Qualifying position is everything at Monaco. That’s good news for Mercedes, who have been the team to beat on Saturday this year but are yet to score a win. Spanish Grand Prix victor Fernando Alonso has already tipped them as favourites to win in Monaco.
If Mercedes can extend their run of pole positions to four in a row they will be in an excellent position to score their first victory of 2013. They came close last year: Michael Schumacher was quickest in qualifying but a penalty dropped him to sixth on the grid. Nico Rosberg started second and finished there.
The high degradation and frequent pit stops seen during the Spanish race provoked intense debate over whether F1 has gone too far in using tyres that degrade quickly to produce close racing. But the slow Monaco course sees the lowest rates of wear and degradation of the season.
Pirelli’s soft compounds did not tempt any of the leading drivers to make more than the mandatory single pit stop last year. But that was not the case the year before.
Monte-Carlo circuit information
|Lap length||3.34km (2.075 miles)|
|Distance||78 laps (260.5km/161.9 miles)|
|Lap record*||1’14.439 (Michael Schumacher, 2004)|
|Fastest lap||1’13.532 (Kimi Raikkonen, 2006)|
|Tyres||Soft and Super-soft|
*Fastest lap set during a Grand Prix
In 2011, with tyres approximately as aggressive as today’s, the top three finishers all used different strategies. Sebastian Vettel attempted a one-stopper, nursing his tyres from lap 17 until the chequered flag. Behind him Alonso stopped twice and Jenson Button three times. The pair were running nose-to-tail when a crash blocked the track, forcing a red flag which conspired to rob us of an exciting finish.
With Pirelli bringing the softest tyres in their range again this weekend, there’s a chance the race won’t be decided on Saturday afternoon. Monaco specialist Pastor Maldonado described qualifying as being worth “probably 70% of the weekend” but in seasons past that figure would have been closer to 100%.
Unlike most circuits on the calendar this year, Monaco will have just one DRS zone, simply because there isn’t space to safely install another one in a place where it might be worthwhile on this tight, narrow and punishing course.
Monaco Grand Prix team-by-team preview
Red Bull are looking for their fourth consecutive win in F1’s most prestigious race. Vettel has two wins to his name already this year but Webber has excellent form at the principality and claimed two of the team’s previous victories here.
They have been closest to Mercedes on one-lap pace but have fared much better in the races, which should make them strong contenders this weekend.
But Alonso’s formidable abilities mean he is always a contender. The two-time Monaco Grand Prix winner might need a bit of help from his strategy to get ahead but if his Ferrari gets a glimpse of daylight in the race he’ll be hard to stop.
McLaren will bring further upgrades for the recalcitrant MP4-28 this weekend despite the cramped Monaco track being the worst place to test them.
This is a drivers’ track, however, and that presents Button and Sergio Perez the opportunity to drag the car into the final ten and collect out some useful points.
Like Ferrari, Lotus have great race pace but are missing that final tenth in qualifying which will create problems for them in Monaco. However Kimi Raikkonen has seen the front row of the grid once already this year so don’t rule him out.
Team mate Romain Grosjean was unable to carry his resurgence in form into the last race as he was sidelined with a suspension problem early on. Monaco was where things started to go wrong for him last year and he will need to exercise all of his new-found caution on the run to the first corner.
Lewis Hamilton has a great flair for Monaco and won in the rain in 2008. But Rosberg started the last two races from pole and had a good run here last year as well.
Of the three teams who most needed to improve their car in Spain, Sauber seemed to find more performance than Williams or McLaren. This wasn’t entirely realised in the race due to Nico Hulkenberg’s pit lane crash and Esteban Gutierrez’s grid penalty, so they will need to maek good on it here.
Surely Adrian Sutil’s bad luck has to come to an end soon? If pit stop problems haven’t been wrecking his races he’s been hit by other drivers.
And if any track owes him one, it’s Monaco. In 2008 he was on course to give Force India their first points score, running fourth with nine laps to go, when he was taken out by Raikkonen.
Maldonado needs to make good on his reputation as a Monaco specialist this weekend if he is to bring home the first points of 2013 for Williams.
He could also do with a decisive showing against team mate Valtteri Bottas, who’s out-qualified him 3-2 so far this year. Bottas will do well to repeat that on his first visit to this demanding track where his team mate is very strong.
There’s still everything to play for between the two Toro Rosso drivers but it’s Jean-Eric Vergne who’s on the back foot at the moment. He ran seventh for several laps during last year’s race but a late pit stop dropped him out of the points.
Caterham not only convincingly defeated Marussia in Spain, they were close to one of the Williams drivers at the end of the race too.
Last year Heikki Kovalainen resisted pressure from Button’s McLaren for lap after lap at Monaco. Can either of the team’s young charges replicate his heroics this weekend?
Marussia have finished behind Caterham in the last two races but remain ahead in the constructors’ championship. However Monaco often sees a lot of retirements and Marussia will need to ensure they, and not their rivals, are the ones to capitalise. It was at this race last year they first lost the initiative in the championship to Caterham.
2013 driver form
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Images ?é?® Daimler/Hoch Zwei, Ferrari/Ercole Colombo, Red Bull/Getty