Hamilton and Kovalainen on the Monaco challenge
Last year McLaren proved the dominant force in Monte Carlo, with Fernando Alonso leading home Lewis Hamilton for a commanding one-two victory. Next weekend Hamilton and team mate Heikki Kovalainen will be hoping for a repeat performance as they bid to close in on Kimi Raikkonenís and Ferrariís championship leadÖ
Q: Lewis, it was a fantastic performance in Turkey, do you think you will be able to go one better in Monaco?
Lewis Hamilton: Unpredictable is the word that sums up Monaco from a performance perspective. It was a great race in Turkey, we know the performance is there, but at Monaco literally anything can happen.
Q: Monaco has traditionally been a successful circuit for you across a range of formulae, what is it about the track that you enjoy so much and what do you need to be quick?
LH: Monaco, my favourite race. You have the history all around, you can just feel it, and the atmosphere is fantastic. It is the Grand Prix that every driver wants to win. Being a street circuit it is very exciting to drive, there is no room for any error all weekend. You are on the limit the whole time, there are no long straights where you have a moment to think. It is so tight and narrow, and when you consider how quick you are driving it is unreal. To be quick you need to use every centimetre of the circuit, this even includes touching the barriers at some points.
Q: With such a unique circuit layout, what is the priority with car set-up?
LH: The set-up is quite a lot different, the primary requirement is fantastic traction, to ensure you can get out of the corners well. Because there are no straights, we put as much downforce as we can on the car as we donít need to, and arenít able, to reach the speeds of any other track.
Q: The circuit looks incredibly tight in places on TV, how does it feel inside a Formula One car?
LH: It is so tight, and very difficult to describe how it feels in the car because you are so low. You are hitting some corners at 180 mph (290 km/h), as you are braking down you know there is no run-off area, you canít see the exit. All you can see is directly what is in front of you, probably about 50 metres. In some corners it is almost a guess, you are guessing where the car should be, hoping that you are in the right place, relying on your instinct and memory.
Q: The race is associated with the glamorous side of the sport, as a driver do you get involved in this or is it a distraction?
LH: It is not a distraction in any way, as with any race I am just fully focused on getting the job done. Monaco weekend more than any other is about being 100 percent in the zone and so I just keep myself to myself.
Q: Heikki, what is your aim for the Monaco Grand Prix?
HK: I want to have a trouble-free race and to be able to show the pace we have in the car. It felt really good all weekend in Turkey and we had a good test on the Monaco-simulation track at Paul Ricard. We have certainly improved and hopefully we can capitalise on that at Monaco. Of all the races, Monaco is the most unpredictable Grand Prix, as always I want to be challenging for the win, but with this race who can say!
Q: Can you outline why qualifying is so key at Monaco?
HK: Overtaking on the street circuit at Monaco is virtually impossible even if the other car is much slower. That means qualifying is even more important than any of the other tracks, you have to be near the front of the grid, as otherwise you canít run your own pace. You end up stuck behind the slower cars and that costs you huge amounts of time. During the qualifying session, the priority is track position, to allow you to do you own lap and avoid other cars, but it is very difficult. Everybody tries to slow down at the last hairpin to get a gap to the next car, so when you are on your flying lap one lap later you arrive wanting to complete your fastest time and everyone is waiting there again to pull their gap out. So timing is what we are focused on, and luck! Set-up, balance and getting the most out of the car is of course very important but timing is crucial.
Q: Do you enjoy racing at Monaco, what is it about the track that you like?
HK: I always enjoy driving at Monaco because it is a very challenging circuit. Some people think because it is not as fast it must be easier, but it is not very forgiving and you have to focus every single moment and be the maximum on each lap, you canít relax anywhere. It also has unique characteristics, such as the sound is very different. It is louder even in the car because of the buildings surrounding the track. All the drivers like it because it is a challenge, and we like our challenges! It is a very special race and it is very difficult to win, that is why everybody is very motivated to do just that.
Q: Can it also be a frustrating circuit, and is there anywhere you can overtake?
HK: It can be very frustrating, the biggest reason is being stuck behind the slower cars, but the challenges far outweigh that. It is possible to overtake; probably the easiest place is the exit of the tunnel down into the chicane. But even that is reasonably easy to defend, you just go to the inside line. You really need the guy in front to make a mistake, which when you know you have a faster car can be annoying. Simple answer is to make sure you qualify near the front!
Q: What is the key to being quick at Monaco?
HK: You have to be brave. You have to attack the brakes and the fast corners, the whole time you must be very aggressive and drive close to the walls. It is not so much about the set-up, balance and so on, it is all about attacking and being bold.