Return of the street fighters

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For the first time since the 1980s Formula 1 has a trio of street circuits on the calendar. Monte-Carlo this weekend will be followed by the Valencia and Singapore street circuits later in the year. And Bernie Ecclestone has indicated he wants more street circuits in the future, including moving the French Grand Prix to Paris.

When street tracks were more common in F1 some drivers were considered particularly good street racers – Ayrton Senna, for example, who excellent at the likes of Monte-Carlo, Detroit and Pheonix.

So who are the best street drivers in F1 today? Here are a few of my picks.

What makes street circuits different to regular tracks? For starters there’s very little room to make a mistake. Plus the tracks are usually bumpier and there are obstacles like kerbs, camber and manhole covers to contend with. And the track surface is usually low on grip compared to a normal racing circuit.

Here a four of today’s F1 drivers who I think are particularly good on street tracks – who do you think are F1’s new street fighters?

Fernando Alonso

He won the Monaco Grand Prix in 2007 and 2006. Last year he did the treble of winning from pole position with fastest lap. He’s been in the top five for the past five years except in 2004, when he crashed while lapping Ralf Schumacher.

Lewis Hamilton

He won at Monaco in the F3 Euroseries (2005) and GP2 (2006) and probably would have won last year had he not lost a few vital tenths on his qualifying lap while passing Mark Webber. And he and team mate Robert Kubica were hugely quicker than the field in the Macau F3 race in 2004….

Robert Kubica

BMW’s Polish star has said in the past how much he enjoys street circuits and it’s not hard to see why. He was twice runner-up in the Macau Grand Prix and finished fifth at Monaco last year.

Giancarlo Fisichella

Fisichella splashed his way to sixth in the pouring rain at Monaco in 1997 and finished in the points there on his next three visits. Last year he scored his best result of the season at Monaco, fourth.

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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41 comments on “Return of the street fighters”

  1. Agree with your opinion about Hamilton. Watched last year’s Monaco GP and it was one of those races which turned me into a huge Hamilton fan (only love his driving though, hehe). Perhaps it was just recklessness and he was lucky to not bump into anything, but watching him drive like that was incredibly fun!

  2. I think Kimi is one of the best street driver.In 2005,his performance was very good.Last year,he hit the wall at Swimming Pool,so we don’t know the Iceman can do what if he didn’t hie the wall.

  3. and do we count Albert Park as a street track or not ? if yes, then we have 4 on calendar this year

    I would mention also two other Monaco winners that will be on start this weekend – Coulthard and Trulli. DC won there twice and finished 2nd once, for Trulli it is still his one and only F1 race win.

    Kimi Raikkonen’s 2007 performance perhaps also deserves some respect. Starting from 16th to finish 8th is not that easy on the track like that

    And then do not forget Michael Schumacher and his ability to park the F1 car right there in La Rascasse :-)

  4. Milos – good question, and I think the same goes for the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve. I would’t consider those as street circuits though because they aren’t roads that traffic drives on, and even though run-off is tight at Melbourne and Montreal, there’s a lot more than there is at Monaco.

    It looks like Valencia and Singapore will be much closer in character to Monaco, in fact I understand some team’s simulations for Singapore call for even more downforce than Monte-Carlo.

  5. oh, in Melbourne the traffic runs on those streets all year, except the F1 days … I was there few years back 2 weeks before the race and almost got hit by cars that I did not expect to be there :-)

  6. Really? I didn’t know that! When I’ve seen pictures of it when F1’s not there it just looks like a park that they’ve happened to drop some tarmac into. I thought that was why there was such a fuss about them making it into a track in the first place?

    It’s a kind of semi-street track really isn’t it? Street surface but with room for a mistake (most of the time!)

  7. lol Milos!
    i wouldnt call melb or montreal as ‘real” street circuits!, guess we have recently as monaco is only true one we have had for years!

  8. sChUmAcHeRtHeGrEaTeStEvEr
    19th May 2008, 10:04

    i agree with your choices i think monte carlo is 1 of the few tracks where the driver can make a real difference. Fisichella always runs well here so i wouldnt be suprised if force india finally get into q2 like theyve been saying they would all year.

