- Sam Bird's ESPNF1 column
'It's Monaco!'Sam Bird May 21, 2012
Next weekend World Series by Renault joins the Formula One race weekend for the Monaco Grand Prix, and the whole weekend feels special. The fact that it's Monaco gives it that little bit extra; it's just Monaco, I can't really explain it, but it's probably the most prestigious event of the year.
One of the things about Monaco, being a street circuit, is that there is hardly any testing there. You have to turn up with what you think is the best start setup and the best gearing and take it from there. Obviously the ride height is going to be much higher than the average circuit because this is basically your average city centre turned into a race track for one weekend every year.
You have to have a lot of downforce as well to try and get round the circuit as the grip level is extremely low, so you need as much aero as possible. Also, the gearing will be shorter than at a traditional track due to the fact that there are few straights and lots and lots of corners.
Because the circuit is so busy in terms of driving with corner after corner after corner, when you've got a good car you feel it everywhere. You feel like you can dance the car around the streets and, it doesn't feel slow but when you've got a car that isn't working particularly well it feels like a real handful and that takes a massive amount of energy and concentration to control. When the car is behaving itself you can still push it to the absolute limits but it almost feels slower because you're more in control of it.
There are places where the rear end is tail-happy. At the top of the hill into Massenet you've got the long left hander and then it goes immediately right at Casino Square, the rear of the car gets quite light there as the road drops away from underneath you. But then in contrast there are places that are front-limited, for instance through the swimming pool complex when it's the fast left-right chicane. So you find that you turn in and aim for the wall because you take into account the understeer you're going to get.
The cardinal sin in Monaco is shunting during practice of qualifying. The more laps you do, the quicker you get, the more the track rubbers in, the faster you go at the end of the sessions. It's that simple.
You do have to build yourself up from the start of practice to the end of the qualifying session. You start off maybe half a metre away from the wall on the exit of corners, and then build yourself up to literally touching it on your quali lap. At the end of your qualifying flying lap, if you're fast, then you might not be able to read too much of the Michelin branding on the side of the tyres!
You're fully focused on your lap when you're driving around Monaco, but when you've finished the lap then if you're doing a slow-down lap you can relax a tiny bit. Obviously you've got to be aware of the traffic around you and be concerned with other drivers that might be on a hot lap because you need to get off the racing line if that's the case. But that's the kind of time when you can appreciate it and think 'Yep, that was a pretty good one'.
The most challenging part of the whole weekend is actually getting a clear lap in qualifying. That sometimes is more down to luck than anything else; you have to judge it but you also have to have some luck on your side.
In order to help you find some space, the engineer will try to give you a little bit of guidance on the radio because from the car, you can only see what's just in front and just behind but then you have to judge it yourself as well - especially if you're in the final sector. Hitting traffic can be frustrating but you just have to deal with it. If it happens it happens and you just need to back off and prepare for another flying lap.
There's no difference in the way I'll approach the weekend compared to GP2 as the speed has been good there in the past [Sam was on pole in GP2 last year and clocked the fastest lap of the race for the past two seasons].
Winning in Monaco is an achievement I would obviously like to fulfil, but clearly the real objective is to get to the big boys' cars as soon as possible. Then to race around Monaco would be something! But first things first. For now it's 100% focus on doing well there in World Series by Renault.
I'll also be fulfilling my role with Mercedes AMG Petronas in Monaco. It's the only race weekend where F1 and World Series by Renault coincide. That means that my schedule is pretty tight but it's all planned out carefully. The World Series paddock is quite far from the F1 paddock so I'll be clocking up the miles on foot as well as on track. But I love it. It's Monaco!