McLaren-Mercedes: 2008 Monaco GP preview 

Written by David on May 16th, 2008 at 6:16 pmLast Update: May 16th, 2008 at 6:16 pm

McLaren MercedesQ: It was a fantastic performance in Turkey, do you think you will be able to go one better in Monaco? Lewis Hamilton: “Unpredictable is the word that sums up Monaco from a performance perspective. It was a great race in Turkey, we know the performance is there, but at Monaco literally anything can happen.”

Q: Monaco has traditionally been a successful circuit for you across a range of formulae, what is it about the track that you enjoy so much and what do you need to be quick? Lewis Hamilton: “Monaco, my favourite race. You have the history all around, you can just feel it, and the atmosphere is fantastic. It is the Grand Prix that every driver wants to win. Being a street circuit it is very exciting to drive, there is no room for any error all weekend. You are on the limit the whole time, there are no long straights where you have a moment to think. It is so tight and narrow, and when you consider how quick you are driving it is unreal. To be quick you need to use every centimetre of the circuit, this even includes touching the barriers at some points.”

Q: With such a unique circuit layout, what is the priority with car set-up? Lewis Hamilton: “The set-up is quite a lot different, the primary requirement is fantastic traction, to ensure you can get out of the corners well. Because there are no straights, we put as much downforce as we can on the car as we don’t need to, and aren’t able, to reach the speeds of any other track.”

Q: The circuit looks incredibly tight in places on TV, how does it feel inside a Formula 1 car? Lewis Hamilton: “It is so tight, and very difficult to describe how it feels in the car because you are so low. You are hitting some corners at 180mph, as you are braking down you know there is no run-off area, you can’t see the exit. All you can see is directly what is in front of you, probably about 50 metres. In some corners it is almost a guess, you are guessing where the car should be, hoping that you are in the right place, relying on your instinct and memory.”

Q: The race is associated with the glamorous side of the sport, as a driver do you get involved in this or is it a distraction? Lewis Hamilton: “It is not a distraction in any way, as with any race I am just fully focused on getting the job done. Monaco weekend more than any other is about being 100% in the zone and so I just keep myself to myself.”

Q: What is your aim for the Monaco Grand Prix? Heikki Kovalainen: “I want to have a trouble free race and to be able to show the pace we have in the car. It felt really good all weekend in Turkey and we had a good test on the Monaco-simulation track at Paul Ricard. We have certainly improved and hopefully we can capitalise on that at Monaco. Of all the races, Monaco is the most unpredictable Grand Prix, as always I want to be challenging for the win, but with this race who can say!”

Q: Can you outline why qualifying is so key at Monaco? Heikki Kovalainen: “Overtaking on the street circuit at Monaco is virtually impossible even if the other car is much slower. That means qualifying is even more important than any of the other tracks, you have to be near the front of the grid, as otherwise you can’t run your own pace. You end up stuck behind the slower cars and that costs you huge amounts of time. During the qualifying session, the priority is track position, to allow you to do you own lap and avoid other cars, but it is very difficult. Everybody tries to slow down at the last hairpin to get a gap to the next car, so when you are on your flying lap one lap later you arrive wanting to complete your fastest time and everyone is waiting there again to pull their gap out. So timing is what we are focused on, and luck! Set-up, balance and getting the most out of the car is of course very important but timing is crucial.”

Q: Do you enjoy racing at Monaco, what is it about the track that you like? Heikki Kovalainen: “I always enjoy driving at Monaco because it is a very challenging circuit. Some people think because it is not as fast it must be easier, but it is not very forgiving and you have to focus every single moment and be the maximum on each lap, you can’t relax anywhere. It also has unique characteristics, such as the sound is very different. It is louder even in the car because of the buildings surrounding the track. All the drivers like it because it is a challenge, and we like our challenges! It is a very special race and it is very difficult to win, that is why everybody is very motivated to do just that.”

Q: Can it also be a frustrating circuit, and is there anywhere you can overtake? Heikki Kovalainen: “It can be very frustrating, the biggest reason is being stuck behind the slower cars, but the challenges far outweigh that. It is possible to overtake; probably the easiest place is the exit of the tunnel down into the chicane. But even that is reasonably easy to defend, you just go to the inside line. You really need the guy in front to make a mistake, which when you know you have a faster car can be annoying. Simple answer is to make sure you qualify near the front!”

Q: What is key to being quick at Monaco? Heikki Kovalainen: “You have to be brave. You have to attack the brakes and the fast corners, the whole time you must be very aggressive and drive close to the walls. It is not so much about the set-up, balance and so on, it is all about attacking and being bold.”

