Race Weekend Central

Slipstream Saturday: Monaco. What Else Needs Be Said.

One of the axioms of modern Formula 1 racing is that engineers are the ones pulling all the levers and that the driver is, in many ways, a hindrance to their perfection.  In their labs, the collection of minds develop what they see as the best possible outcome from the resources they have – and then the driver element is added later.  With this concept in mind the engineers are disenchanted by a driver’s inability to drive the same lap every time, or emotional ebbs and flows, or by variance in weight.  It is quite possible that if the engineers had their way that the cars would not have drivers at all.  

But the drivers are still part of the equation and that makes one wonder just what the engineers thought they were giving those person in the cockpit this weekend at Monaco.  Through the first two practices nearly every driver did one of two things, drive off course or smack a wall.  This aspect accompanies the fact that the teams build cars especially for the Monaco Grand Prix; ones with softer suspensions than anywhere else, and ones that will be driven on the softest tyres yet this season.

The sum total here is that for all the technical advances and for all the driver skill, racing the tight streets of this French playground is still not an easy task.  In many ways, that’s a great thing.  To know that the combination of engineering and personal talent can in these advanced stages still mess up means that neither side has figured things out perfectly.

With that confluence being noted, notice that speeds are up nearly three seconds at Monaco this year as compared to last.  Now in its second year, the V6 engine and energy system configuration is now one that teams are pushing harder in conjunction with Ultra Soft tyre compound that Pirelli has brought to the race.  

The Monaco Grand Prix is already a coveted trophy and the difficulty of driving the streets prove that.  This year, however, looks like it may be wonderful mix of what the engineers have brought and what the drivers can do.  

Odds & Sods

Jenson Button, trailing Nico Rosberg, nails a drain cover (Getty Images)

One of the interesting aspects about the Monaco GP is that it is a street course, one of four on the 2016 schedule.  Street circuits bring their own obstacles owing to being transformed from passenger car friendly to F1 acceptable.  Jenson Button discovered how things can go badly on a street course when a drain cover launched into his McLaren, wrecking his front wing and putting him into the garage.  

Button had been following Nico Rosberg when Rosberg’s car sucked the cover up into the air for Button to punch.  Manhole, drain covers and the like are welded down for these races but it’s rather clear to note that this one either failed or was missed.  That’s scary.  What’s more scary is had the cover been floating just a few inches higher Button would have been in serious danger.  This concern is highlighted in the next point.

Get ready for the Halo. Whether you like it or not (Getty Images)

– Next year the series will implement the Halo cockpit protection system.  The aero shield that had been debuted by Red Bull received a better reaction from fans, drivers, and teams, did not earn acceptance for next year.  The reason?  The Halo had gone through more testing that the shield.  The anger that Button may have felt from the flying drain cover may have been mitigated from having the Halo protection on his car but there also seems to be a lot of room for error with the more open system.  But in light of the fact that the parents of Jules Bianchi, who died last year after an accident the year before at the Japanese Grand Prix, are suing the governing body this move shows that steps are being taken to make things safer.  

Rio Haryanto may not be driving the full schedule for Manor this year.  As the first Indonesian F1 driver, Haryanto is backed by the Indonesian government – but for only the first 11 races.  There has been no word on whether the government is looking to continue backing him and if it does not there’s a good chance that Alexander Rossi, who will be racing in the Indianapolis 500 this weekend, will take over the ride.  

Kimi Raikkonen will face a five-spot grid penalty for a gearbox change.  Raikkonen, who currently sits second in the points, will face a tough task to maintain that position at a track where passing is more difficult than any other.  His season, thus far, has been one that has been quietly rolling along but little setbacks like this one are just what he doesn’t need if he not only wants to challenge for the championship but keep his ride with Ferrari next year.

– High and low.  Max Verstappen had just been promoted to the Red Bull ride last race, and enjoyed the move by earning his first win in Spain.  That sent the proverbial shockwaves through the garage as it anointed him as the up and coming talent and future talent.  That’s a familiar theme in all of motorsports.  And so is said talent then going out and faltering.  Verstappen did just that in qualifying by tagging a wall in the first qualifying session and wrecking out, putting himself at the back of the grid for the race.  

The Race

The Monaco Grand Prix began in 1929 and has been a staple of the auto racing schedule.  Its contiguous streak reaches back to 1955, and though the track has undergone some slight revisions over the years, it has pretty much stayed the same.  It’s a 78 lap affair that features 19 turns and is just over 2 miles in length on the winding streets of the city.  Oddly enough, the race is one of the shortest in distance on the schedule and doesn’t conform to the distance required for other tracks.  Ayrton Senna leads all drivers with 6 wins, though Graham Hill with 5 was considered Mr. Monaco.  Of the current drivers, Nico Rosberg paces the field with 3 wins after his surprising victory last year.  

The race can be seen on NBC at 8:00 AM EST on Sunday, May 29, and rain may be a factor.    

About the author

As a writer and editor, Ava anchors the Formula 1 coverage for the site, while working through many of its biggest columns. Ava earned a Masters in Sports Studies at UGA and a PhD in American Studies from UH-Mānoa. Her dissertation Chased Women, NASCAR Dads, and Southern Inhospitality: How NASCAR Exports The South is in the process of becoming a book.

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