Tyre preview: slow average speed and softest compounds in Monaco

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Following a nail-biting Emilia Romagna Grand Prix, the Formula 1 field now heads to a street track with the Monaco Grand Prix taking place this weekend.

The Monaco Grand Prix is one of the classics on the Formula 1 calendar and this year it reaches an impressive milestone. This weekend will be the 70th edition of the race to count towards the Drivers’ World Championship. There were in fact eleven earlier races, ten before the World Championship for the blue riband racing category was established and one in 1952 when the Grand Prix was contested by closed-wheel Sports cars.

As usual, Pirelli’s choice of slick tyre compounds falls to the three softest available this year, which means the C3 as Hard, the C4 as Medium and the C5 as Soft. As is generally the case on street circuits the track has a particularly smooth surface, given it is in daily use for road cars and so the tyres must provide as much grip as possible.

In Monaco, the tyres are subjected to some of the lowest forces of the whole season as the average speed over the 3.337 kilometre-long track is very slow with some corners taken at less than 50 km/h, while the cars are only at full throttle for 30% of the lap.

However, mitigating this low stress level is the fact that, with 78 laps to cover on Sunday, every phenomenon that can characterise tyre behaviour occurs far more frequently than average, especially when it comes to the level of energy developed when traction is required. Another factor to consider regarding the tyres is graining which, especially on the first couple of days, could turn out to be an unwelcome guest.

Speaking of the challenges of the Monaco street race track, Visa RB technical director Jody Egginton said: “The unique challenge of Monaco makes it an outlier where the walls are close and the track is narrow, creating a rewarding but challenging place to drive, particularly in qualifying.

"Securing the best possible grid position on Saturday provides the most benefit of any circuit on the calendar, with one of the key parameters to optimising the car and driver being building up the performance lap by lap and maximising track time."

“The circuit layout demands maximum downforce and car mechanical setup which promotes mechanical grip and good kerb riding characteristics, meaning the mechanical setup is typically one of the softest of the season. Although the average speed of this circuit is the lowest of the calendar, of equal importance to optimising the grip of the car to this unique circuit is having the car well-balanced and with predictable handling on both new and used tyres.

Track time is usually crucial over the Monaco Grand Pri weekend as drivers try to find the best lines, getting ever closer to the barriers on a track that poses a very differet set of challenging. Drivers often brush the walls with the shoulder of the tyres, and the skill is in doing this without breaking anything on the car often turns out to be decisive in terms of starting position.

"This allows the drivers confidence in utilising the whole track to the last millimetres, without major fear of clipping a barrier whilst also being able to carry momentum through the quicker corners around the Hotel de Paris, Massenet and Casino Square.

"Another key aspect of Monaco is a consistent and predictable braking performance. Tyre energies are very high in Monaco because of the many grip-limited and high braking sections, yaw and traction demands, and drivers have to remain focused on controlling wheel slip to keep the tyres thermally happy", said Egginton.

As for the strategy, an appearance from the Safety Car is almost inevitable, with past experience rating it at 77% probable, on average almost twice per race. Although curiously, last year’s race ran smoothly with no neutralisation periods. With driver eager to maintain track position, there is really only one strategic option and that is a one-stop, trying to pit as late as possible precisely to benefit from any eventual Safety Car, thus minimising the time lost in the pit lane.