Can Red Bull break the Mercedes stranglehold?

2014 Monaco Grand Prix preview

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Monte-Carlo, 2013After five wins, five pole positions and four consecutive one-two finishes, you would be forgiven for assuming that win number six will simply be another formality for the seemingly unbeatable Mercedes team this weekend.

But the streets of Monte-Carlo – where Formula One returns for the 61st time since the formation of the world championship – always bring the prospect of a dramatic upset. For as well as playing host to some of F1’s most memorable scenes, the Monaco Grand Prix is also notable for ending some of the sport’s most impressive winning streaks.

After all, it was Monaco in 1992 where Williams’s all-conquering FW14B first tasted defeat at the hands of Ayrton Senna’s McLaren.

Ten years ago, Ferrari and Michael Schumacher’s perfect start to the 2004 season was wrecked by a collision with Juan-Pablo Montoya’s Williams in Monaco’s infamous tunnel. It was the only one of the first 13 races that year the Ferrari driver failed to win.

However meticulous the planning and however professional the preparation, the element of chaos has often been a factor around these famous streets. That’s something which is beyond even the control of the dominant Silver Arrows.

But for their rivals, merely getting to the chequered flag in front of one of the W05s would be a first this year – never mind beating both of them.

Arguably the Monaco Grand Prix has no place on a modern Formula One calendar and hasn’t done for some time. Aside from the minimal run-off areas due to the barriers lining the track, which makes Monaco one of the most dangerous events of the season, the circuit itself offers almost no opportunities for cars to pass side-by-side. It’s telling that over the last ten years the pole-sitter has only failed to win the race once.

But what makes Monaco such an unsuitable venue for F1 is also the key to its greatness. The sheer skill, bravery and concentration required for drivers to complete the 78 gruelling lap in two hours without the slightest margin for error means that Monaco remains the single greatest challenge for the drivers in a season.

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

Monte-Carlo track data in full

From Sainte Devote to Casino Square and from the Tunnel down to the Swimming Pool, every centimetre of this 3.3km street circuit is steeped in history. And with 2014’s new turbo engines producing considerably more torque than previous years, drivers must navigate the course with a greater caution than ever.

Due to the low speed and uniquely short race distance, fuel saving will not be a concern. With overtaking virtually impossible, tyre strategy will likely play a prominent role in the racing action on Sunday.

As ever, Pirelli have brought their softest compounds to this event – the super-soft and soft tyres. As the 2014 rubber has proved more durable this year, there should be no repeat of the snail’s pace much of last year’s race was conducted at.

Red Bull

Daniel Ricciardo, Red Bull, Circuit de Catalunya, 2014While they might not have caught up to Mercedes in Spain, Red Bull consolidated their position as ‘best of the rest’ last time out with Daniel Ricciardo securing his first official podium appearance and Sebastian Vettel’s impressive fight through the field to claim fourth.

With downforce demands at their highest around Monaco – and with even Lewis Hamilton having admitted that the RB10 produces more than the W05 – Red Bull are likely to find themselves closer to the Silver Arrows here than they have been all season. Whether or not they can offer a serious challenge for the victory, however, remains to be seen.

Mercedes

In theory, there’s little reason to predict anyone other than Hamilton or Rosberg will receive the famous winners trophy from Prince Albert II come the end of the race. Such is the nature of Monaco, it could well be that the result on Sunday is ordained by which of the Mercedes team mates clocks the quickest time on Saturday.

If there is one cause of concern for Mercedes this weekend, it’s that it is still unclear whether the tight nature of the Monaco circuit, coupled with the absence of long straights, will mean that Mercedes’s engine advantage is minimalised or magnified. But such is the superiority of the team’s overall package this season, another intra-team duel for the win seems the most likely scenario.

Ferrari

Having had one of their cars lapped in Spain and managing only sixth and seventh in the race, Ferrari’s frustrations were compounded by a power unit failure curtailing one of their day’s running during the post-race test.

But while their Spanish Grand Prix performance may have put a dent in Ferrari’s hopes of fighting for the championships in 2014, Fernando Alonso remains optimistic. “We definitely have the potential to improve the car and if we do it in the areas where there is a big margin, then we can hope to have good races and good results,” he says.

