MAY 23, 2011

Analysis: Can McLaren take a 16th win at tyre-dominated Monaco?

McLaren has won more Monaco GPs - 15 - than any other F1 team, and with drivers Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button winners in 2008 and '09 respectively, the team is optimistic that it can overcome the dominant Red Bulls around the Monte Carlo streets next Sunday.

Hamilton harried Sebastian Vettel all the way to the chequered flag in Spain but, in Monaco, tyres could be even more key to the outcome. Going immediately from one of the quicker tracks on the calendar to the very slowest, Pirelli's PZero Red supersoft tyre makes its debut in Monaco. It is twinned with the soft - which becomes the 'prime' nomination after five grands prix as the 'option'.

The supersoft, says Pirelli, has a remarkably short warm-up time, meaning that all the performance is available right from the beginning, but its extremely soft compound means that it has an anticipated range of fewer than 10 laps. That will be significantly less on used rubber at the start with cars full of fuel.

With so few overtaking opportunities at Monaco, qualifying is of crucial importance. The supersoft is almost inevitably going to be needed to take pole position but the problem is that the first stops could then be so early that the front-runners get trapped behind those who have started on the soft.

Add in the complication of regular Monaco Safety Cars and, as McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh said, "Monte Carlo could be a mad race!"

"I love Monaco," Hamilton says. "It's a race I remember watching when I was a kid and it's a place that really showcases Formula 1 at its very best. After such a strong showing in Spain, I'm really looking forward to Monaco this year because I think we'll see a different race from previous years. I think a combination of DRS, KERS Hybrid and the tyres will really make the racing come alive."

Having said that, Hamilton is not too optimistic about DRS wings having too big a part to play.

"I think the DRS zone at Monaco is only around 300 metres, so it's pretty short, and not really long enough to enable us to get enough of a launch on the car ahead," he said. "I think the aerodynamics will only really start working properly once we've reached the braking zone for Ste Devote, so I don't think we'll see too many DRS-assisted overtaking moves next weekend. The tyres will probably give us the greatest scope for excitement and the best chance of passing."

Fernando Alonso has predicted that 'marbles' - the build-up of discarded rubber from the tyres - could be a significant issue in Monaco, with the supersoft in use and the barriers so close, but Hamilton seems to be of a different mind.

"I don't think the marbles will be as bad as people fear," he said, "because they tend to occur at the exits of high-speed corners, and Monaco is generally quite a low-speed track, so I don't think we'll see the build-up that we saw at somewhere like Turkey's Turn 8, for example."

On the subject of KERS, Button adds: "There's been suggestions that KERS won't be worth as much around Monaco but our simulations suggest that it's worth as much at Monaco as it is pretty much anywhere else, which is another positive because I think that the Mercedes-Benz unit is the best in Formula 1."

Whitmarsh adds: "Our Barcelona race pace, in particular our sector three times, looked very respectable indeed last weekend - and hopefully that will give us a good idea of what to expect at Monaco, because it's a slow, stop-start section of the track. I think one of the strengths of the MP4-26 is its low-speed grip and traction, so I think we should be in good shape from the start of the weekend."

Against all that, Sebastian Vettel is in formidable form and would dearly love to claim a first Monaco win, Mark Webber won masterfully for Red Bull last year, Fernando Alonso should be right in the mix with the Ferrari on the softer Pirellis, Nico Rosberg is always quick at Monaco, Michael Schumacher's record needs no further comment and some have predicted that the front exhaust Renault will be particularly well-suited to Monaco. Add in the threat of a diffuser protest from one of the back of the grid teams and literally anyone could win!