There are 17 Grands Prix on the calendar and they all count for the same amount of points, but one race stands above all the others in terms of pure spectacle, glamour and prestige: the Monaco Grand Prix.
Last year's Monaco Grand Prix was a particularly memorable one for the Force India Formula One Team. While Giancarlo Fisichella celebrated his 200th race start in Formula One, Adrian Sutil raced from the back of the grid to fourth position in the closing stages of the Grand Prix. A canny strategy and a faultless drive from Adrian so nearly yielded Force India's first points, until it came to a dramatic conclusion just four laps from the end when Kimi Raikkonen rear-ended the VJM01 coming out of the tunnel.
Although a similar race performance will be difficult to replicate this year, the team goes to Monaco with hopes of continuing its strong finishing record and take advantage of any opportunities that come its way.
Dr Vijay Mallya, chairman and team principal
Throughout the last three races, Force India has sustained a programme of development. Could you sum up the progress made so far and what you have coming for Monaco?
I would say that, for a small team, our rate of development so far has been remarkable. We introduced the new floor and shadow diffuser in Bahrain, plus some major upgrades to the front wing, a further step in Spain and now in Monaco we will have some further changes to the aero package. As Monaco is such a high downforce circuit we'll run a modified front and rear wing, although how much we can introduce is obviously limited by the regulations. I have been very pleased we have been able to get so many major upgrades through so early in the season; that is just one advantage to being a smaller team - we can be more dynamic and adapt to regulations more quickly.
The new parts certainly made the team closer to the field, but didn't necessarily give an improvement in results. What are your thoughts on this?
Clearly we have some work to do in qualifying, but I would beg to differ about the lack of improvement in the race. Giancarlo set the 8th quickest time during the race in Spain, and was competitively racing with BMW, Renault and Williams. We might not yet be in a points' scoring position but I am happy with the rate of progress we are making. We've always said top ten for the first part of the year and then points if and when possible. This race I think, with the improvements we have and the confidence of our drivers around this circuit, we could very well get into Q2 - that should be the aim for now.
What does Monaco mean for you as a team owner?
I think glamour and sport go hand in hand and it's no more obvious than in Monaco. We still intend to put on a good show in Monaco, both from a sporting and commercial aspect. Monaco is a race that is so famous world-wide that almost everybody knows it and wants to come to it, so it is not only important from a team point of view, but from a sponsors' point of view as well. We will be hosting two parties again, as brand awareness is even more important in these days of economic downturn. The days of unlimited budgets are of course gone, and clearly one has to watch that the end justifies the means, but we still believe that these events give 'bang for buck' and are an integral part of why we are involved in F1 as a project.
Adrian Sutil (car 20, VJM02/01)
You have become known as a Monaco specialist. How do you feel about this year's race?
It's always nice to go back there, because it's one of my favourite circuits, I like the atmosphere and the whole weekend. It's very special, and it's a nice circuit with good memories for me. Two years ago I was quickest in wet practice and we went even better last year, again in very tricky conditions with rain and a drying circuit. I've had two good years in a row, and hopefully I'll have maybe another one now. But it's always up to the conditions to a certain extent.
How did you feel last year when you started moving up the order and your strategy began to work out?
For sure it was very nice. Every lap I passed the pit I saw one position on my pit board and I thought it's going well. When I was up in the points I thought 'Wow, this is my race!'. When I was in fourth position I was doing fastest laps at that stage in the race, and it was unbelievable. Everything came together, we were on a really good strategy, and it was perfect. When it dried it was the right time to change onto slick tyres. Everything was 100%. Then there was the shock for me and all the team. It was like a dream, or a nightmare actually. You think you're going to wake up, and nothing's happened. It sounds dramatic, but that's how it really was. Still I think it was a very great weekend. I made the most of it, and I was very proud.
What's so special about Monaco for you, why do you feel so at home there?
I just like the circuit layout and since F3 times I've been fast there. It's very narrow, you have to risk quite a lot to be fast, and you have to go very close to the wall all the time. And you have to know the circuit, the different cambers and the tricky areas where you have to be really precise. You can go there and make an impression with a slower car as the driver can have more input, so your motivation is right up. Maybe that's why everything comes together!
This year you've got the most competitive car that you've ever had. Do you really feel that you can get further up the grid? Potentially yes. I think the field will again be very close together, so every hundredth counts. It could be similar to Bahrain, where we just needed a few hundredths to go into Q2, and I hope to find that on my flying lap in qualifying. I think this is going to be one of our best opportunities to get into Q2.
Would another wet weekend help you?
It always helps us. It's risky, anything can happen. You can have aquaplaning and end up in the wall, like in Shanghai, but it's clear that on average we're in the top 10 in the wet races, so it's much easier for us to score points. That's why I'm always looking forward to a few drops of rain in any race.
Giancarlo Fisichella (car 21, VJM02/04)
The last race in Spain seemed quite encouraging. What is your perspective on it now, 10 days on?
Spain was quite a good race for us. On my first stint, after I changed to the softer tyre, I could fight with Nakajima, Kubica and Piquet and then in the last part of the race I was lapping quicker than anyone else. Overall the car felt good, the pace was quite encouraging and I think we can be pretty pleased with how it went. The front adjustable wing seems to make things easier and with the modifications coming through now I think it looks OK for the second part of the year. If we can qualify better than we have been doing so far, we could get some better results.
Giancarlo, is Monaco an event you look forward to?
Yes, definitely. For me, Monaco is the best track in the world, one of my favourites, as the twisty track itself is phenomenal, the fans are so close to the cars so you get a real atmosphere, and the surroundings are so beautiful. It's certainly the best place for a celebration - I have to hope that we can celebrate a good result on Sunday too! It has given me some good results and good memories as well. Last year I celebrated my 200th race start, I've been on the podium twice in 1998 and 2000 and 2007 was particularly good as I came home 4th when no one was expecting it.
What do you think is possible this year?
Realistically this year points are going to be difficult particularly if it's dry and overtaking is even more difficult. But getting a good result is my target. We have an upgraded aero package that will for sure help us, but the whole race is a lottery so you've got to be lucky too.
Force India Monaco GP points of note:
Giancarlo Fisichella has contested every Monaco Grand Prix since 1996. The Italian has finished on the podium twice, in 1998 with Jordan (2nd) and 2000 with Benetton (3rd). He has also picked up two 5th places (1999 - Benetton, 2002 - Jordan) and was 4th in 2007 with Renault.
Adrian is the current F3 lap record holder in Monaco, which he set in 2005 during the European F3 event when he was team-mate to Lewis Hamilton. Adrian is one of only two drivers to improve his laptime in first qualifying when compared to 2008 at every circuit so far this year. Nakajima is the other driver to do so.
Dr Vijay Mallya's yacht, the 95 metre Indian Empress, will be moored yet again in Monaco's main harbour. The boat is one of the top 10 largest privately owned yachts in the world. Giancarlo Fisichella also has a boat moored in Monaco, the Fizzy.
Monaco requires a significantly different logistics plan to other races due to the layout of the pits and paddock. The motorhome is set up in the paddock on the quayside, with one spares truck next door. As the small size of the paddock prevents more trucks coming in, the remaining four trucks are stored off site, meaning all technicians and equipment are housed in a room above the tiny Monaco garage next to the main 'straight'.
Tonio Liuzzi and Adrian will be participating in the Amber Fashion show on Friday night, the second consecutive year they have modelled unique clothing ranges from various fashion designers.
-credit: force india