Lotus

Pastor Maldonado, Lotus, Circuit de Catalunya, 2014After a tumultuous start to the season, Lotus finally head to a race weekend with the confidence that they can deliver a strong result. Pastor Maldonado may have endured another incident-filled weekend in Spain, but his strong pace in the post-race test will have him anticipating bouncing back at a circuit where he has impressed before.

Team mate Romain Grosjean is on the hunt for more points but will need to reach the chequered flag at Monaco first – something he has yet to achieve in his F1 career.

McLaren

McLaren may have kicked off their season with a double podium in Melbourne, but the team failed to trouble the scorers in the last three races. While the team’s upgrades may not have transformed their on-track performance in Catalunya, Jenson Button hopes the unique nature of Monaco could work to their advantage.

“There’s far less of an aerodynamic influence here so I think the engine’s influence will be greater,” says Button. “So, with less significance placed on aerodynamics, I hope we can enjoy a better race than our two previous outings in China and Spain.”

Force India

The momentum Force India built up during the course of their best ever start to a season appeared to fade in Spain as the team only just rounded out the points in ninth and tenth.

But while Sergio Perez will be keen to record his first points finish at Monaco after ruffling some feathers around the principality last year, team mate Nico Hulkenberg is remaining pragmatic.

“I think it will be a normal track for us,” he said. “As far as the pecking order is concerned, it’s very tight and competitive at the moment so we need to keep working hard and keep developing.”

Sauber

Esteban Gutierrez, Sauber, Circuit de Catalunya, 2014Sauber are still yet to score their first points of the season heading into round six of the championship and have not come close to doing so since the opening race in Melbourne. After a productive test in Barcelona, the team hope to take a step closer to the points with new upgrades to the C33’s aerodynamics and rear suspension.

Toro Rosso

Monaco will provide an entirely new challenge for rookie Daniil Kvyat: “It will really be a step into the unknown for me, even if I have now driven it on the simulator,” he said.

Williams

After a series of underwhelming results, Williams will have been buoyed to have finished as the third-highest placed team in Spain thanks to Valtteri Bottas’s fifth place. But once again the team’s satisfaction was tinged with disappointment as Felipe Massa faded out of the points thanks to a badly-executed three-stop strategy.

As so often this season, Williams will be aiming for a weekend free of incident to allow them to exploit the FW35’s potential to the fullest – a goal that can be hard to achieve on a circuit as unforgiving as Monaco.

“It’s a race of attrition and small mistakes can hurt you badly,” notes Rob Smedley. “The whole team are flat-out all weekend, ensuring all the finer details are covered and the approach is correct, if this all goes well then we should be able to get some good points.”

Marussia

Max Chilton made for some rather surprising headlines after the Spanish Grand Prix by topping the time sheets on the first day of testing – albeit with the aid of super-soft tyres. But while he is confident that Marussia have made improvements since the last race, Chilton admits it’s unlikely he will be replicating that result during the Monaco weekend.

Caterham

A difficult Spanish Grand Prix where the gap to rivals Marussia appeared to widen was compounded in the post-race test as Kamui Kobayashi crashed heavily at the end of the first day, forcing the team out of running on the second day.

But despite the setbacks, Kobayashi believes the team understands where their issues lie. “The good news is that the tests allowed us to assess alternative setups that pointed to a very clear direction for future development so we can overcome the problems we had in Spain,” he says.

2014 driver form

Driver G avg R avg R best R worst Classified Form guide
Sebastian Vettel 8.40 4.50 3 6 4/5 Form guide
Daniel Ricciardo 5.00 3.67 3 4 3/5 Form guide
Lewis Hamilton 1.20 1.00 1 1 4/5 Form guide
Nico Rosberg 2.60 1.80 1 2 5/5 Form guide
Fernando Alonso 6.00 5.20 3 9 5/5 Form guide
Kimi Raikkonen 7.80 8.80 7 12 5/5 Form guide
Romain Grosjean 13.20 10.33 8 12 3/5 Form guide
Pastor Maldonado 19.40 14.33 14 15 3/5 Form guide
Jenson Button 9.20 9.60 3 17 5/5 Form guide
Kevin Magnussen 9.80 9.00 2 13 4/5 Form guide
Nico Hulkenberg 8.60 6.40 5 10 5/5 Form guide
Sergio Perez 12.20 7.75 3 10 4/4 Form guide
Adrian Sutil 16.40 14.00 11 17 2/5 Form guide
Esteban Gutierrez 15.80 14.67 12 16 3/5 Form guide
Jean-Eric Vergne 12.00 10.00 8 12 2/5 Form guide
Daniil Kvyat 11.20 10.80 9 14 5/5 Form guide
Felipe Massa 8.80 10.50 7 15 4/5 Form guide
Valtteri Bottas 9.40 6.60 5 8 5/5 Form guide
Jules Bianchi 18.60 17.00 16 18 3/5 Form guide
Max Chilton 19.40 15.80 13 19 5/5 Form guide
Kamui Kobayashi 18.00 15.33 13 18 3/5 Form guide
Marcus Ericsson 20.00 18.00 14 20 3/5 Form guide

