Monaco GP - Reducing the odds in the lottery
There are many clichés about the Monaco Grand Prix and one of the most commonly cited is that this race is a lottery. Sometimes, people who play real lotteries have a strategy and the same is true of the teams as they prepare for the most famous race on the Formula 1 calendar.
The overall responsibility for strategic decisions taken on the Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro pit wall rests with the team's Head of Track Operations, Luca Baldisserri, who gives us an insight to the seemingly endless possibilities for running the best race around this tricky track. "Monte Carlo is probably the most difficult venue at which to plan strategy," says Baldisserri. "Because you always have to balance the need to be in front of the other cars, to have free air and to avoid traffic especially at the start, against on the other hand, the need to have more fuel to avoid bouncing back into traffic after your pit stop, running behind the slower car that was originally behind you. If that car is on a different strategy to yours, it can destroy your race."
A further complication for 2007 comes from the rules concerning the use of tyres in that you have to use both types of tyre provided at some point in the race. "We have been testing the super-soft and the soft tyres that Bridgestone brings to this race," explains Baldisserri. "Paul Ricard, where we tested them last week, was not the best venue for this tyre comparison as we could not establish enough of a difference because the super-soft struggled slightly towards the end of a lap. We will have to therefore adapt our Thursday programme to establish which tyre really is the quickest. This will be especially important looking towards qualifying but also for the race."
This year, there is a rule change concerning the Safety Car: when it is out on track after an incident, the pit lane will now be closed. Our race planner outlines the implications of this rule. "It reduces our flexibility in strategic terms as we cannot change our strategy and bring our car into the pits. Last year, there was an SC period after the mid-point of the race. When this happened the front runners were unaffected because they pitted and refuelled to the end of the race. This year, that will not be possible and if the SC comes out when you have five laps of fuel remaining, then they have to keep going. If you decide your car must pit, then you take a penalty which must be purged back in the pits only after the Safety Car has pulled off the track and the race is again underway. This also destroys your race of course. This means the most flexible strategy in terms of avoiding a negative outcome of a Safety Car period is to reduce the number of pit stops. Like this you carry less risk. However it means you must run a car with a heavy fuel load. That in turn means you will pay the price in qualifying and you can get stuck in traffic in the early stages of the race and if nothing unusual happens in the race then you run the risk of finding that your strategy is too safe and you cannot win the race."
However, when a team is chasing championship titles, a conservative and safe strategy is really not an option. "We definitely want to win this race, because we have not succeeded in winning in Monte Carlo since 2001," maintains Baldisserri. "I think this will involve a lot of hard work to decide what to do and it will be really important to run a good practice programme on Thursday. So yes, it is an absolute lottery, but the odds can be a bit in your favour if you have a quick car. You can then use the performance margin to help you run a conservative strategy, but as we have seen in the races so far this season, no one team really has that margin and it will be a real fight in qualifying between us and our rivals. Monaco is a track that requires a lot of effort from the drivers, as the walls are close, you have to be precise and also very quick."
A further complication might come from the weather, as the forecast is for bad conditions especially on Saturday which is therefore yet another variable to further complicate the strategy programme! Another factor is that some sections of the Monaco street track have been resurfaced. "We will have to see what grip characteristics we get from this new tarmac," concludes Baldisserri. "In terms of the car, as usual, we adapt the steering on the F2007 as there are some very tight corners and we need more steering lock than normal and of course we have some improvements on the car to increase the downforce that you need here."