MONACO: Monaco, with its elegant casino and resident high-rollers, has always been a magnet for gamblers.
Some crack under the pressure, and lose everything, while others hold their nerve and reap the rewards – rather like drivers in Sunday’s Formula One Grand Prix around the Mediterranean principality.
He who dares may win, and there is no racer who does not take risks, but it is easy to end up a loser by pushing your luck too far.
“At Monaco, the slightest mistake puts you out of the race,” says McLaren’s David Coulthard, who last year held off the faster Ferrari of world champion Michael Schumacher for lap after faultless lap for his second win in three years.
“As a driver you have to be right on the money for the entire distance of the grand prix.”
Fellow Scot Jackie Stewart, three times a winner in motor racing’s most glamorous race, agrees.
“A lot of mistakes are made at Monaco,” said the former champion. “Wheels come off and mild incidents turn into accidents because there’s no space.
“You can lose a chassis or two in the blink of an eye.
“The last thing you need is an excitable, over-driving loose cannon,” he told Motorsport News.
Monaco has thrown up surprises before, witness Frenchman Olivier Panis’s 1996 victory for Ligier, and remains unpredictable even if Schumacher is favourite for a record equalling sixth win.
“It is not possible to gamble too much. Even for small mistakes, you pay cash,” said Panis on Thursday.
Since overtaking is almost impossible, qualifying is crucial.
But new rules, introducing a greater strategic element with cars running on different fuel levels on their one timed lap, have made the picture harder to read.
The dilemma for teams and drivers is whether to qualify light and pit early before returning amid traffic, or to start further down the grid and risk being held up.
Teams have studied the data and run endless strategies through their computers for what should be a one stop race but could be two.
“Monaco is the one that stands out as a ‘what should we do here?’,” says Renault engineering director Pat Symonds.
“The mathematics is one thing, but there is more to strategy than pure mathematics and Monaco is a very interesting problem.
“It is still difficult to choose a strategy and I think for that reason we will see a bit more variation at Monaco than perhaps we have seen.”
The course has changed slightly, with the tight Rascasse corner made less dramatic, but it still rewards experience over raw speed.
“There’s no question that experience around here definitely helps,” says Coulthard in the June edition of McLaren’s Racing Line magazine.
“Experience tells you the places where you should be pushing hard and the places where more restraint would be advisable.
“You remember, as a driver, that you must blast up the hill to Casino Square, whereas the first time you race there, there’s some trepidation in that area.
“The tunnel also should be flat every time but it takes a certain level of experience and circuit knowledge to make sure that you can achieve that lap after lap.”
Monaco needs to be driven with a fine balance between restraint and aggression.
“A good analogy would be sprinters having elastic tied around their ankles. They would still be able to get the same stride but they would feel somehow restrained.
“That’s how I feel when I drive at Monaco,” says Coulthard.
“To drive Monaco quickly makes you feel like you’re actually driving through the barriers rather than just around them.” – Reuters