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2014 Monaco Grand Prix

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Images © Daimler/Hoch Zwei, Red Bull/Getty, Lotus/LAT, Sauber

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28 comments on Can Red Bull break the Mercedes stranglehold?

  1. Kingshark (@kingshark) said on 21st May 2014, 23:53

    I have said this before on the forum, and I will say it again. Mercedes have the best engine AND the best chassis package. They have both more top speed and more downforce than Red Bull.

    The WO5 out-qualified the RB10 in Spain by over 1 whole second. You can’t lose a whole second around Barcelona through power deficit alone, you just can’t.

    In 2003 Renault had a car with great handling and downforce, yet the Renault engine was rumored to be 60 hp down on power when compared to Ferrari and BMW. In Hungary, which is a full downforce track with very little straight, Alonso dominated. In Spain, which is slightly more power-oriented than Hungaroring, Alonso ran Schumi close. Why? Because around circuits like Hungaroring and Catalunya Renault weren’t hurt much, if anything at all by their top speed deficit to Ferrari and BMW Williams.

    In Spain 03, despite Renault’s engine power deficit to Ferrari, Alonso qualified only 0.471 sec behind Schumacher and finished 5.7 seconds behind. Comparatively, Ricciardo qualified 1.053 seconds behind Hamilton and finished 49 seconds behind.

    In 2003 you could have made an argument that Renault had a better chassis than Ferrari and only lost out due engine power inferiority. But anyone who claims that Ricciardo finished almost 50 seconds behind Hamilton around Barcelona because of power deficit alone is kidding themselves.

    • HiPn0tIc (@hipn0tic) said on 21st May 2014, 23:59

      Despite beeing sad, couldn’t agree more

    • matt90 (@matt90) said on 22nd May 2014, 0:13

      And of course Spain has become even tighter since 2003. As others and you have pointed out, Merc were the best even in the last sector, which is most reminiscent of Monaco.

    • Oblong_Cheese (@oblong_cheese) said on 22nd May 2014, 1:28

      I think also there was a lot of pace management going on in Ricciardo’s cockpit. RBR knew he could not catch the Mercedes duo, so he was likely cruising around and nursing the engine for the majority of the race – certainly by the time Bottas had been overtaken through the pitstops and was clearly unable to mount a challenge.

      • Kingshark (@kingshark) said on 22nd May 2014, 1:38

        Was Ricciardo cruising and managing his pace in Q3 when he qualified 1.053 seconds behind Hamilton, @oblong_cheese ?

        • Oblong_Cheese (@oblong_cheese) said on 23rd May 2014, 4:30

          Obviously not. What’s your point?

          I am saying that I think Ricciardo could have finished closer to the Mercedes team in Spain, had he a reason to do so.

          All races prior to Spain, the next-best placed car after the two Mercedes was around ~24 seconds behind, yet in Spain suddenly that margin has doubled for no apparent reason? Please.

  2. P J Squeak (@pjsqueak) said on 22nd May 2014, 0:08

    Mercedes have done well in qualifying at Monaco, even with Schumacher they managed pole. However, Lewis Hamilton has never really done that well in qualifying at Monaco, therefore, unless he really wants it, this could be Nico’s turn to sit on pole, to consequently get the best pit stop windows and to subsequently win the race. Monaco is his home town, I guess he has the same sort of boost from the crowd that Mansell used to get at Silverstone (no, not really!).

    So, for me, even as a Hamilton fan, if Nico wins (and he has won it before) then I will have that warm, smug ‘told you so’ feeling. It would be good to see Grosjean, Bottas or a McLaren driver on the podium too as their respective teams need a break. Other than that, my fingers are crossed in hope that Max can bring the car home!!!

