• Karun Chandhok's ESPNF1 column

'As racing drivers we sign up to take risks'

Karun Chandhok June 2, 2011
Monaco is Karun Chandhok's favourite stop on the calendar © Getty Images
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Monaco is special in so many ways. It's my favourite track in the world to drive and the whole principality just oozes charisma and history like nowhere else on the planet. It's also unique on this year's calendar in that even with the DRS and KERS, it's nearly impossible to pass so it's probably one of the few weekends along with Hungary and Singapore where track position is more important than having fresh tyres and this was clearly demonstrated.

There's so much to talk about from this race weekend! First off, the multiple accidents coming out of the tunnel. We saw Tonio Liuzzi, Vitaly Petrov, Nico Rosberg and Sergio Perez all in the wall there and while we've all seen accidents there before, it was fairly sporadic and and certainly not four in a weekend like that. So what's changed? There were two schools of thought doing the rounds in the paddock.

One was that they have resurfaced the circuit in that part - I'm not sure why because the old surface was fine last year - and the bumps have actually got a lot worse. The other theory I heard was that with the blown diffuser development at its peak today, the rear ride height of the car has become more sensitive to the stall point for rear downforce. So when the rear of the car goes light over the crest and over the bumps the cars lose downforce momentarily at exactly the wrong moment. The answer probably lies in a combination of the two.

Qualifying was the next big talking point as for a change the extra place or two on the grid was worth much more than saving a set of new tyres for the race. McLaren chose to split the strategy with Jenson going for the low-risk conventional two runs in Q3 and Lewis going for the higher-risk, 2011 spec, one-run strategy. In the gambler's paradise on Saturday, the safe option worked out to be the best route for Sunday, with Sergio's accident bringing out the red flag at just the wrong moment for Lewis. This sort of thing is expected to happen in Monaco and it was no surprise to see even the Red Bulls playing it safe with their run plans in qualifying. It's a real shame as I would've undoubtedly put money on Lewis being on the front row which would have made a hell of a race!

Sergio Perez had a big accident on during qualifying for the Monaco Grand Prix © Sutton Images
For a change the talk about strategy centred around making fewer stops, with lots of discussion about one or two rather than three because of the high risk of a safety car here. In the end the top three employed three different strategies but you have to argue that the two-stopper was probably the right one. Sebastian ended up on the wrong tyres by mistake through confusion at the first round of pit stops and therefore got swapped from the two to the one stop. Jenson's three stop didn't really work for him as the safety cars came out as predicted (that's 13 appearances in 11 years) and in hindsight when he was out in front and pulling away, McLaren could possibly have risked keeping him out longer on that set to try and make the gap to Sebastian big enough for a final swap to primes.

Fernando was at his typical hard-charging best again with the bravery and commitment between the walls that we have come to expect from the two-time Monaco GP winner. Once again, he didn't quite have the pace in qualifying but in free practice and the race he was as devastating to watch as usual. I thought Mark drove a great recovery race (again!) after being massively delayed behind the confusion of Sebastian's first pit stop.

Mercedes were once again very confusing for me and even in the Team Lotus engineering office there was a discussion of "just how fast are Mercedes relative to the pack?" Some days, they're right up there in the hunt for the top four in quali with decent race pace and then on others, like Sunday in Monaco, they seem to be really struggling. It's very hard to judge and understand why that is from the outside, but I'm sure Bob Bell and Ross Brawn are looking for some serious answers this week.

The accidents this weekend once again showed the amazing work in safety that has been done by the FIA and the teams over the years. People asked me on Saturday if I thought the wall Checo Perez hit should be moved. I really don't think so. At the end of the day, yes, Checo hit the wall hard and ended up in hospital for a couple days, but the cars are now very safe and if you compare it to what happened to Karl Wedlinger in exactly the same place in 1994, he ended up in a coma for months. As racing drivers we sign up to take risks and as soon as you start sanitising places like Monaco too much, it really starts to lose its charm. Already if you compare the Swimming Pool Complex and Ste Devote today to what it was in the early 1990s for example, it's a lot more sanitised but still a great challenge and I hope that never changes.

Karun Chandhok met up with four-time champion Alain Prost over the Monaco weekend © Sutton Images
The off track activity of Monaco is like no other. This year my highlight was having an evening with my all time childhood hero Alain Prost thanks to our common friends at Tag Heuer. Alain was my mother's favourite driver and apparently she spent nine months telling the unborn me how fantastic Alain was, so maybe that sank in - pregnant women take note! It was a magical evening for me to ask all the questions I'd wanted to since I was three years old and just spend an evening chatting about life with a man I admire even more now than I did last week. Watching the Indy 500 on Sunday night at Stars 'n' Bars with a load of fans and people from the paddock was also great fun especially with the Hollywood-spec drama at the end!

Off to Montreal next where the double DRS zones will be used for the first time and the tyre degradation should be … interesting! Last year the graining on the tyres was just massive and this year will be a very different challenge once again I imagine.