TRACKSIDE PERFORMANCE ANALYSIS: Comparing the drivers through a key Monaco corner
To understand the subtleties of car performance and driver technique, there’s no substitute for standing trackside and watching (and listening to) the protagonists at work - and nowhere can you get closer to the action than in Monaco. For FP1 in the Principality, Mark Hughes ventured to Massenet – Turn 3 to the drivers and their engineers – which presents one of the biggest challenges on this uniquely challenging circuit…
Around this wild, insane track Massanet is the tight left turn at the top of the hill that takes you into Casino Square - but it’s preceded by an approach kink in the same direction that also requires a lot of negotiating. What makes it so fascinating is that the drivers need to begin turning for it before they can see it as they crest the rise at about 175mph in sixth gear. From there to the turn-in point for the third-gear Massenet takes no more than 3 seconds - but there is so much going on as the car screeches through that narrow, bumpy chute of tarmac; so much for the car and driver to do as they simultaneously handle bumps, cambers, turns, braking and down-changing.
There is great variety in how to approach the kink before the turn – and a ‘zebra’ pedestrian crossing not only reminds us of the more usual function of this piece of road but gives a great visual reference for those different approaches. Those favouring a geometric line – Red Bull’s Pierre Gasly and Alfa’s Antonio Giovinazzi are the most extreme in this – stay hard over to the right, right-hand rear wheel almost brushing the barriers to get a wider approach to the kink.
At Turn 3, the drivers need to begin turning before they can see it as they crest the rise at about 175mph
But others – Lewis Hamilton, Charles Leclerc, Daniel Ricciardo – prefer to place themselves about a third of the way across the width of the track. The surface traditionally has more grip there and it makes for a shorter distance - and a higher speed, if you watch the video above.
Either way, there’s a nasty bump as the cars crest that rise, even the most supple of them giving a high-frequency see-sawing motion front-to-rear as they traverse it. At the beginning of FP1, Sergio Perez’s Racing Point came out with too low a ride height (or tyre pressures) and sparked dramatically here. The bumps also steer Nico Hulkenbergs’s Renault nastily, Hulk hanging on for a crazy ride. Lando Norris’ McLaren looked somewhat similar.
As the grip built during the session there was a general migration towards the middle line, and a general building of confidence from the drivers, making things even more spectacular. Valtteri Bottas is particularly aggressive in how he pitches the car in from the middle of the track, the Merc faithfully going exactly where he points it. Turning into Massenet itself, he’s similarly sharp and abrupt and the car instantly responds even though it carries a bit of understeer on the approach.
By contrast the Ferrari had to be rolled and cajoled into this turn. Though it still carries a lot of speed into here, there’s more of a transition as the wheel is turned, more throttle manipulation for the drivers to do and it makes the turn go on for longer. At most ‘normal’ tracks this would see the lap time bleed away to the Mercedes, but around here it’s just a different route to the next crucial part of tarmac: the approach to Casino bend just a few metres further on.
The more confidence builds, the more improvisation there is
So much here is about improvising around the car’s traits rather than having everything defined by them, as on a more conventional track. The more confidence builds, the more improvisation there is – and visibly one of the most confident through this whole sequence is Alex Albon, who carries big speed into Massenet, off throttle, oversteering, and just letting the Toro Rosso’s momentum melt away at the perfect point.
Leclerc is extremely bold with the throttle on the entry to Massenet, using it to unlock the rear and pin the outer front in place. Vettel carries more momentum in but then waits longer before bringing the throttle in more progressively. Daniel Ricciardo doesn’t have the same grip in the Renault but is carrying in super-smooth momentum, his car looking a lot calmer in its set-up than that of his team mate.
More than at any other stretch of track on the calendar, this 3 seconds' worth sees the drivers as artists, each improvising their own unique picture.