Thursday, 22 May 2008

Monaco Grand Prix: Preview

After the thrills and spills of Istanbul, the glamorous centre-piece of the Formula 1 season is upon us - the 66th running of the Grand Prix de Monaco. With the ban on traction control for 2008, the bumpy street circuit in Monte Carlo has been the most eagerly anticipated race of the year. The track will once again be Formula One's greatest challenge for a driver, with no nannying electronics to bail them out of trouble, and the armco barriers that line the course being as punishing as ever. This will be especially true if the rain showers that are predicted for Saturday and Sunday materialise!

The Monaco circuit couldn't be a greater contrast to the circuit in Istanbul last time out. The perfectly manicured track, with its wide and super-fast sweeping corners and enormous run-off areas are being swapped for the dirty, bumpy, oily and painfully tight and twisty streets of the Principality. This is one of the few races of the season where traction and suspension compliance play as big a role as engine power and aerodynamic grip, if not more. Make a mistake in the fast corners at Istanbul and you have yards and yards of run-off tarmac to bail you out. Make a mistake in Monaco and you will be greeted with the armco barriers.

As such, it has been predicted that the McLaren cars will be the most suited to this track. Whilst the Ferraris appear to have the advantage on the 'normal' race tracks, the McLaren is deemed to be the best car on the grid at riding the kerbs and bumps. Of course, this is all just guess work from the pundits and Ferrari will undoubtedly still be strong. Plus this is one of the few tracks where driver skill will really make a significant difference, so having the best car may not count for everything come race-day.

Fernando has been the guy on form here in recent years, winning the last two Grand Prix consecutively. However, he will be in an inferior Renault car this year around and he will struggle to make it a hat-trick. One feels his best chance will be if rain falls. Lewis Hamilton was second here last time out, and has professed that this is his all time favourite circuit. He always excelled here in his Formula 3 and GP2 days, and drove pretty well here last year. If McLaren do indeed have the best package then Hamilton will surely be the man to beat.

Kimi Raikkonen is a past winner here, back in 2005 in a McLaren. He will have a great chance of doubling his Monaco tally here, although Ferrari seem to have had a strange hoodoo at this circuit in recent years. Despite being a dominant force in F1 for years they haven't taken the chequered flag here since Michael Schumacher in 2001. Felipe Massa will have a job on his hands to repeat his Turkey success here as he is one of the drivers who is struggling the most with the loss of traction control. He may struggle even more if it rains. Still, he may yet upset the form books.

The other two former winners in the field this year are Jarno Trulli and two-time winner and Monaco resident David Coulthard. However, neither driver will be expected to challenge for podiums here. Both drivers will be hoping to get themselves into the points for Toyota and Red Bull respectively, although the battle in the midfield will be as fierce as ever.

If the rain does fall as some have predicted, then we could have a real spectacle on our hands. The last wet race in Monaco was in 1996 and only FOUR cars made it over the line, with Olivier Panis scoring one of the biggest shock victories in F1 history in Ligier-Mugen-Honda. Another notable wet Monaco race was in 1984 when the race was abandoned after 31 laps with just 9 cars still running, and the numbers falling rapidly. That race was of course most fondly remembered as the day that youngsters Ayrton Senna and Stefan Bellof stunned the F1 world with their pace and their bravery in the wet. Sadly neither man is still with us, god rest their souls...

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