Is Monaco really the worst track for overtaking? We crunch the stats to find out
Is it really impossible to pass cars at Monte Carlo? Here are the numbers
The 2018 Championship moves on to the sixth race of the season and what is arguably the most iconic of them all – the Monaco Grand Prix.
The Circuit de Monaco has hosted Grand Prix events since 1929 and the race is still widely considered the jewel in F1’s crown.
Together with the Indianapolis 500 and the 24 hours of Le Mans the Monaco Grand Prix forms part of the Triple Crown of Motorsport – a crown Fernando Alonso has his eye on wearing (Fernando will try to add a Le Mans win to his achievements later in 2018). To date, Graham Hill is the only driver to have achieved the Triple Crown.
Senna was the master of Monaco with six wins (Pic: Sutton)
It is perhaps not surprising that the record for the most wins in the Principality is held by Ayrton Senna – his quali performances are the stuff of legend as he showed in 1988 when he beat his team-mate Alain Prost by 1.5 seconds to pole.
But is it really impossible to overtake at Monaco?
The accusation always levelled at Monaco is that the races are processional, and overtaking is impossible around the narrow track. But is that really true?
We took a look back at each Grand Prix going back to 1996 to see what the stats could tell us.
Overtakes over the last 20 years clearly show that the tight circuit generally does provide significantly less total overtakes compared to the average of all circuits - but not in all years.
The anomaly in that graph is clearly the race in 2008 - which shows that a relatively high number of overtakes are possible in Monaco.
The key influence in in 2008 was that the race started in wet conditions but dried during the race which resulted in different strategies and some big performance differences between the cars at various stages of the race. And the winner in 2008? Lewis Hamilton.
When it comes to the race for podium positions overtaking is *extremely* rare. In the past 12 years there have only been four overtakes for position in the top three. Of these four only one was a legitimate overtake:
2016 Hamilton over Rosberg for 2nd - team order
2014 Raikkonen over Vettel for 3rd - gearbox issue for Seb
2008 Hamilton over Raikkonen for 3rd - pitlane penalty
2006 Raikkonen over Webber for 2nd - A LEGITMATE overtake as Webber ran wide
Raikkonen got past Webber to take second in the 2006 race, though ultimately neither of them finished (Pic: Sutton)
How does Monaco compare to other tracks when it comes to overtaking?
So we know passing other cars is tricky at Monaco, but how does the track compare to other circuits on the F1 calendar for overtaking?
Direct statistical comparisons can be difficult due to certain tracks only having a handful of races (like India and Korea, for example), so this graph shows the average number of overtakes at each track over the past 20 years, and only includes circuits that have hosted 10 or more races in that period.
And it's no real surprise to see Monaco is bottom of the rankings. The principality circuit has an average of 12 overtakes per race, compared to 32 for Spa, 34 for Interlagos and a whopping 52 for Shanghai.
So overtaking in Monte Carlo is not impossible, but it is very, very tough, which makes a genuine overtake all the more impressive when it does happen. Here's hoping some of the drivers can pull off a few this weekend.
So does that mean you need to be on pole to win?
Well, not necessarily – over the past three years the winner of the Monaco GP hasn’t started from pole.
And since 1950 the grid position of winners at Monaco aren’t hugely different to other circuits.
More telling are the stats over the last 20 years:
Over the past two decades no driver has won the Monaco GP starting outside the top three on the grid.
Before the recent run of three years of non-pole winners, the previous six races were won from pole with both Nico Rosberg and Mark Webber achieving the feat twice.
What happened in last year's race?
- In 2017 Kimi Raikkonen started on pole – his first since the 2008 French GP.
- Sebastian Vettel won from 2nd on the grid after ”over-cutting” his pole sitting team mate.
- 2017 was the first win for Ferrari at Monaco since 2001 and their first 1-2 since the 2010 German GP.
- After starting 5th on the grid Dan Ricciardo followed Seb’s lead staying out longer on the ultra-softs and over-cutting Verstappen and Bottas.
- As you can see from the race map Lewis Hamilton had an impressive race finishing 7th after starting 13th on the grid.
- There were five retirements last year including the Saubers of Werhlein and Ericsson, the Renault of Hulkenberg, and the McLarens of Vandoorne and Button.
- Button had returned to Formula 1 to keep Alonso’s seat warm while he was off competing (and also retiring) in the Indy 500. An inauspicious end to a wonderful career in F1 for Button. Rubbing salt into the wounds he scored two penalty points on his super license for causing a collision with Wehrlein.
