Five things to look out for at the Monaco Grand Prix

The Monaco Grand Prix is one of the oldest and most recognisable races on the F1 calendar. There is, perhaps, no other race that sums up what Formula 1 is about quite as neatly as the high-speed chess game, surrounded by a mixture of opulence and cold, unyielding barriers that unfolds on the streets of the Principality every year. While the race can become rather processional in dry weather, the threat of rain or the emergence of the safety car mean that there is often no shortage of drama in Monaco. As such, there are a few key things to look out for heading into this weekend’s race…

Can Hamilton turn the tide?

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The double-DNF suffered by the Mercedes pair in Spain did neither of their respective title bids any good. However, the result certainly suits Nico Rosberg better than it does Lewis Hamilton, since it allows the German to maintain his 43-point advantage over his rival, but with one fewer race to worry about.

The points gap, in itself, should not yet worry Hamilton, as there are still 16 races and 400 points available. However, with regards to Monaco, the world champion faces a stern challenge from his teammate. Rosberg has won each of the last three races around the Principality and started on pole in 2013 and 2014. While it may be argued that he was fortunate to triumph last year after a strategic error by the Mercedes pitwall caused Hamilton to lose the lead, there can be no denying that Rosberg has a good relationship with the circuit.

In short, the German is good around the tight and twisty streets of Monte Carlo. If Hamilton is to get his title bid back on track, he will have to be a little better.

Red Bull are chomping at the bit

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Morale is high at Red Bull after Max Verstappen delivered the Austrian squad’s first win since 2014 last time out in Spain. Although the overall package of the RB12 chassis plus its engine is not yet able to challenge Mercedes on raw pace, Monaco has traditionally been a strong circuit for Red Bull, and this weekend should be no different.

The slow, tight nature of the circuit prioritizes downforce and good traction out of the corners above raw engine power, and in these areas Red Bull are certainly in a strong position. Max Verstappen has made clear that he is aiming to finish on the podium in Monte Carlo, and Daniel Ricciardo is undoubtedly eager to bounce back after a strategic error eliminated his chance of winning in Spain.

As such, the F1 community can look forward to two hard-charging Red Bull drivers in a well-designed car giving it everything they have while trying to keep out of the barriers.

Can Ferrari overturn their barren Monaco run?

Sebastian Vettel

Ferrari have not won the Monaco Grand Prix since 2001, when Michael Schumacher was first to cross the finish line. That statistic is surprising in light of the fact that after 2001 there would be several more years of dominance with Schumacher at the wheel, and a whole truck-load of victories on various circuits along the way.

Monaco, however, has simply not been a happy hunting ground for the Scuderia for the past 15 years. The pressure continues to build at the Italian squad. While the double podium finish produced by Kimi Räikkönen (P2) and Sebastian Vettel (P3) in Spain may seem excellent on paper, in practice, there is a real sense that nothing but victory will satisfy the top brass at Maranello.

The growing pressure has led to speculation that team principal Maurizio Arrivabene is facing the axe at the end of the season, with technical director James Allison slated as his replacement. This rumour has been strongly denied by Ferrari chairman and president Sergio Marchionne, but with Mercedes continuing their dominance so far in 2016, and with Red Bull starting to find their stride, all members of the Scuderia are under pressure to produce a victory sooner rather than later.

On a more positive note, if the Ferrari drivers can somehow find themselves at the head of the field, it will present a golden opportunity for them to secure a much-needed victory. Whether they are able to do so, however, remains to be seen.

Have Williams solved their downforce problems?

Valtteri Bottas

Williams’ 2016 challenger, the FW38, has been plagued by the same inherent lack of downforce suffered by its predecessor, 2015’s FW37. This trait has been advantageous to the Grove-based squad on occasion, as it has allowed them to enjoy strong straight-line speed, which aids in overtaking as well as defending against faster cars.

In Monaco, however, low downforce is unlikely to be of much use to Williams, and their strong straight-line pace is unlikely to be particularly helpful either, given that the Circuit de Monaco has no straights of any substantial length. As such, it should come as no surprise that despite their revival, which started in 2014, Williams endured a trying time of things at last year’s Monaco Grand Prix.

Both of the team’s drivers failed to progress to Q3 in 2015, with Felipe Massa starting in P14, while teammate Valtteri Bottas lined up in P17. In the race, matters didn’t improve much with Massa finishing in the same position he started in and Bottas progressing to P15.

At present, Williams find themselves in a real battle with a resurgent Red Bull unit for third place in the constructor’s standings. With the latter confident of a strong result, it would be helpful for Williams if the work they did at the post-Barcelona test last week produces some results in terms of added downforce. Otherwise, they may find themselves suffering a forgettable weekend in Monaco.

An opportunity for the smaller teams?

Esteban Gutierrez

Since the Monaco Grand Prix has a habit of turning into a procession on the odd occasion, it would be reasonable to expect that the lower half of the field have little hope of producing an upset. In reality, however, things are more complicated than that.

The race has a high chance of seeing the Safety Car deployed at some point, and this, along with the high likelihood of race-ending collisions with the barriers, may mean that one or two of the slower teams find themselves in front of their more-fancied rivals.

Unlike most other circuits, Monaco gives the advantage to the car that has track position rather than the faster car. Nowhere was this seen more clearly than in the 2014 edition of the race. The late Jules Bianchi qualified his uncompetitive Marussia in P19, but due to a variety of circumstances, found himself running in the top ten in the latter stages of the race.

Despite being hounded from behind by faster cars, the young Frenchman made no mistakes and provided no opportunity for his rivals to overtake him, eventually finishing in ninth place. In the process, he earned Marussia’s first and to date only points in Formula 1. In light of this, if circumstances go their way, the likes of Haas, Renault and Force India may find themselves with a golden opportunity to secure a finish that exceeds expectations.

Adriaan Slabbert  

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