    I think this is alonso’s best chance all year to get on the podium too.

    my faviourate for the race is hamilton, he was awesome last year and i think he’ll win it this year. kovalaeinen struggles last yar so i wouldnt be suprised if he didnt make it onto the podium again.

    Intresting to see how ferrari go here, they struggled lastyear but they seem to ave improved the cars performance through slow corners for this year.

  9. what about Webber!! hes always gone well there, and qualified 2nd once, running with Alonso and Raikkonen!

  10. Melbourne, the grip of a street circuit and space more like a full-time circuit. I think of it more as a third category – a parkland circuit.

    As for who’s good between the barriers, I’ll definitely be keeping an eye on Fisichella and Coulthard this weekend. A good chance for a best result of the season for both of them. I’d love to see the old Jordan boys come away with a point or too and DC needs to get on the scoreboard more than ever.

    I’m looking forward to seeing what Bourdais can do too. Granted he’s in a whole new world now, but he must have more street circuit experience than anybody.

  11. Terry Fabulous
    19th May 2008, 10:15

    Firstly, I agree with Keith, Melbourne and Gilles Villeneuve may technically be street circuits but they all have a fair bit of run-off and right hand blind corners. Wheras Monaco, Valencia and Singapore all have them in spades.

    Secondly, I would place Webber in there as a Monaco master. He has always excelled around the principality and would have won in 2006 had his car stayed together (Big call I know but review the footage, he was on for the win).

    Thirdly, When Fernando hit Ralf in 04 he was coming out of the tunnel at full speed and spinning around in circles while bouncing off the barriers. AND HE STIL MANAGED TO FLIP RALF OFF!!! That is the moment that I became a Fred fan.

    And Fourthly, Sutil was fastest in the wet last year… Just throwing that in there.

  12. Terry Fabulous
    19th May 2008, 10:18

    I meant to say that Albert Park and Gilles Villeneuve have FEW right hand blind corners.

  13. Robert McKay
    19th May 2008, 10:25

    DC always goes well round Monaco.

  14. i doubt MW was gonna win in ’06!
    Alonso had speed in abundance and only needed to push during stops phase!
    if anyone, kimi could have beaten him

  15. well both RBR drivers love this circuit.

    mark scored a F3 or F3000 win here in 2001 and had a great race in 05 and 06-coulda won

    DC is a past winner and has been on the podium here several times in his mclarern days and in 06, we can all remember that.

    im quite suprised Jarno Truli hasnt been chucked into the mix also, 04 winner, was first to brake schumi’s back to back wins in the begining of the 04 season.

    id put DC, mark and Jarno into the mix for best of the rest.

  16. Scott Joslin
    19th May 2008, 13:06

    Nathan & Keith, I think Milos is correct. Melbourne is a street track. It is used everyday of the year but the public. It incorporates car parks, bus stops, cycle lanes and man hole covers – how is that not a street track? What? just because of where the walls are placed? In which case Canada is definitely a “street track” I was in Melbourne a few years back as they were putting it together and it is as much a street track as Monaco. In fact I would say Melbourne requires more work to make it race ready that Monaco – which I have been too as spends a lot of the time of the year with barriers and kerbs in place. I think it is wrong to classify a street circuit a street circuit because it is point and squirt, like Phoenix, Adelaide and Monaco.

    Drivers who are prepared to hang it all out are the ones that generally get rewarded on street tracks. Drivers like Senna, Schumacher, Rosberg, Alesi are drivers who used to be rewarded through their bravery. Therefore I think Alonso, Lewis and Kubica are going to ones to watch this weekend. That will be inbetween Piquet slamming into the barriers that is….

  17. How about Sebastian Bourdais?

  18. 25th May 2008- Kubica’s first win.

  19. Kubica gets to change his gearbox for this race!, i’m surprised no ones mentioned that, new rules this year.

    Monico being the most demanding track on a gearbox we could see a lot of problems for some of the cars that aren’t allowed to change them this race.