- The optimal pitstop strategy last year was a one-stopper. Overall 12 cars completed a single stop, five cars completed two stops and two (unfortunate) cars completed three stops.
- For cars following a conventional one stop strategy the earliest pitstop was on lap 33 and the latest on lap 46 (out of a total of 78 laps). The median for this group was lap 38. Strangely no two drivers in this group pitted on the same lap.
Winners and podium records
As mentioned above the record for the most wins at Monaco goes to Ayrton Senna with six. Both Graham Hill and Michael Schumacher won five Monaco GPs.
Of the current drivers to have reached the podium only Checo Perez and Dan Ricciardo haven’t stood on the top step.
Having made the podium three times out of his four starts with Red Bull Ricciardo will be very keen to join his Aussie predecessor Mark Webber as a Monaco GP winner (Webber won for RBR in 2010 and 2012).
Surprise surprise the quali lap record was set in 2017, and the all time race record was set by Michael Schumacher in his Ferrari in 2004.
This pattern has been the same in every race to date this year that was also on the calendar in 2004 – except Spain where Schumey set the record in 2006.
Following his amazing pole lap in 1988 (1.23.998) Ayrton Senna also set the fastest lap in the race – a 1.26.321 – though he famously crashed out off the race while comfortably leading.
Sixteen years on Schumacher’s record was nearly 12 seconds quicker than the legendary Brazilian's!
Another 14 years later and Checo Perez’s fastest lap in 2017 was just under four tenths slower than Schumacher. In the German’s hands that 2004 Ferrari was a magnificent race car.
Who is best at qualifying in Monaco?
Of the Ferrari, Mercedes and Red Bull drivers only Raikkonen and Ricciardo have a favourable quali track bias at Monaco – those two were also the 2017 and 2016 pole position holders respectively – though neither won the race.
A the time of writing Kimi was trading at 16:1 for the win at BetFair. For any punters out there that might just be an attractive wager!
Last time out in Spain Nico Hulkenberg failed to reach Q2 for the first time since the 2015 Spanish GP.
Chili Sainz out-qualified Hulkenberg for the first time in their 2018 head to head so the Hulk will be looking to make amends in Monaco. Sainz has on average qualified four places better at Monaco than in his career as a whole so the challenge may not be easy for the German.
Race results: Dan Ricciardo is a Monaco specialist
Following on from his favourable quali bias Dan Ricciardo has an impressive five place race result bias. That means that on average the Aussie has finished five places higher at Monaco than all other tracks combined during his F1 career.
Of the top two in the Championship Vettel’s average race result and track bias at Monaco are significantly better than Hamilton’s. With Lewis now leading the Championship and with the two having very similar career race result stats that advantage could be key for Seb finishing ahead of Lewis in Monaco.
Bear in mind though that Hamilton is the only driver in the top three teams who has managed to finish every Monaco GP he has started. To finish first you first have to finish!
TRACK SPEED AND CORNERS
There are plenty of corners in Monaco with a total of 19 turns compared to an average of 16.75 turns for all tracks. They’re pretty unforgiving corners too – a small error can spell disaster for a driver’s race weekend.
Monaco is the shortest race distance on the F1 calendar at 260.3 km and last year recorded the third slowest average speed for the winning driver at 149.1 km/h.
With relatively slow speeds and many corners Monaco favours cars with efficient aero packages. So while the Renault power unit still suffers from a power deficit relative to Mercedes and Ferrari, Monaco tends to level the playing field.
With perhaps the greatest aerodynamicist in the history of the sport in Adrian Newey, Red Bull have generally done well in Monaco in recent seasons.
Things to look out for this weekend
The home town boy Charles Leclerc (Pic: Sutton)
Charles Leclerc is the first Monegasque to compete in their home race since Olivier Beretta for Larousse in 1994.
The only local ever to have reached the podium was Louis Chiron who finished third in a Maserati in 1950 – he was 50 years old at the time and it was the first ever season of the F1 Championship!
There would need to be an amazing turn of events for Charles to make the podium this year but his performances to date suggest he may well have an opportunity in the future.
Can Daniel Ricciardo make the most of his impressive qualifying and race bias at Monaco? With Red Bull seemingly on the pace of both Ferrari and Mercedes at tracks not power dependant this should be a great opportunity for both Dan and Max to challenge for pole.
With Lewis Hamilton now 17 points clear of Seb Vettel in the Championship and 37 ahead of his team-mate in third the title challengers will need to claw some points back in Monaco to keep their Championship hopes alive.