Lap of Monaco
Ant's expert corner-by-corner guide to F1's most famous track
Last Updated: 23/05/13 6:08pm
The start-finish 'straight' at Monaco is a seventh gear approach into Saint. Devote. It's quite bumpy and you have to keep the car as close to the left-hand barriers as possible before braking as straight as you can for the turn-in. It's very easy to lose the rear-end here and there's a big squashy barrier waiting for you on the outside if you do out-brake yourself.
It can be an overtaking corner but you have to be very sure of your move and be, at the very least, alongside the car you are trying pass going into the corner. Otherwise, as we saw in 2011 with Pastor Maldonado and Lewis Hamilton, the result can be messy.
It is, however, a very satisfying corner to get right and, with a good exit, it's full throttle up the hill past Beau Rivage, clipping each apex in order to straight-line the hill as much as possible.
At Massenet, you quite often see mistakes and cars in the barriers because the rears do tend to go quite light under braking. The problem with this corner is that you are braking whilst turning and there's a sharp, steep kerb on the left-hand side. A driver needs to get his front-left as near to that kerb as possible, particularly midway through the corner, to sacrifice the exit for the correct line through Casino. It's not an easy corner, especially in the late stages of a race when the tyres are graining and there are a lot of marbles around - which means one small error will cost you big time and you'll be swept off into the barriers before you know it.
Casino is a great part of the track. There's a slight camber to the inside, and the rears can go a little loose on the exit, but it's a section that feels a little bit wider than the norm so you can really get your foot down and feel confident you won't hit the barriers. This section of the track - Turns Three and Four - is very enjoyable with the car dancing around underneath you.
Down the hill to Mirabeau, there's a bump in the road which persuades some drivers to veer to the right. My preference was to go halfway rather than all the way to the right-hand side because that would have felt like adding an extra chicane to a track that really didn't need another! But if you do stay on the left, you can really feel the bump and the car bottoming out, so most cars will naturally filter to the right.
Mirabeau is another of my favourite corners on the track, a steeply-downhill, heavily-cambered right-hander that is a very slight overtaking opportunity - especially at the start of the race. I like this corner because it needs heavy braking and it really feels as if the car stops well into Mirabeau with the high grip due to the camber. Even as you are still turning, you can put your foot down quite aggressively and let the car hook up and fire down the hill towards the renamed Faremont Hill (previously known as the Loews Hairpin).
At the start of the race, there's the slight chance that this very, very tight and slow left-hander could possibly be an overtaking opportunity when there's a bit of a traffic jam and the field is closely packed. But it's extremely easy to out-brake yourself here and lock the inside front left, even though there's not much time to gain because every car will have the same turn-in and, no matter what you do, the car will still be reluctant to keep the same trajectory all the way around the corner. It feels extremely cumbersome and, to top it off, there's a really steep wall on the left which if, you get to near, will upset the car and leave you with a really pathetic slow-speed bounce.
Another feature I should mention is that, because you have crossed your arms so heavily to the left around the hairpin, it sometimes happens that you touch buttons on the steering wheel with your arm or wrist without even realising. As a result, teams often put shrouding on the wheel just as a precaution for this one particular corner.
All in all, it's just a very frustrating bit of the track...but on the exit, things really start to get interesting again.
When you put your foot down and the car wants to snap the rear out quickly with oversteer, you have to turn back to the opposite direction, thus crossing your arms back from one side to the other. Very fast hands in the car are required, in what can be quite a scary process because you aren't just fighting to get your hands back to neutral but also have to try to correct that snap of oversteer. This is definitely a very busy part of the lap if you don't have a nice balance on the rears.
There's a short run down to Mirabeau Bas, a ninety-degree right-hander which is fairly straightforward. The aim of the game here is to get the car on to the kerbs as much as possible in order to decrease the severity of the angle. On the exit, you have to carefully watch how the car re-settles as the rear can be quite unstable and if you have spun up your tyres on the exit out of the Hairpin then chances are that the car will try to break traction.
After accelerating just a little bit out of Mirabeau Bas, you have to then brake again and sharpen your angle to make the apex of Portier - a very, very tight corner which is made very difficult by the narrowness between the barriers. You can't clip the barriers on the right and you're aware of how near the barriers on the left are through the exit...even the legend himself got it wrong here during a race once which goes to show what a tricky little corner this is!
Just to add to the challenge, you need a good exit from this corner because it leads on to one of the few straight-ish sections of the track where you can be at full throttle. Every millimetre counts around Portier and though the kerb on the left-hand side is very slight - it's a poor excuse for a kerb, to be honest! - it's vital to use it just to open up the track a little bit more.
