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Haas F1 Geared Up For Its First Monaco GP

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Thursday, May 26 2016
Formula One's big race – the Grand Prix of Monaco –is a huge test for Haas F1. (RacinToday file photo by Jonathan Ingram)

Formula One’s big race – the Grand Prix of Monaco –represents a huge test for Haas F1. (RacinToday file photo by Jonathan Ingram)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor

During the early years of his driving career, Juan Pablo Montoya could be aggravatingly aloof before, during and after races. It was like he viewed showing interest – much less respect – for anything as a sign of weakness.

formula1logoAfter winning America’s beloved Indianapolis 500 in 2000 – on his first attempt – Montoya’s attitude was; meh.

But then there was the time he won the Formula One Grand Prix of Monaco. It was 2003 and there on the sleeve of his driver suit, bigger than the BMW logo and Williams team name, was Montoya’s heart.

“This is the most special race you can win,” the grinning Colombian driver announced.

On Sunday, the historic race on the fairy tale-setting streets of the city of Monaco will be run for the 74th time. Experiencing it for the first time will be the American Haas F1 Team.

Experiencing it again will be many of the key players on the North Carolina-based Haas team. All speak in reverential tones when talking about it.

“It’s simply the most iconic race on the calendar,” Haas driver Esteban Gutierrez, who drove Monaco in 2013 and ’14 for Sauber, said. “There’s a lot of history. It’s very special to race in Monaco, in general. It’s a very cool place.”

While the race at the 2.075-mile, harbor-side circuit is special to all drivers, it is super special to Haas driver Romain Grosjean, a native of neighboring France who will be making his fifth start in the principality.

“Monaco is special to me because it’s kind of my home race,” Grosjean, who has collected 22 points for the first-year Haas team, said. “We’re beside France and there’s always a lot of people, a lot of fans. It is, of course, special because of all the glamor because it is Monaco. Everyone knows Monaco and everyone wants to be in Monaco.”

But Monaco is not just about yachts and casinos. Run on F1’s shortest, tightest track, the race is technical and challenging. It features 19 turns, including the famous “hairpin”. The drivers will work harder in those couple hours Sunday than most of the wealthy yacht owners watching from the harbor have during their entire lives.

“Well, it is one of the most demanding circuits,” Gutierrez said, “but it’s very special. It’s very important to keep your focus all weekend, which becomes a challenge, as you have many different distractions around. It’s a very intense event because it’s small, everything’s compressed.”

Grosjean, who finished a career-best eighth at Monaco in 2014 while driving with Lotus, was asked to describe a lap around the circuit.

“So you start on the straight,” he said, “where it’s very bumpy hitting the brakes into turn one at Sainte Devote. It’s easy to make a mistake here, but then you need to make a good exit for the run up to Casino Corner. Up the hill, blind corner, braking just after the bump, fourth gear, and then third gear for the next one. Going down then you want to avoid the bus stop, which is bumpy, then you head to turn five. There’s always a bit of front-locking, the front inside wheel is in the air.

“Then the hairpin is a very slow-speed corner. You turn the steering wheel with one hand. After that it’s the two Portier corners. The second one is important because it brings you to the tunnel, which is a straight line on the track. The tunnel is flat out before you have to brake big for the chicane, where there’s another bump. Then you have Tabac, which is quite a high-speed corner, followed by the swimming pool complex, also very high speed. The braking for La Rascasse is tricky, again easy to front-lock. Then there’s a tricky exit for the last corner – it’s not so easy as it’s up a small crest. When you then go down, you can get wheel-spin, and then you’re back on the start-finish straight.”

Guenther Steiner, Haas F1’s team principal, took a low-key approach when asked about the ritzy glitz of Monaco. Few on his team, he said, will have time for anything but racing.

“It’s such hard work and there’s always the risk that the car goes in the wall and their work load goes up,” Steiner said. “Our guys won’t get the time to see the glitz and glamor, but sometimes on Friday afternoon – because we don’t run on Friday in Monaco, its only Thursday, Saturday and Sunday – the guys can get half a day to go out and see a little of the town but, usually, when they’ve nothing to do they sleep because they are tired from the work.”

Ah, Saturday. Qualifying day.

It’s the day when the race is often decided.

“The race is on Saturday in qualifying,” Steiner said. “Overtaking is almost impossible, so if nobody crashes or nothing eventful happens on track or during the pit stops, it can be very difficult. Strategy is key for this race. The only place you can overtake is in pit lane if you are close to somebody.”

Grosjean’s best qualifying effort at Monaco was fourth in 2012. Gutierrez’s best was 17th in 2014.

Gutierrez called Monaco the most difficult track on which to overtake. But, he also said, overtaking is not impossible.

“Turn one is an opportunity,” the Spaniard said. “And also going out of the tunnel when you brake for the low-speed chicane. Those two places are the most viable for overtaking.”

On-track action began Thursday with two 90-minute free practices.

Haas drivers opted to run the Pirelli P Zero Red supersoft tires throughout FP1, and both drivers set their fastest times during their second stints. Grosjean’s best was 1:17.599, set during an 11-lap run to put him 12th overall. Gutiérrez’s quickest time was 1:17.909 to put him 14th overall. However, an electrical issue brought a premature end to Gutiérrez’s session after 25 laps. He was forced to retire his VF-16 at Portier with just under 30 minutes remaining.

 The afternoon session (FP2) saw the Haas cars using Pirelli’s new P Zero Purple ultrasoft tires. Grosjean lost the rear of his VF-16 while braking into the chicane. He clipped the outer barrier, with the impact destroying his front wing and puncturing his right-front tire.

“We had two pretty good sessions,” Steiner said. “There were some typical Monte Carlo problems, especially in the afternoon with Romain. He lost the car, had a small bit of damage, but the team worked pretty quickly to fix it. In the morning, we ran well, except again for Esteban’s car, he had a small electrical problem which left him short of running the last half an hour. All in all, there’s always a little bit of drama at Monte Carlo, but I think we are making progress. We’ll see what happens on Saturday in FP3, and then it’s time to be ready for qualifying. Everybody’s done a good job and we’re feeling pretty confident.”

The next time cars will take to the track will be Saturday for more practice.



The Grand Prix of Monco At A Glance:

  • Total number of race laps: 78
  • Complete race distance: 260.520 kilometers (161.880 miles)
  • Pit lane speed limit: 60 kph (37 mph)
  • This 3.340-kilometer (2.075-mile), 19-turn circuit has hosted Formula One since 1950.
  • Michael Schumacher holds the race lap record at Monaco (1:14.439), set in 2004 with Scuderia Ferrari.
  • Kimi Raikkonen holds the qualifying lap record at Monaco (1:13.532), set in 2006 with McLaren.

Broadcast: NBCSN – 7 a.m. ET (Pre-Race Show) / NBC – 8 a.m. ET (Lights Out)





| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Thursday, May 26 2016
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