Watching from La Rascasse (Part 1)
What you see here does not come under the heading of “good photography”. It is, though, my attempt to try to illustrate some of the principles about which we talk on The Racer’s Edge and occasionally on these pages. All the pictures were taken at La Rascasse on Thursday afternoon at Monaco (after Romain Grosjean had hit the barrier at Ste Devote!). I wanted to try to keep the frame of the shot as near-identical as I could for every car so that we could identify some of the differences between the drivers. I also ensured that each driver was on a quick lap or was not backing-off prior to peeling into the pit lane. The pose they strike as they reach the pedestrian crossing stripes is pretty much their signature – and those stripes on the road of course provide some sort of useful visual reference. Some drivers, you will see, are already asking quite a lot from the car – as can be seen by the steering angles as they reach the road stripes. Others are asking less. Some are “softening” the entry by curving into the apex from about the middle fo the road; others are well to the right of centre and are “extending the straight” into a relatively low minimum speed rotation-point. I should stress that La Rascasse is far from being the most important corner on the circuit: it is followed by a very short, sharp blast before braking into a negative-camber right-hander. It is, though, what it is – and I can confirm that I have never seen a great Monaco driver (Stewart, Reutemann, Prost, Mansell, Senna, Raikkonen) who was not clean, methodical and super-quick into La Rascasse. Despite the implications of these quiet, motionless images, each snapshot-in-time is in reality a compendium of the initial brake pedal pressure that was applied about a second or so before (when the cars were in fifth gear on the curving straight between the swimming pool and Rascasse), the rate of release of the brake pedal pressure (taking place as these pictures were captured), the initial steering movements (also taking place) and, yes, the positioning of the car. In each case, in summary, the “static” cars shown here are actually a mass of dynamic forces being harnessed by the drivers. All are different; some are better than others.
Fernando Alonso (left) was (with Pastor Maldonado) the driver who turned-in earliest to Rascasse. He refrained from applying any soft of substantial steering lock until he was right at the apex (out of the photograph to the bottom left), and this he did with increasing power. He looked superb, I thought. The back of the Ferrari would always skip slightly as he rotated the car, which probably meant that his minimum speed was relatively low – but there is no doubt that from the pedestrian crossing to that minimum speed point he was quicker than anyone on the circuit.
Felipe Massa (right) wasn’t a lot different from Fernando… but was different nonetheless. He braked more to the centre of the road and thus approached the corner with a slightly “softer” line. This gave him a slightly “longer” corner – ie, he had to cover more road and, thus, he put more initial lateral energy through the tyres for longer. Felipe was very finessey with his steering inputs and, like Fernando, always honed-in to a lowish minimum speed, the better to rotate the car.
I was surprised by the massive differences between the Red Bull drivers, Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber. Although the positioning of the two cars looks fairly similar in these two pictures, look closely at the amount of steering lock Seb has applied (relative to Mark). This was absolutely typical of what we saw all afternoon. Seb (right) would approach from a relatively wide angle and crank on a massive amount of lock as he was releasing the brakes. The result was understeer – driver-induced (very graphic) understeer. Could it be that Seb was working on protecting the rears? Perhaps. Mark, by contrast, was Alonso-like with the steering applications, even if he was leaving himself a slightly more open approach. I’d say Mark’s Rascasse (right) leaves him slightly more margin for error (or for the unexpected) than does Fernando’s but that their inputs were about equal. Again, brilliant to watch.
Both McLaren drivers created very “long” corners from wide entries. Jenson’s inputs (below) were more svelte that Sergio’s but Sergio began the corner with slightly less initial steering input, in turn enabling him to ask slightly less from the front tyres. Equally, Sergio (below right)
had a more substantial final rotation. When you see these two drivers alongside one another like this, you wonder how good it is for a team to be running drivers of such similar style. It would be interesting, for example, to see how the MP4-28 would perform at the other end of the spectrum – the Alonso/Webber/Raikkonen end – or perhaps at the Vettel/understeer end.
I didn’t get to see Romain, as I say, but I can tell you (from Thursday morning) that he was about half-a-car’s length to the left of Kimi as he crossed the painted lines and was using about a Webber-dose of steering at that point. Unlike Mark, who would deliberately await the moment of final rotation before accelerating flat and clean, Romain teased the throttle a little, like Alonso and thus ran right out there on the ragged edge, leaving no room for error. The Ste Devote shunt, I think, was no surprise. Kimi was of course just beautiful to watch, even if he was locking up the front brakes more than we usually see. He wasn’t quite as far to the right as Alonso and Maldonado (or Di Resta, as it happens) but his initial steering movements were very slight and very small – a mile away from Vettel’s. Then, in one clean movement, he would tuck in the front for the major rotation and accelerate without fuss towards the exit of the corner. Totally repeatable and extremely efficient (left).
The differences between Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton were small but significant. Both drivers turned-in early, like Kimi and Fernando, with delicately-small initial steering inputs, but Nico (below) did so from about half a metre further to the right, giving him a slightly shorter corner. This he managed in Prost-like fashion, never looking unruffled or out of synch. Lewis (below) was thus a tad less impressive than Nico through this section of road – which, for me, was a surprise, I have to admit.
Part 2 of our views from Rascasse, featuring the remaining cars on the grid, will follow shortly.