And then it's into the tunnel and an experience I'll never forget. I can remember that my immediate reaction upon entering the tunnel for the first time was that it was a) far darker than expected and b) very narrow with a far-tighter apex than I had been led to believe. It took me at least four or five laps before I was ready to commit to going full throttle. It's all about picking the right line through here but the difficulty is finding your reference points because it all looks the same. Adjusting to the light, however, isn't so much of a problem. You're aware it's changed but it's not as bizarre as you might imagine - it's exactly the same as going through a tunnel in your road car: you're aware that the light has changed but it doesn't remove any of your focus.
As for the actual apex itself, it's surprisingly tight and at first you might think 'it's never going to be full throttle'. But then you gradually build up speed, gaining confidence and an understanding of where you need to turn in. After that, you never look back and it's flat-out on every lap.
On the exit, you're not really aware of the light change again because your eyes are so focused towards the Nouvelle Chicane and you're out of the tunnel before you know it. At first, it's quite hard to pick out where you should be braking and where the corner is because it's hidden just behind the barriers.
It's an important corner because this is probably the best chance of an overtaking pass on the entire circuit. However, you need to be right behind the other car to have half a chance and that chance normally comes when the car in front struggles for traction out of the tunnel due to degrading tyres.
Approaching the Nouvelle Chicane, you also have to be very careful of the bump on the right-hand side of the track - although the race organisers have attempted to level it out. It's a bit of a shame if they have because it was one part of the track that you had to respect and be a little wary of.
Either way, it's very easy to lock-up into the chicane - particularly the front-left as you start to feed the car in - because of the dip down the hill for another very tight corner with a short and sharp change of direction. In second gear, it feels pretty comfortable, especially when the grip starts to come to the surface and the car starts to respond well to the changes of direction.
On the exit, the rear will try to break away and seven times out of ten you will feel sure that they will make contact with the barriers that are so very close on the left-hand side. Somehow, it never does. This is a very cool part of the track where you feel like you are getting away with it time after time! Sometimes it even brings a smile to your face in the car...
The next section of the track is the straightest bit of the lap - albeit for a short distance - on the run up to Tabac. The cars will be run up close to the barriers to open up Tabac as much as possible and it's a corner which is very awkward to get right. It's pretty much ninety degrees, quite quick and taken in third gear, with a short-sharp braking zone. You also have to carry speed through the corner, which requires bravery and trust in the car. The last thing you want at a corner like this is understeer but that's often precisely what it does do! It is, though, a fantastic experience to take on this corner and trust that the car is not going to slide too much on you.
And the reason you have to carry momentum through the corner is that the track then opens up towards what is one of my favourite parts of the track: The Swimming Pool section.
It's a section that has been modified over the years but it suits a modern-day F1 car beautifully now and you can feel the car dance on you at what feels like very fast speed in fifth and sixth gear. Good cars can take this section full throttle and to be a spectator on the exit of Fourteen is like nothing else. When watching F1 cars come through there, it's a struggle to believe what you are seeing and that they will make it through at such high speeds. And when you're in the car, it definitely feels like the fastest bit of the circuit because of the way the car moves around, the change in direction and the sensation of speed.
Somehow, the rear tends to be pretty stable here, meaning you can flick the car to the left and then the right, using the kerbs on either side, and then get really close to the barriers on the exit of Turn Fourteen. You stay that way all the way down to Turn Fifteen where you jump on the brakes, shift down to second and flick the car to the right for a section that requires absolute precision.
Into Fifteen itself, you aim your front-right wheel to just miss the barriers on the right-hand side as you turn in. The trick is to just touch the small kerb and then, as soon as it settles, to flick it back to the left, aiming your car into Sixteen.
On the exit, you're back hard down on to the throttle, picking up speed through the kinked section through to Rascasse. I've driven this section with two different layouts and I much prefer the version that is used now with a much more open and faster approach to Rascasse. It's certainly less fiddly than it used to be, but this is still a section which will punish you if you get it wrong to any degree!
Turn Eighteen is a funny corner; it's a double-apex right-hander that is all about the exit and getting the car out of the corner without too much wheelspin or oversteer. It's also part of the track where you can scrub your left-rear on the barriers to square the car up - sometimes without even being aware you've done it.
Turn Nineteen is probably the most fiddly part of the track because it's so difficult to get right. It's up and over a crest, often with very low grip, and can easily catch you out. It's quite a frustrating corner to end the lap on because it feels like you are giving up all the momentum you've built up out of Turn Eighteen and Rascasse and which you are so keen to have for the straight ahead. However, this is also a corner that can really gain you time if you remain patient.
And that leads you back on to the main straight and the completion of another lap around Monaco! Enjoy!