  3. pxcmerc (@pcxmerc) said on 22nd May 2014, 1:08

    Yup, Merc will own Monaco, only Merc can c0*k it up. They were fastest last year, and they will more than likely be even faster this year. If it rains, I have to give the nod to Lewis, if it’s dry, its almost a toss up, depends on qualifying and if anyone can jump from the pits.

    • pxcmerc (@pcxmerc) said on 22nd May 2014, 1:10

      *If Lewis takes pole, it will be very difficult for Nico for the rest of the year.

    • Breno (@austus) said on 22nd May 2014, 2:07

      There’s always the chance Rosberg will end up behind, some 15 odd laps to the end will try a desperate move, take himself and Hamilton out of the race; due to Monaco being Monaco, either a SC or red flag happens and we have a sprint to the flag between more evenly matched teams.

      • Kingshark (@kingshark) said on 22nd May 2014, 3:16

        @austus

        we have a sprint to the flag between more evenly matched teams.

        Red Bull are a clear cut league above the rest.

        • pxcmerc (@pcxmerc) said on 22nd May 2014, 5:43

          I dunno, Vettel had to do a 3 stop at a track that doesn’t suite overtaking. I think Vettel is still a little bit behind the setup vs his teammate. I wouldn’t be surprised if Vettel beats Ricciardo at Monaco, but I think Red Bull are at least (probably) 0.5+ seconds behind Mercedes at Monaco. I still think Merc have more power, better efficiency and a sweeter power curve, which will making coming out of the stop and go corners a little easier for the Merc guys.

      • Hamilfan (@hamilfan) said on 22nd May 2014, 11:38

        Hmmm.. I like this …sounds fun

  4. Chris said on 22nd May 2014, 1:29

    As a Red Bull fan since Melbourne I have said that from Hungary onwards is when Mercedes might have competition. I still see them winning every race. If Hamilton wants to state how good he is. He needs to break most of the records Vettel set in 2011 & End of 2013. He needs to show how good whilst he has got the car under him. 2015 is when Red Bull & co. will be back… Sadly.

  5. Jason (@jason12) said on 22nd May 2014, 7:17

    Vettel is taking a serious beating from his teammate Dan, yet seats on the topspot in driver form. …… whatever!

    • Magnificent Geoffrey (@magnificent-geoffrey) said on 22nd May 2014, 7:25

      @Jason12 First of all, Vettel is not taking a ‘serious beating’ from Ricciardo by any means and secondly, the driver form table is in the traditional format based on the previous year’s championship results.

      • Hamilfan (@hamilfan) said on 22nd May 2014, 9:14

        I am waiting for the new chassis for Daniel . Yeah agree that its not a serious beating . Curious to see if Vettel will qualify ahead in Monaco .

    • Eric (@) said on 22nd May 2014, 7:45

      @jason12

      For someone claiming Vettel is crying over things he clearly isn’t crying about, you cry a lot over everything Vettel.

    • Broc Smith (@strifeforce) said on 22nd May 2014, 21:18

      Hard to believe that if Daniel hadn’t had the Australia podium taken away, he’d be 3rd in the WDC. He’s light years faster than i thought he would be at this stage. I like the kid’s attitude as well

  6. I read Renault has done some software tweaking which should be good to close the gap. then RBR is going to use different camera mounting? They tried to beat the rules but forgot the photo print which was given in reference had mountings outside of that nose so its only fair from my view..but yeah i dont wanna see it look ugly either.

    • Hamilfan (@hamilfan) said on 22nd May 2014, 8:58

      will be interesting to see what they do for the camera mounting . Can they make the mounting aero positive ?

      • i cant see on my laggy stream clearly but it looks like the back of camera tube is not round but much like < shape.. will be clear in latest pics though..

        Btw you cant miss those huge brake ducts on ferrari.

  7. Bullfrog (@bullfrog) said on 22nd May 2014, 8:21

    No.

  8. Oli (@dh1996) said on 22nd May 2014, 8:36

    I did bet 10 € on a Ricciardo win this weekend:

    - One Mercedes will retire due to a technical failure
    - The other one gets so bored that he makes a mistake
    - Red Bull are far behind Mercedes but also very far ahead of the rest of the field
    - Vettel is nowhere near Ricciardo

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