• A lap of Monaco with Sam Bird

Lap of the Gods

ESPNF1 Staff
May 27, 2011
© Getty Images

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Monaco is probably the most mentally demanding track on the GP2 calendar. It requires a lot of attention and a lot of respect. If you go off the racing line the likelihood is that you will end up in the wall, but you can't let that stop you wrestling the car round to get a good lap time in qualifying.

Turn one is a second or third gear 90° corner called Sainte Devote. It's very important to carry a good minimum speed by attacking the kerb on the inside, because if you're slow there you'll pay for it all the way up the hill to Casino Square.

Casino Square itself is made up of two tricky corners - a left followed by a right. In practice you have to build yourself up to braking later and later and later so that you can attack it more and more and more. Once you're in the left-hander, you've got to remember to give yourself enough space on the exit to negotiate the right-hand part properly. Then as soon as you come out of Casino Square you have to jink to the right again to avoid a big bump in the circuit before braking for Mirabeau.

At Mirabeau the trick is to put your front-right wheel right in the drainage channel because that hooks the car round the corner. Then you get to the really tight hairpin at the Fairmont Hotel, which is no faster than 30 mph and pretty much impossible to try an overtaking move. Two right handers follow before the tunnel but they're nothing special.

Once you're in the tunnel, it's flat-out through the right hand kink. Everybody always asks me about lighting issues and being blinded by the sun when you come out, but it's never really bothered me. The most important thing to think about is the line when you enter the tunnel because you've got to have a good straight braking zone on the downhill area before the Nouvelle Chicane. It's very bumpy under braking there and a lot of people lose it under braking. You might remember Kimi Raikkonen famously punting Adrian Sutil out of fourth place at that very point in 2008.

Through the chicane itself you've got to take as much kerb as you can on both apices to try to turn what is a very tight part of the track into as smooth a line as possible. Then it's up through the gears to fourth before a quick downshift into third for the medium-fast left-hander at Tabac.

Next up is the super-fast, left-right chicane at the entrance to Swimming Pool, but even before you exit you have to think about your braking point for the second part of the complex that is a slower right-left chicane. That part is actually quicker than you think and if you're pushing and doing a really good job you can probably take it in third gear. The thing to remember on all these corner exits is that you've got to get right up close to the barrier; you really are millimetres away from clipping every single barrier when you're on a hot lap.

Sam Bird is eyeing a good result at Monaco this weekend © Sutton Images
The next braking zone is at La Rascasse; you miss the first apex, take the second one and then almost powerslide the car out towards the wall. But just like the rest of the lap, you need to keep it nice and precise to give you the line for the final corner which is another tight 90° right-hander. Of course, you want to get a good exit there because you're finishing the lap and starting the next one.

The other thing a lot of people ask about at Monaco is overtaking. Now, I'm not planning on doing much this time, but there are a couple of places where you can make it stick, either on the bumpy downhill braking zone for the Nouvelle Chicane or into Sainte Devote. But wherever you try it, you've got to remember that it's harder to overtake here than anywhere else on the calendar because it's so narrow.

As for my hopes ahead of this weekend [Sam was speaking to ESPN on Wednesday before taking pole position on Thursday ahead of the feature race], I think I can be quick here. Last year I set the fastest lap and topped all three sectors, so that gives me good, positive vibes for the place. I really enjoyed driving the race last year, it's just a shame I didn't get a good result [a mistake by his team at his pit stop scuppered Sam's chances of points]. Hopefully this year I can be standing on those famous podium steps and celebrating a really good result.