Thursday, May 26, 2011

Monaco GP Preview

Widely considered the jewel in the F1 crown, the Monaco GP is many things to many people, the most glamorous event on the calendar and one of the most historic races, it is a unique spectacle for fans, a logistical nightmare for the teams and a first class weekend of business for the executives and big wigs of the F1 world.

One thing it rarely provides is compelling racing, the twisty narrow Monaco circuit is a unique and unforgiving circuit where an unlucky driver can find himself following the same car for fifty-eight laps. Track position is everything as overtaking is practically impossible, and even with DRS and KERS, I'm not expecting it to be any different this year.

The one wildcard is the Pirelli tyre. The teams will be using the soft prime and the super-soft option for this weekend's meeting, and depending on who you listen to that could mean anything between a five stop strategy or an old fashioned two stopper. Lewis Hamilton is convinced that the tyre wear will be the biggest factor in the racing, and he will be encouraged by the McLaren's tyre performance in Spain. Getting the strategy right will be vital, and it will be intriguing to see how much the teams are willing to risk in qualifying in order to get a good grid slot. The unforgiving natural of the Monaco barriers will also put safety cars in the forefront of the strategists minds.

The form book is interesting. Vettel has shown flashes of his talent, but never won in Monaco. Last year he missed the front row of the grid while his teammate Mark Webber won the race from pole position. Webber is a strong contender in Monte Carlo, with a string of strong finishes including last year's victory, and he will want to prove he's not done for yet after his disappointing performance in Spain. Hamilton likes to talk up Monaco as a track where the driver (ie himself) can make a different over car performance, although in reality Hamilton's Monaco form is mixed. He impressed everyone with a second in his debut season, and won it the following year on his way to the championship, but for the last two years he has failed to make an impression. Button has a similarly mixed history round the street circuit with a solitary victory, and was also involved in a huge accident during his Honda days. Outside the top four there is still a threat from two-time Monaco victor Fernando Alonso and there's also the second winningest driver in the history of the Monaco GP, Michael Schumacher. It's is a real shame we will be missing Robert Kubica for this year's race, as he too is a driver capable of shaking up the order round the tight streets of Monte Carlo.

McLaren should be strong again this weekend; Monaco's lack of high speed corners should bring them closer still to the Red Bulls and Hamilton's bullishness will make him a contender. Hamilton is targeting this race and Canada to turn around Sebastien Vettel's early season dominance, and you feel it is fast becoming now or never for Vettel's rivals. Of course the Red Bull will still be seriously fast. The only real chink in the armor is it's flat speed, but that is something that will not come into play until the Canadian Grand Prix.

First: Sebastien Vettel
Second: Lewis Hamilton
Third: Mark Webber

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