Q: Can you outline the Monaco-specific components that are required at this race to cope with its demands? Martin Whitmarsh: “The Monaco circuit has previously been quite unique in the Formula 1 calendar, until this season with the inaugural races on the street circuits of Valencia and Singapore. Monaco is the first race of the season where the circuit characteristics of a tight, twisting course with no genuine straights, lead us to run with the maximum levels of downforce that are achievable, even if in so doing there is a marginal drag penalty. This is the compromise required in order to get the fastest lap possible. It’s a track that doesn’t have much kerb riding, if you step off the side of the track you are generally in the Armco barriers. It’s also a circuit with very inconsistent cambers, on the racing line the camber can be going away from you or helping you, and this is a result of racing on a road where the primary focus of the camber is drainage. As a result the suspension will be changed to handle this. It does not require particularly good kerb riding capability, with the exception of the chicane on the exit of the tunnel, but you do need to have sufficient compliance in the suspension that the variable cambers don’t unduly unsettle the car and or the drivers. It can also be a challenging event for cooling, despite what seemingly aren’t excessive temperatures. The average speed and therefore the average speed of airflow through the radiators is be lower than at other events, which makes it more difficult to dissipate heat energy from the engine and transmission.”

Q: Why is Monaco seen as the jewel in the crown of the Formula 1 season? Martin Whitmarsh: “Monaco is a longstanding event, the circuit hasn’t changed much over the years and there is a lot of history connected to the event. Inevitably it is a glamorous backdrop, it brings motor racing right into the heart of the Principality. It has that glamour, it brings cars close to the people, it reminds people how quick Formula 1 cars are and how brave the drivers are in a manner that is not always apparent when it is viewed from a distance behind large run off areas. The race itself is fantastic because it is so tight and so noisy, as a result the atmosphere is intense. If you get the opportunity to go up to Casino or another of the high speed parts of the circuit, even for people who have spent many years around Formula 1 cars, they are incredibly quick, incredibly tight. The precision that is needed by drivers, a few centimentres to the left of right at various points and you really are leaving part of the car behind. Another factor that adds to the spectacle is overtaking. There is a common belief that overtaking improves the spectacle, but over the years Monaco produces exciting races because the field is often very close together in a train, usually behind a much slower car. You then have the faster drivers trying to force their way through every overtaking manoeuvre, which entails a degree of risk no matter who you are passing. All these elements together lead to a highly anticipated race meeting.”

Q: Are you confident there will be no repeat of the tyre issues experienced by Lewis in Turkey at Monaco? Martin Whitmarsh:  “We are very confident that there will be no repeat of the tyre issues we experienced in Turkey with Lewis’s car because the characteristics of the circuit are very different. The levels of aerodynamic force that are generated on the tyres and the tyre construction are much lower and therefore there is no chance we will have that problem. At Monaco as we all work towards extracting the maximum performance from the tyres and the whole of the package, this historically leads to relatively soft compounds and this can provide a durability challenge, so a different issue but not one we are concerned about given the work we have done in this area with Bridgestone.”

Q: What are your thoughts on the competition at the top of Formula 1 prior to the Monaco Grand Prix? Norbert Haug: “Monaco is a very special race with a circuit layout that makes it difficult to use the competitive situation seen at other circuits as a basis. For the team, this Grand Prix is always an extraordinary race, not least because we have won five times in the ten years since our first joint victory with McLaren in 1998. This year I expect that at least a handful of teams are capable of achieving top positions. The right strategy, and sometimes also luck during the race, play a more important role at the street circuit in Monaco than at any other race track. A Safety Car deployment following an accident can favour the driver who has just refuelled and disadvantage the one who has yet to pit. Generally the one with the longer first stint has the better cards, however not if the Safety Car comes out at the wrong moment for him. For those circumstances Monaco is particularly special as it is almost impossible to overtake.”

Q: Do you think that the gap at the top of the Drivers’ and Constructors’ points table has already grown too big for the team? Norbert Haug: “Not at all. Vodafone McLaren Mercedes have been closer to the leader on the challenging circuits of Barcelona and Istanbul than before in Malaysia and Bahrain. Lewis is seven points behind, Heikki 21. Last year at a later time of the season Kimi Raikkonen had a greater gap to the top than our drivers now. The team has to improve further, and then everything is possible.”

Q: In the future we will continue to see the ’more aggressive’ strategies as seen with Lewis at the Turkish Grand Prix? Norbert Haug: “Lewis’s strategy in Turkey was a necessity at this race because there were concerns about the reliability of the right front tyre; however the realisation of this strategy was a good experience. On paper the three-stop strategy is slower at Istanbul; in addition there is the danger to get into traffic. However Lewis’s speed was good enough to almost compensate for both handicaps. Our opposition was definitely not running without pushing to stay in first place. Without Kimi’s contact that led to Heikki’s puncture and the required additional pit stop, I am sure that also for Heikki a podium position would have been possible.”

source: McLaren Mercedes

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