The jewel in the crown, the highlight of the calendar, the race everyone wants to win; these are just some of the descriptions of the Monaco Grand Prix. Never is Formula One's glamour and extravagance more apparent than at Monaco, even if the race...
The jewel in the crown, the highlight of the calendar, the race everyone wants to win; these are just some of the descriptions of the Monaco Grand Prix. Never is Formula One's glamour and extravagance more apparent than at Monaco, even if the race is usually quite processional as overtaking is almost impossible on Monte Carlo's streets. But it's the cachet and the atmosphere that make Monaco so special.
The money, the beautiful women, the flashy cars -- both on and off track -- and the wheeling and dealing, where else could be more suited to the F1 circus? But behind the chink and rattle of jewellery, champagne glasses and casino chips, on track it's still another race weekend with all the hard work that entails.
Many teams were testing on Paul Ricard's new 2D sc short layout configuration last week, which is the closest they could get to simulating the street circuit, where no testing is allowed. Front end grip is important for the tight corners, along with good traction, maximum downforce and a high ride height to cope with the uneven surface.
"It's difficult to prepare for Monaco because there is no other circuit like it, so we use the data gathered from previous races there," said Toyota chief race engineer Dieter Gass. "We put in some work at Paul Ricard last week to test very slow corners and to work on the maximum steering lock of the car for the Loews hairpin, the tightest corner on the calendar."
Last week it came to light that Toyota had apparently been racing without a valid superlicence due to not having the right permits from the German authorities. It was an administrative error and the FIA issued the team with a new superlicence after Imola. Despite speculation that Toyota may face some sanction over the matter, it seems the FIA has accepted that it was merely a mistake.
Monaco is one of the slowest races of the season and for the drivers it's one of the most challenging. It's bumpy -- "an interesting track surface with gutters and manhole covers" is how McLaren's Juan Pablo Montoya described it -- and the barriers lie in wait for anyone who has the slightest lapse of concentration.
"Mentally, it's a tough track to race on because the margin for error is so small and, with all that armco waiting to suck you in at the slightest mistake, there's no such thing as a small accident in Monaco," said Williams' Mark Webber. "I think it's also the race that every driver wants to win as it's known as a real driver's track."
Being a slow race doesn't necessarily mean it's easy on the engines: "The circuit is very tight, and extremely bumpy: this means over-revving is very common, and performance is required from unusually low engine speeds -- the cars are running at just 45 kph through the Grand hairpin," said Fabrice Lom, Fernando Alonso's race engineer. "This means the engine must be as driveable as possible to be quick round Monaco."
Much is being made of the possibility of a fight for this year's title between young guns Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen. It would be an interesting battle for sure, but at the moment there's another driver splitting the two in the championship standings. Toyota's Jarno Trulli has been on the podium three times in 2005 and is aiming for more.
Trulli won last year's Monaco GP, then with Renault. "Monaco is a place where the driver probably makes more of a difference than anywhere else, but the handling of the car is still important and so are the tyres," he commented. "We'll be giving everything to keep up our run of good results."
Barcelona winner Raikkonen is keen to show McLaren's competitiveness: "It is great to arrive in Monaco on the back of the positive result for the team in Spain," said the Finn. "Hopefully we will be able to carry the performance through, as Monaco is a race that everyone really wants to win, however it is a completely different challenge."
Alonso, as if we need reminding, is leading the drivers' standings, as Renault is the constructors'. The Spaniard and the team have their best shot yet at winning the title this year but it's not going to be easy. Raikkonen was unmatchable at Barcelona but Alonso believes it will be closer this weekend.
"I don't think the race gave a representative picture of the difference between our cars, because Kimi was able to pull away too easily in the first stint as I was struggling with the car," he said about the Spanish GP. "I think we will be much more equal in Monaco, and am feeling very confident."
Ferrari's trials and tribulations have been well documented but Michael Schumacher is hardly about to give up. "We may be going through somewhat of a weak phase right now, but that's the way it is in sports: there are always ups and downs," he remarked. "Giving up is not an option, but giving up before you try is completely out of the question."
Red Bull has managed to score at least a point in all the races so far this year, although the last three have been a struggle. David Coulthard is a previous Monaco winner: "I've won Monaco twice and I drove one of the best laps of my life to take pole there too," said the Scot. "I'll be happy if we can come home in the points again and I see no reason why we shouldn't be able to."
Sauber was unlucky in Spain, a water leak leaving Jacques Villeneuve to retire and a puncture left Felipe Massa outside the points. Perhaps Monaco will provide the team with some more points that it desperately needs. "It's one of those places where you can often score provided you get to the end, even if you are not fast," said Massa.
Qualifying and a good start are very important at Monaco, two things which would perhaps seem to favour Alonso. But the situation at the front of the grid is wide open and it's getting harder and harder each race to have a guess at predicting who might win. If you want to take a bet on it, Monte Carlo is the place to do it.
A quick reminder: Monaco's schedule means that the first day of practice sessions are run on Thursday, while Friday is free of track activity. Action resumes on Saturday morning with practices as usual.