Rob Smedley and Felipe Massa

Monaco GP – These drivers deserve our respect!

Monte Carlo, 22 May – The Monaco track has its own unique history as part of the Formula 1 World Championship calendar, not just because of what the drivers have done here but also because of the cars. There is not a single lap where one is not on the limit, hunting for that hundredth of a second at every corner, which could make all the difference come the end of the lap. Everything is taken to extremes in driving and also in terms of the set-up of the car, which is specific to this track and not used anywhere else on the championship trail.

“We always ask the drivers to brush the barriers as much as possible, because that’s where the lap time comes from,” explains Rob Smedley, who has been Felipe Massa’s race engineer for many a year. “Once, me and a colleague went to watch a race in one of the junior formulae from the entrance to the Swimming Pool section: well, when we saw how close they got to the barriers at over 200 km/h, we said to ourselves that maybe we ought to have a bit more respect for the drivers!”

Rob has decades of experience in Formula 1, even though he is not yet forty and he knows the secrets of setting up a car for the streets of the Principality inside out. “You need a very good front end to tackle the many slow corners as well as possible,” he explained to “At the same time, you need to bear in mind the undulations, the kerbs and the bumps: the car jumps a lot and so you have to keep a close eye on the braking and acceleration points.”

“Mechanical grip counts for a lot as there are hardly any fast corners, only slow ones, some of which are very tight, like the Loews hairpin,” continues Rob. “From an aerodynamic point of view, you therefore look for the configuration with the most downforce, without getting too concerned about drag. On paper, it’s an inefficient choice, but that’s how it works here. From a weight distribution point of view, you try to go as much as possible towards the rear, which needs to be very stiff, coupled to a soft front end to reduce understeer in the slow corners.”

Like all street circuits, the grip level from the track surface is very low at the start of the weekend. This factor, coupled with the need for the drivers to get used to such a unique circuit, always makes it difficult to understand clearly what effect a set-up change really has. “The track evolution is very significant as bit by bit rubber goes down on the surface from Thursday through to Sunday and usually, that masks the effect of the modifications made to the car,” adds the English engineer. “Then there’s the factor of confidence: gradually as a driver does more and more laps he gets an ever clearer picture of how far he can push before getting to the limit. When all is said and done, that is one of the factors that has the biggest impact on improving lap time!”

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