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STRATEGY GUIDE: What are the possible race strategies for the 2023 Monaco Grand Prix?
It’s traditionally a race where teams prioritise qualifying given the importance of track position, but Monte Carlo is also a circuit where places can be won and lost in the pits. So here are a few of the options that are likely to be available to the teams on race day in Monte Carlo…
What’s the quickest strategy?
It actually doesn’t matter if it's the quickest strategy or not, because the focus in Monaco is simply staying ahead through the pit stop phase and reducing the likelihood for any issues to arise that could cost you a position, so with overtaking so difficult all the drivers will be one-stopping in normal conditions.
But there is still a decision to be made about which tyre to start on, and Pirelli sees the medium as the best option for those at the front of the field. That’s because the soft is suffering from thermal degradation on the rear axle and also graining on the front, making it tricky for the drivers to handle.
While it’s still almost impossible to make a move on a car that is struggling with its tyres, there is no need to add the extra risk if you’re starting in a position you’re happy with, so the frontrunners are likely to pick the medium for its added longevity and stable behaviour, before making a switch to the hard compound between Lap 20 and Lap 25.
Even that pit window is very flexible, though, because the hard tyre can run for the full race distance with just some potential degradation in the closing stages, meaning a driver could opt to pit as early as the end of the first lap if the opportunity arises.
At the same time, the drivers can manage the pace so heavily in Monaco they could extend the stint up towards Lap 40 – the main thing strategists will be looking for is clear air to emerge into to ensure they don’t get held up and risk losing a spot.
How about a different option for the top 10?
There is still a slight advantage to the soft compound if you are wanting to be aggressive at the start to try and make up a position or two, although it is so difficult to do so due to the short run to Turn 1 at Sainte Devote and tight nature of the circuit.
For example, someone like Fernando Alonso in second place might see their only chance to win coming from a better launch and tyre compound advantage, because that would put him into the lead. From there, he could control the pace to manage the tyre degradation in the first stint to protect his soft tyres.
Of course, Red Bull could choose to do the same with Max Verstappen given the likelihood he’d then keep the lead, but it does add a variable he is less likely to want from pole position, while Esteban Ocon’s presence in third place might actually give Verstappen and Alonso a bit of breathing room depending on how quickly they push early on.
The softs should be good for between 15 and 20 laps at normal pace before pitting for the hard compound, but – as explained in the above section – it’s a wide pit window given the longevity of the hard tyre, so depending on drivers’ ability to manage the pace they could extend nearer Lap 30.
What are the options for the bottom half of the field?
That wide pit window could actually come into play for Sergio Perez, who is starting well out of position in last place after his crash in Q1. Perez is most likely to fit the soft or medium tyre and make his pit stop at the end of the first lap as long as there isn’t a Safety Car interruption, fitting the hard compound and emerging in clear air to run at his own pace.
The Red Bull should theoretically be quick enough to then catch up with the back of the pack before too many other pit stops have been made, allowing him to gain positions.
But the reverse option would be to start on the hard compound with nothing to lose, and run as long as possible in the hope that there will be a Safety Car interruption or even red flag period after a number of other cars had already made their pit stops and emerged further back in the field.
This was the approach taken by Ocon and Nico Hulkenberg in Baku two races ago, although ultimately there wasn’t an incident that allowed their gamble to pay off. A red flag is more likely in Monaco, though, due to the chances of the track getting blocked, and in that scenario anyone who started on hard tyres and had yet to make a pit stop would get to change compounds for free without losing any time or positions.
If it’s a Safety Car or Virtual Safety Car that drivers are pitting under, then the pit stop loss time drops to around 12 seconds from nearly 20 amid green flag conditions.
Wait, but what’s the weather doing?
There is a slight chance of rain that could really mix the race up, too. Monaco has seen some pretty serious downpours in the past – not least ahead of last year’s race – and there could be some showers in the area on Sunday too.
The official risk stands at 20% and is lower than at some stages earlier this week, but it would create an exciting challenge as highlighted by strategic choices last year. On that occasion, Ferrari failed to convert Charles Leclerc’s pole position due to mistiming his changes from full wets to intermediates and then intermediates to slicks.
The new full wet tyre – that doesn’t require tyre blankets – is used in the most extreme cases and Pirelli estimates the crossover point between full wets and intermediates to be 150% of the normal slick lap time, while intermediates to slicks is closer to the 112% range.
Should it stay dry, it’s likely to be a warm race with temperatures in the mid-to-high 20s, just ensuring drivers will have to take care of the softer compounds that little bit more.