While Formula One is not immune to the global financial cataclysm that unfolded in 2008, it’s fair to say the sport has weathered the storm pretty well. The Monaco Grand Prix is the perfect example of this decadence, a throw-back to the days when film stars and high society graced the likes of Graham Hill, Jackie Stewart and Jim Clark with their presence in the principality that has so much to offer those with deep pockets. Nowadays, the drivers themselves are the draw as spectators and casual onlookers alike clamour to see which of these 22 elite superhumans will prove the worthiest at tackling the tortuous, punishing 2 mile ribbon of tarmac threading its way through the streets of the ‘millionaires playground’.
Fernando Alonso, Mark Webber, Jenson Button, Sebastian Vettel, Kimi Raikkonen, Lewis Hamilton…all have tasted victory here throughout their careers, and since 2010 Monaco has been decidedly dominated by the Adrian Newey-penned Red Bull. Crushing victories in 2010 and 2012 for Webber, bookending a lucky escape from Alonso and Button for Vettel in 2011 makes the Milton Keynes-based team the hot tips for a repeat performance this season.
“You can’t even make the smallest mistake.” warns Vettel.
“If you do, you’re lucky if it’s just that your lap time is bad. If you’re not paying attention, you’ll end up in the barrier.”
While Red Bull have sewn up the victories quite easily in recent years, qualifying has often proved to be the deciding factor in the outcome of the Grand Prix. Not since 2008 has the winner come from anywhere other than the front row (Lewis Hamilton for McLaren in a rain-affected Grand Prix) and, on Mercedes recent qualifying form, you would be daft to place your money anywhere else this weekend. Nico Rosberg has comfortably had the edge on the Briton in outright pace so far this season, most notably in Bahrain and Spain, but the 2008 World Champion has yet to fully integrate himself within his new team and show his full potential.
“Perhaps more than at many other tracks, qualifying and getting the best possible track position is crucial in Monaco, but we have to keep our focus on Sunday as well and keep working to improve our race pace.” said an earnest Hamilton on the eve of Thursday Practice.
“Everyone is working really hard and I know we can get there. We just need to keep motivated and work it out together.”
The duo were thwarted in their efforts to convert a 1-2 in qualifying into a strong race result by the inability of the Mercedes F1W04 to keep its delicate Pirelli tyres from degrading too quickly. While overtaking is not as easy in Monaco, it will be a real concern to all at the Anglo-German team to see whether their cars will make the distance unhindered.
While Mercedes went backwards in Spain, it was Ferrari and Fernando Alonso who went forwards in magnificent style. From 5th and 9th on the grid the Scuderia salvaged a significant double podium finish, and Alonso’s victory was possibly the best-judged run to the flag for any winner so far this season. Nevertheless, Ferrari insisted in the wake of that impressive race that they were not yet the fastest team in Formula One, and Alonso refused to agree his win marked a turning point for the Maranello team. Monaco has not been a happy hunting ground for the Italian outfit over the past decade; they haven’t tasted glory here since Michael Schumacher’s 2001 performance.
McLaren have managed three wins in that intervening period (David Coulthard, Kimi Raikkonen and Lewis Hamilton delivering the goods in 2002, 2005 and 2008 respectively), but stand virtually no chance of adding to that tally this time around; the MP4/28 failed to meet its upgrade expectations in Catalunya and Jenson Button’s 5th place in china remains their best result of the season.
“We’re not yet where we want to be in terms of competitiveness, but I’m confident that we can make another small step forward in Monaco.” grinned an ever-smiling Jenson Button.
“We’ll continue to chip away at the performance of the MP4-28 until it’s capable of challenging at the front; there’s no other agenda for a winning team like McLaren. The aim for Monaco is to get both cars home in the points, as we did in Barcelona.”
“Our aim is to continue improving the performance of the MP4-28 in Monaco.” says Martin Whitmarsh.
“The tight and twisty nature of the circuit makes its requirements fairly exceptional, but every kilometre that we complete with the car provides us with useful data because we have a very busy development programme.”
Kimi Raikkonen’s 2nd place in Barcelona hauled him to within 4 points of Sebastian Vettel’s Championship lead, and the Finn expects even greater feats this weekend having claimed he was ‘disappointed’ at not winning the Spanish race:
“We’ll have to see how the tyres perform and if there are any good strategies to be made, but the most important thing is to qualify well. It’s difficult to know how good the car will be in Monaco as you can’t simulate its characteristics; certainly not at any of the circuits we’ve visited so far this year anyway. We can say the E21’s been fast everywhere else so let’s hope it’s also fast there.”