Alan Permane, the trackside operations manager at Lotus F1 looks ahead to Monaco. He points out once again that Lotus is happy with the tyres as they are, and that the different tyres have made the actual race pace in Monaco more important than a few years ago.
Are there any goodies in the Monaco upgrade bag?
"Similar to Barcelona, we will be bringing a new rear wing which follows the same concept as the one we ran in Monaco last year. There will also be a new front wing and some modifications to the floor, so plenty to keep us occupied. We’re confident in the upgrade package for this race and the car has worked well at every circuit so far this season, so there’s no reason it won’t be strong here."
Qualifying is a key element to a good weekend in Monaco; where do we stand? "It’s no secret that this is an area we’ve been looking to improve and we haven’t done a bad job in this regard. We took a front row slot in China and – disregarding Mercedes – we were less than a tenth from the front runner in Spain. I wouldn’t go as far as to say our qualifying pace is perfect as it’s clear there are still gains to be made, but we’ve certainly made significant inroads into understanding how to get the most out of the tyres over a single lap, in addition to balancing setup for both qualifying and race pace."
How have the changes made to the sport in recent years altered the dynamic of racing in Monaco? "A few years back I can honestly say we would head to Monte Carlo without even considering race performance. The entire weekend was focused on qualifying, with practice spent seeking nothing but ultimate pace on the minimum amount of fuel possible to complete a run. That isn’t quite the case anymore, and this weekend will require a fair amount of assessment work with both tyre compounds. We ran the super soft compound in qualifying and briefly at the start of the race in Australia, with the same true of the soft in China, so our knowledge of their behaviour thus far is relatively limited. In recent years Monaco has generally proved to be a one stop race, so we’ll need to ascertain what each compound is capable of ready for the race on Sunday."
Given the nature of Monaco, what are the race strategy considerations? "At pretty much any other circuit where degradation is a factor, to a certain extent you can stop whenever you like, come out behind slower cars and overtake using DRS and so on. This simply isn’t the case in Monaco. If you pit very early and come out behind the back markers, you’re likely to be stuck there for lap upon lap; losing a vast amount of time in the process. Assuming a one stop race is a possibility, you need to calculate how early you can feasibly complete that stop without emerging in traffic, which is a fairly unique strategic challenge."
Track evolution is another frequently discussed factor in Monaco; how difficult is that to judge? "I’d go as far as to say it’s impossible to test any setup changes in Monaco. It’s difficult enough at a normal circuit with stable conditions where you can test different things back-to-back and get a good understanding of performance, but here that simply isn’t feasible and we have to approach the weekend with that in mind. There is far more value in ensuring the driver is comfortable and confident with the car than in aiming for the perfect aerodynamic or mechanical setup. Enabling the driver to get into a nice rhythm is essential, and you’ll often see runs of ten to fifteen laps during practice aimed at achieving just that. If the driver can put together five laps in clear air to get himself fully into the groove, that’s when you see the lap times start to come down and that’s what makes for a good performance."
Pirelli has announced changes to the structure of its tyres; how will this affect the team? "We’ve always maintained that we were perfectly happy with this year’s tyres as they were. If you look back at the past couple of years since the start of the Pirelli era, the opening five races have historically featured higher levels of degradation than those seen during the rest of the season; with the exception perhaps of Suzuka. With that in mind, any alterations to the tyres should certainly be viewed with a degree of caution, as there is a real possibility that we could end up returning to one stop races; something that frequently occurred towards the end of 2012 as harder allocations were introduced. That’s surely something that nobody wants to see. Of course, it’s understandable that a repeat of the four stop scenario in Barcelona is not desirable, but along with Bahrain this represented perhaps the toughest challenge of the year. As we encounter circuits with lower demands on the rubber, and as teams start to get on top of this year’s compounds, I’m certain that we would have naturally seen fewer stops anyway."