After 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
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.
While 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.
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.
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.
After 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 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.”
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 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.
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.
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.”
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.
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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Images © Daimler/Hoch Zwei, Red Bull/Getty, Lotus/LAT, Sauber