  20. Monico? :-(


    I have put shame on my house

  21. Bourdais could spring a surprise at Monaco, he was excellent at driving bumpy, tight, twisty street courses in Champ Car. Plus he was always quick to learn.

  22. Thats pretty much all Champ Car raced on…. The Long beach setup was very similar and he always blew away his rivals (not F1 material but all we can compare him to).

  23. theRoswellite
    19th May 2008, 16:16

    Possible definition of a real street circuit: one in which you can sit in a…bar, pub, cafe….and watch the race live…suggest earplugs as a first choice on the menu.

    My fingers are always crossed for a first time winner at Monaco…maybe Webber & Red Bull…you can have a “successful” career with just this win.

  24. I agree with the drivers everyone has listed, but the man who is going to get their maiden win is going to be quick nick. Don’t ask why, I just have a gut feeling.

  25. Good topic, and one that we will all have more info on after this season’s races are complete. Until then, we’ll need to work with info such as the Champ Car races for Bourdais, etc. It will indeed be interesting to see how he performs in Monaco, perhaps this will be the breakthrough race many of us have been looking for from him.

    In any event, it’s always a pleasure to see a first-time winner, and perhaps someone who has been strong on this circuit in the past- Fisi, Webber, Hamilton- will set themselves up for a stunner.

  26. Terry Fabulous
    19th May 2008, 23:02

    Wouldn’t it be awesome if someone other then a Ferrari or McLaren driver took the win.

  27. @ Terry Fabulous

    I watched the video of Fernando’s run in with Ralf in ’04 on YouTube….and I can’t stop laughing,he flips off Ralf while he is still spinning out of control..ha,ha,ha !!!

  28. Living in Melbourne, I can confirm the Melbourne track a street circuit run on public roads.

    I also thought all, or at least part, of Spa was public roads??

  29. I wouldn’t rate Trulli as a Monaco master, but he is a supreme qualifier – which is how he got in the position to win (that and keeping a cool head).

    I’d definitely put Webber in there, with Heidfeld (remember his pass on Alonso in ’05?!) and the unproven Rosberg (no real evidence for this opinion, I just rate him highly overall). Interestingly, Kazuki Nakajima is all but admitting that he’s going to nerf it at some point. Reckon the bosses are impressed?

  30. I know I am chiming in late, but I can 100% confirm Melbourne is a street circuit – am looking at it as we speak (my office overlooks Albert Park and I have a great view of probably 60% of the track). Same goes for Montreal – it’s definately public roads, as I have driven it ! Both are similar in that the public roads are situated more in parkland than an actual city-scape which may be where the confusion comes into it. So by my count there are 5 street circuits on this years calendar.

    In regards as to who is the man to watch in Monaco, I’d have to say Alonso. If he were in a better car I’d put money on him winning. As it is, he may still be able to pull something out of the bag and I fully expect to see him on the podium.

    But I also think Hamilton, Kubica and Webber will be ones to watch as well. Their style of driving will suit the turns and twists of Monaco.

  31. Not on topic, but why isn’t Macau an F1 venue?

  32. Definately watch Webber. If he can pull off another brilliant qualifying, I reckon he’ll punch well above his weight in the race.

    Having said that, Coulthard says the RB4 doesn’t like curbs much – so maybe I spoke too soon.

  33. Monaco is a circuit for the bravest drivers, the drivers who push a little bit further, a little bit higher than the others.
    Robert Kubica admitted not so long ago that he ‘feels like a real racing car driver when he is close to the barriers’. That what Monaco is all about, riding the curbs, running close to the armco, precision of the highest order. At other circuits, you can make a mistake, and still stay in the race. At Monaco, a mistake is punished without mercy.
    Fernando Alonso, Kimi Raikkonen, Lewis Hamilton, Robert Kubica, if I had to pick four drivers out of the current crop, those would be my selections.
    For the simple reason in that when it comes to precision, and taking risks, they are all very capable.
    The one draw back from Monaco, is the lack of overtaking opportunites.
    The driver I would bet on to win on Sunday, Kimi. I think he will make amends for last year’s gaffe, and take the spoils. Hamilton will be there too, and hopefully BMW Sauber will be back on the pace to give Kubica a decent chance.
    As for Alonso, the car is not strong enough in qualifying so he is going to struggle, which is a shame as he is dynamite at Monaco. Yep, thats about it.

