It might be heralded as the marquee event of the Formula 1 calendar, but this year’s Monaco GP has a lot to live up to. And with difficult weather stunting the progress of Thursday’s practice sessions, the Cote d’Azur may struggle to put on a show quite as spectacular as those we’ve seen of late.
Last time out in Barcelona, the Formula 1 world was treated to not one, but two of the most sensational experiences of the still-young 2012 season when Pastor Maldonado delivered the drive of his career to give Williams their first win since 2004, before the team’s garage went up in flames following the race, briefly sending the pitlane into panic mode as mechanics from several teams sprinted into action to assist Williams in their fire-fighting efforts (one Williams mechanic remains in hospital with burns).
Ahead of Sunday’s street showdown, then, here are five big talking points surrounding F1 this weekend …
1) Will a sixth different driver take victory in the sixth race of the season?
It’s entirely possible that we could see history made this weekend – there has never been a Formula 1 season in which the first six races were won by different pilots, and and yet with the likes of Mark Webber, Lewis Hamilton, Michael Schumacher and the Lotus pair yet to break their 2012 duck, that record could very well be re-written by 3pm Sunday.
Of those five, the Lotuses of Kimi Raikkonen and Romain Grosjean seem the most likely to achieve the dream (meaning, of course, we’d also see a sixth different constructor pick up a winner’s trophy). McLaren’s Jenson Button has backed the Enstone-based team, attending its 500th race this weekend as the descendant of Toleman, Benetton and Renault, to dominate in Monaco and the team’s improvement in recent races has been staggering.
Raikkonen, whose running yesterday was restricted by problems with his car’s steering, told Autosport.com he believes the team is well-placed for a similar result to their success in Spain. “I didn’t get many laps in the dry but if you compare what Romain did, it seems to look pretty good,” enthused the Finn. “We are probably in a similar position compared to the others as we are at other circuits.”
2) Who can best handle the wet weather should it rain on Sunday?
Not Williams, that’s for sure.
The Barcelona victors were one of the few teams to actually run in the greasy conditions of Thursday’s second practice but didn’t get much benefit out of it. Maldonado and Bruno Senna made three mistakes between them, and two at Mirabeau corner alone, suggesting a lack of a wet set-up.
That said, at least they were out there – besides the Marussias, not many cars even ventured out during the showers, and the few who did were setting times a staggering 20-25 seconds slower than comparable dry laps. If those indicators are anything to go by, a wet race could be a somewhat slow affair – although there have been enthralling wet Monaco GPs in recent memory.
3) Can Schumacher or Ferrari lay their Monaco demons to rest?
Neither Formula 1′s most glamorous team, nor its most successful ever driver, have tasted champagne on the steps of the Royal Palace since 2001, the year of the German’s second title behind the wheel of the Prancing Horse. With Fernando Alonso looking competitive in first practise Thursday, there is the potential for a Ferrari challenge, but it should be pointed out that qualifying will be crucial for this race, as usual, and Alonso hasn’t fared too well in that other than his second on the grid at Barcelona a fortnight ago.
Schumacher, meanwhile, continues to struggle. The veteran was once again out-paced by Nico Rosberg in both sessions on Thursday while a third retirement of the season in Spain leaves the seven-time champ with two points from the first 125 available. Then Ross Brawn made these comments in a BBC article posted Friday evening:
“We – and that includes Michael – have not done a good enough job collectively in the first five races,” Brawn said. “We look at things collectively, that’s the situation with Michael. It’s not the driver or team has made a mistake.”
Pressure, indeed. If there’s anyone who can handle that, it’s Schumacher.
4) How can Monaco be improved for overtaking in the same way circuits like Catalunya have been?
We’ve already seen two of the tracks considered the most boring on the F1 schedule, and the new combinations of tyres, KERS and DRS produced some exciting racing at Barcelona and Sakhir. But these are still wide-open tracks, with three-lane corner entries, heavy braking zones and straights long enough for slipstreaming and DRS to be effective. Monaco has none of that.
The only traditional passing places around this circuit are at Ste Devote, the Nnouvelle Chicane (which, ironically, ruined overtaking at Tabac) and La Rascasse. Even with DRS available, the FIA struggles to know where to put it – the longest ‘straight’, from Ste Devote up the hill to Massenet, is actually a slalom which F1 cars have enough grip to take flat-out.
This is my only bugbear with Monaco. It is a fascinating race to watch. Watch these guys flick the car left and right through the Swimming Pool, hammer up that straight or emerge out of the tunnel into the blinding sunshine – iconic F1 images. If only the track layout wasn’t as historic as this event’s reputation, it would have everything.
5) Three drivers (apart from Felipe Massa) who need to beat their teammates this weekend
Bruno Senna: More than anyone else this weekend, Senna needs a break. And not the kind he got from Schumacher last weekend, either. While his Colombian teammate stormed to victory in Barcelona, Senna was left to rue a mis-judged qualifying lap which saw him start 17th and never climb higher than 7th. Now that Williams have proved they can get results, Senna – who’s car was severely damaged by the fire after the Spanish GP, to make matters worse – needs to start delivering some.
Daniel Ricciardo: I’ll assume you don’t look at the Toro Rosso results very often, so here’s the breakdown: after out-placing Jean-Eric Vergne by one spot in Australia, Ricciarco has been beaten by his rookie teammate four times in a row, and has finished right behind the Frenchman the last three races. That trend needs to be reversed before – as it has done with Massa and appears to be doing to Senna - his form starts eating into Ricciardo’s confidence.
Jenson Button: OK, so basically I set the rule that no-one can appear in this section twice in a row, otherwise Schumi would’ve been down here. Button’s efforts in Barcelona were far from bad, but he was beaten by Hamilton despite starting a whopping 14 places ahead of his teammate. That’s a result which needs erasing from the Frome Flyer’s memory, pronto.
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