- Sam Bird's track preview
Bird's eye view of MonacoSam Bird May 20, 2013
GP2 driver Sam Bird gives ESPN his track guide to the streets of Monte Carlo ahead of this weekend's race
Monaco is a track that I always love going to; I went to watch for the first time in 2005 and obviously since 2010 I've been racing there every season. Thankfully I've had some joy around the streets on Monte Carlo; I got fastest laps in my first ever race meeting there against the likes of Maldonado and Perez, put it on pole there in my second year of GP2 and put it on pole and won there last year in World Series by Renault.
I'll be doing a track walk either today or tomorrow. I might do a couple of laps on a bike and a couple of laps in a car (all in normal, open traffic); just to see if there are any new pieces of tarmac in place, but I expect it will be similar to last year. It feels great to walk the track thinking "Crikey I'm going to be pushing at over 100mph round this place". What a phenomenal atmosphere Monaco holds as well.
In qualifying, the critical thing is to get a clear lap. If you don't, you won't be near the front of the grid; it's as simple as that. Traffic doesn't cost you tenths around Monaco, it costs you seconds. Even before you've started the lap you're looking for that part of track you can claim as yours for around 1m20s.
Approaching turn one you brake in a straight line, take as much apex kerb as possible and run out to the wall on the exit. It's important to get a good exit because you're then climbing all the way up to turns two and three. You have slight steering inputs but it's pretty straight, then you bear right very slightly over a brow before you turn in left for Massenet.
This is the fastest entry into a corner; you're braking through the corner a little bit and really carrying a lot of speed in. You apex early on, then run slightly wider from the wall and come back to another apex point. There's a little bit of wall jutting out that I aim for every year and if you get that then you've given yourself good space to attack the right hander at Casino Square. You want to take all the kerb on the inside and when you're quick on a qualy lap you push all the way to the wall on the exit even though you've got adverse camber. It pulls the rear out and you really think the left rear is going to touch the wall.
After sweeping right quickly to avoid the big bump - which the car would bottom out on - you brake downhill into the first Mirabeau. You force the front of the car in early and place the front right wheel in the drain on the inside of the corner. That hooks you round, then you aim for the barrier on the exit and just inches before the barrier you turn right slightly more! I do that because you can get on the power in a straight line earlier for the best traction.
The Loews hairpin is slow and frustrating, but while you can't really gain time there you can certainly lose it. If you get lazy and brake a bit early into the corner or run too wide on exit then you can lose time. You leave half a track width so you don't have to work too hard for the next right-hander before dropping down to Portier.
In the race you want a good exit from Portier entering the tunnel as it gives you an overtaking opportunity. Once you get into the tunnel you feel like you've done two thirds of the circuit now; you've pieced together a good 60% of the lap and just have to finish it off. The tunnel is flat out in a GP2 car - I go a bit wider and cut back for my braking zone for the chicane - then you brake in a straight line over the bumps for the chicane. Cameras aren't as good as the human eye, so our eyes adjust immediately in the tunnel. The chicane is self-explanatory, you move your hands very quickly for the change in direction and then head for Tabac.
This is my favourite section of the track; the left-hander and Swimming Pool complex. I really love these two corners. A little bit of understeer in the car is good here, almost aiming for the wall on the inside of Tabac and then really pushing the boundaries of the amount of track you can run to on the exit. You shift up to fourth before the fast chicane and I actually turn in aiming for the wall on the inside because the kerb is hidden behind the wall and you know the car will understeer. If you can just miss the wall and take all of that left-hand kerb then you know it's going to be a straight line through the chicane. If you miss that particular trajectory, you've got an awfully big job to do for the second phase of the corner!
Every time you go through there you think "I've got to get this right". It's a really ballsy corner - probably the most ballsy on the circuit - and when you're saying that about a street circuit you know it's a big one. We've seen people get it a little bit wrong, turn in a little bit too late and the crashes they have have been enormous. There needs to be some respect for the circuit but at the same time you need to push.
About 50m after the chicane you hit the brakes for the second chicane, which is much slower. To set a really fast lap in qualifying you need to literally skim the barrier on exit, then you're nearly home and dry. You just hope there's no traffic waiting around the barriers - it's something we've seen many times before - and everyone backs up in qualifying.
Rascasse is a short braking zone and there's not much time to be gained, but if you're lazy on the brakes there is time to be lost. It's easy to lock the rears, but you aim to miss the first apex by at least a cars' width, hit the second apex and get on the power to the final corner. It's a bit fiddly but just a small right hand turn that then bears left on to the start finish straight. You look down at your dash to compare your lap time to your previous laps, cross the line and hopefully you've got the job done!
Sam Bird writes for ESPNF1 ahead of every GP2 round