    My top Monaco drivers; Raikkonen, Hamilton, Alonso, Kubica.

    Surprise, surprise, the same as everybody else…

  34. First thing i noticed when i saw your F1’s new street fighters is just one missing name,Kimi.After his 2006 performance(The One who had the real possiblity of snatching the victory from Alonso until his engine yielded)i would argue that he is the best among street racers.
    I never seen anyone drive the car so close to another in a street race(he drove so close to Alonso that,if Alonso suddenly breaked then Kimi would have crashed hard into him,but he din’t!!!).Thats requires very high driving skills.So in my list Kimi heads the Street Fighters.

  35. You left out Melbourne, which is a street circuit

    The main difference is the surface and the inconsistancies across a lap which make them more challenging.

    I am all for street circuits, would rather see a nice city in the backgorund of a track than desert or wild dogs in a forrest. Thats also why it appeals so much to host countries, they can get great coverage of their cities to a huge audience

  36. and I gotta say, I would love to see a Sydney street circuit replace Melbourne, especially Sydney under lights!

  37. Terry Fabulous
    20th May 2008, 5:02

    Gday Chunter!

    I think the issue with Macau is safety and the tightness of some of the corners, like ridiculously tight! (But no more so then Monaco I suppose…)

    Maybe they could cut them out and have a race around the rest of the track. Macau is a huge growth area for China with all the Casinos and such.

  38. Terry Fabulous
    20th May 2008, 5:14

    This move back to strett circuits echoes a trend that is currently well underway in American Baseball.

    Baseball Parks
    Step 1: Play began in neighbourhood grounds with quirks of the area incorporated into the venues. (Shibe Park and Ebbets Field etc)
    Step 2: Then they moved into enormous modern and totally soulless specialty venues in the 60s and 70s. (Vetrans Stadium, Astrodome etc)
    Step 3: Only to move back to their roots in the 90s and 00s by building facilities that imitate the old ball parks (Seattle, Baltimore, Pittsburgh etc)

    F1 Tracks
    Step 1: Racing began in the city streets or local areas and with quirks of the area incorporated into the tracks. (Monaco, Old Ring, Watkins Glenn, Brands Hatch)
    Step 2: Then we moved into enormous modern and totally soulless specialty venues in the 80s, 90s, and early 00s. (New Ring, China, Sepang, Bahrain etc)
    Step 3: Only to move back to our roots in the late 00s by racing at tracks that imitate the old tracks (Istanbul as Spa, Singapore and Valencia as Monaco).

    I certainly hope this trend continues!

  39. Nik – see the discussion in comments 3-7.

    Chunter – on Macau, tracks are graded by the FIA in terms of how safe they are and other factors. Macau has a couple of kinks that F1 cars would hit at something approaching 200mph, with no run-off, so I doubt it would be considered safe enough. Plus it has that hairpin which I understand has to be permanently covered by yellow flags because it’s not wide enough for cars to pass?

    Hell of a circuit though. It drives me crazy that the F3 race there isn’t broadcast live in Britain (but WTCC is!)

  40. more than any other circuit , qualifying will make a big impact on the end result , ‘less rain falls during the race. Ferrari fan , would like to see either Kimi or Massa win , but with their first lap warming up tyre issue , may be difficult for either to take pole from McLaren , so I would have to put my money on Lewis. But it wouldn’t be bad to see a surprise , maybe Alonso takes it ?

  41. My tip for the podium is Kimi, Alonso, Webber. :) Lewis will bury it in the wall by 10 laps in, Heikki will break down while in second, sad but true ;)

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