As cliches go, calling Monaco the ‘jewel in the Formula One crown’ has two failings: it is overused, and it is understated. The glitz and glamour that surrounds the entire weekend in the principality merely acts as a distraction for the drivers, forcing them to maintain focus if they are to stay out of the barriers. The smallest mistake can prove costly, yet unlike the billionaires gracing Casino Square, they will not be banking on luck: Monaco is the ultimate test of talent as a Formula One driver.
Seven drivers will head to Monaco this weekend having previously won at the track, but there are only three serious contenders for the title in 2013, it would appear. Sebastian Vettel, Kimi Raikkonen and Fernando Alonso appear to have that extra cutting edge this season, yet luck has already played a part in the opening five races, particularly for Alonso. In Malaysia, a first lap incident saw him damage his front wing, with Ferrari opting not to pit him, and he subsequently retired; Bahrain saw his DRS become jammed open twice. Both of these events will be looked back on should Ferrari miss out on either title, but this has been juxtaposed by some fine performances in China and Spain. With qualifying being the team’s achilles heel, a repeat in Monaco may prove difficult, but finishing next-best behind the two Mercedes drivers may be just as good for Alonso and Massa. Red Bull’s record in Monaco will please Vettel (undefeated since 2009) although Mark Webber will be keen on taking his third win, which would certainly answer many of his critics. The race pace advantage appears to lie with Ferrari and Red Bull currently, and both will be gunning for the win this weekend barring any drama – a condition that is rarely met in Monaco.
Mercedes will enter the weekend under a dark cloud, having thrown away three victories in a row from pole position. It is an assumption that the front row will be a smear of silver on Sunday and that the podium will not be. However, Monaco’s lack of overtaking opportunities may present a chance for the team to finally break its duck and silence the nay-sayers. Much of the team’s chances hinge on running P1 and P2 heading up the hill, and then allowing the first placed driver to pull away. It is worth remembering that Rosberg did lead after the first round of stops in Spain, and staying ahead in Monaco may prove to be less of a challenge. However, the dramatic drop-off from his tyres would be just as fatal around the tight and twisty streets. It is hard to predict just how the team will do until we begin to understand its long run pace and whether the rear-tyre problems have been resolved. If they are under a dark cloud, then Lotus are in Pirelli’s land of milk and honey; the E21 is not on par with the RB9 or F138 on race pace, but its tyre management surpasses the entire grid. Again, good qualifying will be key, and both Raikkonen and Grosjean will look to hang onto the coattails of the leaders, and then let their strategy do the talking. As Vettel proved last season, it often pays off to take a gamble in Monaco.
McLaren’s imperious record in Monaco is unlikely to be extended on Sunday, but they will be encouraged by their current upward trend. By all means, finishing 8th and 9th in Spain is not a great result, yet they ran smoothly, and Perez’s early tenacity was good to see. The Monaco Grand Prix is usually a race of attrition, which would undoubtedly play into McLaren’s hands, but the target will still be a double-points score. Closest rivals Force India (now who would have predicted that?) will be hoping for something similar following Adrian Sutil’s recent bad luck, with getting two cars into Q3 being a good foundation. Such a result may no longer be out of Sauber’s reach after Esteban Gutierrez’s great performance at the Circuit de Catalunya, and Nico Hulkenberg is in need of some fortune if he is to build upon his paltry haul of five points in 2013 so far. The team is certainly struggling and under pressure, yet Monaco is a track where they usually excel and a few incidents could play into their hands on Sunday; Kamui Kobayashi’s flying show will not be on their agenda, however.
Further back, it appears to be business as usual for Williams, Caterham and Marussia. Claire Williams has admitted that the FW35 is not up to scratch, believing that Valtteri Bottas could be a future champion in the right car, and some of his performances have certainly suggested he has a bright future. However, the team’s good Monaco record is unlikely to continue this weekend barring a crazy race. Caterham and Marussia will look at this race as their best chance to score any points; again though, it would require a great number of retirements for such an event to occur. A double-finish is about all either team can hope for, and the rest? That’s down to luck.
Monaco usually presents one of the most unpredictable races of the season, yet we go into it confident of who will claim pole position. What follows is a mystery though, and it could come down to a fortunate spin of the roulette wheel come the chequered flag. Multi 21 may even come in handy at the blackjack table…
Images courtesy of Octane Photographic.