• Monaco Grand Prix preview

The crown jewel

Chris Medland May 24, 2012
The run down to turn one is just 212 metres © Sutton Images
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This season may not have been one for the purists so far due to its unpredictable nature, but there's one race which tends to throw up a surprise more often than most; the Monaco Grand Prix. The most glamorous and famous grand prix on the calendar, for five days Formula One takes over the principality to blast around the streets and cause the buildings to reverberate to the sound of V8s. Following Pastor Maldonado's victory in Spain, what would constitute a surprise this weekend? In fact, we almost find ourselves expecting a sixth different winner in six races.

On Form

There's only really one man of the moment, and it's Pastor Maldonado. His maiden grand prix victory last time out in Barcelona was both highly impressive and a huge surprise, but it showed - as he'd rightly predicted - that the car is genuinely quick as long as it qualifies high enough to display its pace. Proof it wasn't a one-off could come this weekend because Monaco is likely to suit the Williams due to the FW34's good traction out of slow speed corners. Add in the fact that Maldonado is a Monte Carlo specialist (running sixth last year before Lewis Hamilton punted him off, not to mention his three victories in junior categories) and he's riding a wave of confidence right now.

Out of form

There were a number of drivers caught out in qualifying in Spain, but it was Mark Webber who really failed to recover in the race. Having started in 11th place that's where he finished, breaking a run of four consecutive fourth-placed finishes. It's true that his result was hurt by a front wing problem, but for much of the final stint he was sat behind Nico Hulkenberg's slower Force India but unable to force his way through into the final points-paying position. He needs a return to form at the circuit he won at so impressively in 2010.

Kamui Kobayashi was fifth in Monaco last year and also fifth in Barcelona two weeks ago © Sutton Images
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One to watch

He may blow hot and cold, but the signs are there that Kamui Kobayashi will be blowing hot this weekend. Having said the Sauber was definitely improved ahead of the last race, he proceeded to make it into Q3 and then climb through the field up to fifth in the race - overtaking Jenson Button and Nico Rosberg forcefully on the way. In finishing fifth last year he's shown that he can be quick around Monaco, with his awesome car control enabling him to get as close to the barriers as anyone.

Talking points

Williams fire
Maldonado's victory was the first for Williams since 2004, but the celebrations in the Barcelona pit lane were short lived as a fire broke out in the team's garage. The quick response from the rest of the paddock helped prevent a major disaster, but one Williams team member continues to be treated for burns to the legs. With the paddock reconvening in an even more confined space this weekend, expect questions to be asked as to how the fire started and what can be done to prevent it happening again.

Safety
Last year we saw two incidents that left drivers having to be extracted from their cars. While Vitaly Petrov was uninjured in his crash, Sergio Perez was left concussed after a heavy shunt in qualifying and missed the race. Rosberg almost had as bad an accident as Perez as he lost control of his car under braking exiting the tunnel and narrowly missed the barrier the Sauber hit. In response, that section of track has been re-surfaced and the barrier moved back further, but as Michael Schumacher pointed out ahead of this weekend: "In a way, you could look at it with a big portion of irony with regards to the contradiction that, for so many years we have successfully campaigned for more track safety, and then we deliberately race in Monaco. But in my view this is justifiable once a year, especially as the circuit is really so much fun to drive."

Driver futures
With a quarter of the season done we are starting to see questions asked of drivers and teams that aren't performing. With McLaren having made a number of errors so far this season, the team is hardly making it easy for Hamilton to want to sign a new contract when his current one expires at the end of the year. He could have suitors at Red Bull and Mercedes too, where Webber and Schumacher respectively are coming to the end of deals. Felipe Massa remains under pressure, with Luca di Montezemolo saying Massa "must bring home the results we expect from him".

Tyres have been a talking point all year © Sutton Images
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Pirelli
There's just no pleasing some people. Having sat through years of tedious races which were only decided in the pit lane, Formula One was crying out for someone to give the sport a shot in the arm. Pirelli did just that last year, but even then the teams started to get on top of the tyres and races such as the Indian Grand Prix were slightly processional. Having challenged the teams yet again and delivered the most unpredictable and open season arguably in Formula One history, the teams are starting to complain that the tyres have too much of an impact. Even Martin Whitmarsh - previously a staunch supporter of Pirelli's approach - admitted on Wednesday that the races were affected by tyres "a little bit" too much.

Trivia

  • The Monaco Grand Prix was part of the inaugural world championship in 1950, but then was absent from the calendar until 1955
  • Due to the low average speed around the streets, Monaco is the only grand prix that runs to less than a grand prix distance - at 260.52km it is almost 40km shorter
  • There are seven different winners of the Monaco Grand Prix in the current field (Schumacher, Alonso, Raikkonen, Hamilton, Button, Webber and Vettel)
  • The lack of run-off areas means the race has a 70% chance of a safety car period

Fast facts

  • This is the 56th running of the Monaco Grand Prix as a championship race
  • There are just 1100m of straights available for DRS use
  • Drivers will make 4836 gear changes per race
  • Michael Schumacher holds the lap record around Monaco with a 1:14.439 set in 2004

Circuit

This track requires three things: downforce, traction and driver skill. The tight and twisty nature makes the drive out of each corner crucial, while the close proximity of the Armco barriers means it is down to the driver to use every inch of the circuit and remain fully committed when just millimetres from disaster. A car that rides the bumps well is also important; although some track resurfacing has taken the emphasis off this slightly. Overtaking is nigh on impossible but opportunities can occur in to the Nouvelle Chicane, while a dive up the inside in to Ste Devote is also possible.

FIA driver steward

Nigel Mansell will be the man alongside the race stewards, with the 1992 World Champion having fulfilled the role twice before - at the British and Belgian grands prix last season.

© ESPNF1
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Weather

The season is so unpredictable that it doesn't even need a race like Monaco to potentially mix things up, let alone rain. But rain is a big threat. Thunderstorms are forecast for the Cote d'Azur and though the teams can expect dry running on Thursday they're likely to be faced with a completely different challenge on Saturday and Sunday. Cooler temperatures will also have a big effect on the tyres this weekend.

Betting

Having shown such promising pace in Spain, Lewis Hamilton is favourite at 11/4 despite the fact he's yet to win a race this season. Fernando Alonso's encouraging second place bumps him up to second favourite at 5/1 alongside Sebastian Vettel, but Kimi Raikkonen should probably be avoided at 7/1. Williams should be strong so Bruno Senna is great odds at 80/1 for an each way bet or at least a top six at 11/2. Kobayashi is also decent at 5/2 for the top six, while Pastor Maldonado's 14/1 to be on pole is a better bet than his 11/1 odds to win.

ESPN prediction

It's five from five so far - both in terms of winners and in terms of our incorrect predictions. It's the favourite we're backing this week, as Lewis Hamilton has looked happy and relaxed so far this week. That's based on the fact that he is strong around Monaco and clearly has the car to win if McLaren can cut out the mistakes.

Chris Medland is assistant editor at ESPNF1

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Chris Medland is assistant editor at ESPNF1 Chris Medland, who in his youth even found the Pacific GPs entertaining, talked his way in to work at the British Grand Prix and was somehow retained for three years. He also worked on the BBC's F1 output prior to becoming assistant editor ahead of the 2011 season