With a great sense of timing the F1 world, torn apart by rows over how much the teams should be allowed to spend, heads to round six at Monaco – where conspicuous consumption is a way of life.
Whatever F1 does to itself, the Monaco Grand Prix will hopefully always remain one of its great races. On a calendar of increasingly bland and interchangeable circuits, Monaco is narrow, slow, glamorous, dangerous and – best of all – unique.
Heading into the weekend one of the main questions is whether anyone can disrupt Jenson Button’s growing advantage in the drivers’ championship. Their best chance of doing that is by getting ahead in qualifying.
The qualifying trap
Monaco can turn the slightest mistake into a race-loser. (Very occasionally, as we saw last year, it can also do the exact opposite). To begin with the drivers will be desperate to avoid the Q1 trap, and find themselves stuck on the rearmost rows of the grid.
That trap has worked very well this year, claiming some big names:
Malaysia – Felipe Massa, Ferrari
China – Robert Kubica, BMW
Bahrain – Mark Webber, Red Bull
Spain – Kimi Raikkonen, Ferrari and Heikki Kovalainen, McLaren
Will we see another big name have their race ruined early on Saturday?
Red Bull’s diffuser
More and more teams are adding their versions of the ‘double diffuser’ to their cars. Red Bull had set a target of the Monaco Grand OPrix as being the earliest time they could get one on their RB5.
The complication for the team and designer Adrian Newey is that the unusual pull-rod suspension configuration of the RB5 gives them little room to exploit the thinking behind the double diffuser.
It’s tempting to think that simply bolting the double diffuser design onto Newey’s already highly effective car will turn it into a Brawn-beater overnight. But it’s not likely to be quite as simple as that.
Tyres and KERS
At the Circuit de Catalunya Ferrari and McLaren were the only teams left still using KERS. Monte-Carlo’s longest flat-out section is just 510m – the shortest on the calendar – and as a result the maximum speed reached is 286kph (177mph), lower than at any other track. (Read more: 2009 F1 tracks compared)
KERS doesn’t even look likely to offer much of an advantage at the start here. The run down to Ste Devote is short and narrow, offering little opportunity for overtaking.
Unless KERS can give drivers enough of a boost to make overtaking possible into the harbour chicane, it’s hard to see why anyone would use it this weekend.
Monaco is also unusual in that it is the first event this year where Bridgestone are bringing two compounds of tyres that are adjacent to each other on their scale of hardness – the soft and super-soft tyre. The teams are likely to favour the super-soft, and once again preserving as many sets of those as possible through qualifying for the race will be crucial.
Drivers to watch
Sebastian Vettel – One way or another, he must finish ahead of Jenson Button.
Rubens Barrichello – One way or another, he must finish ahead of Jenson Button. A third consecutive strategy blunder would look decidedly dubious.
Lewis Hamilton – Has raced five times at Monaco, scoring four wins (1x F1, 1x GP2, 2x F3) and a second (F1). Can he drag the MP4-24 onto the podium (legitimately) here this year?
Jarno Trulli – Qualifying specialist with an affinity for Monte-Carlo – could add up to Toyota’s best chance to win a Grand Prix so far.