on Monday, with Kamur Kobayashi and Sergio Perez remaining as drivers for the second successive season.