Next stop: Monaco. The historic circuit has graced the calendar since 1950, and while overtaking is next to impossible, there’s always a special vibe at the most glamorous event on the calendar.
Rewind the clock back a year, and it’s incredible to look at how much has changed in such a short space of time. After Sebastian Vettel’s completely whitewash of the 2011 season, this year has seen a different winner at every event. Could this weekend deliver an unprecedented sixth different driver to the top step of the podium?
With that in mind, let’s take a look at the RichardsF1.com Monaco Grand Prix Preview…
|Date:||24-27 May 2012|
|Race Lap Record:||1:14.439, Michael Schumacher (Ferrari F2004) – 2004|
|Event Schedule:||Free Practice Session 1||Thu 10:00-11:30|
|Free Practice Session 2||Thu 14:00-15:00|
|Free Practice Session 3||Sat 11:00-12:00|
|Race (78 laps, 260.520km)||Sun 14:00-16:00|
|Past Winners:||Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull Racing Renault RB8)||2011|
|Mark Webber (Red Bull Racing Renault RB7)||2010|
|Jenson Button (Brawn Mercedes BGP001)||2009|
|Lewis Hamilton (McLaren Mercedes MP4-23)||2008|
|Fernando Alonso (McLaren Mercedes MP4-22)||2007|
|Fernando Alonso (Renault R26)||2006|
|Kimi Räikkönen (McLaren Mercedes MP4-20)||2005|
|Jarno Trulli (Renault R24)||2004|
|Juan Pablo Montoya (Williams BMW FW25)||2003|
|David Coulthard (McLaren Mercedes MP4-17)||2002|
This has to be the most iconic Grand Prix circuit in the world, and the Monaco Grand Prix has been a mainstay on the sporting – and social! – calendars since its inception in 1929.
Held on the tiny principality, Monaco was once described by author Clive James as “a sunny place for shady people”, and it’s certainly true that the glitterati flock to this hugely popular event. It’s a place for fresh to be pressed, deals to be struck and sponsors to be schmoozed – simply put, there is no other place like it.
The barrier-lined street circuit is impossibly narrow and its tight confines present a unique challenge to drivers, who either love it or hate it.
The track is a completely different beast. Iconic corners just roll off the tongue: Casino Square, Loews, Tabac, Swimming Pool – all are well-known turns on one of the most thrilling pieces of tarmac on the sport’s calendar.
Overtaking is next to impossible and it’s a track that rewards patience, accurate driving and plenty of luck along the way. It’s a drivers’ track: plenty of great drivers have managed to haul seemingly-impossible results from bad cars in the years gone by. And it’s also a car-breaker: there are inevitably few finishers and a car still circulating at the end of the 78-lap race is likely to be in the points.
The inaugural modern-era Monaco Grand Prix set the pattern that hasn’t changed since: ten cars were wiped out in an opening-lap pile-up caused by a freak wave washing onto the circuit!
The list of winners reads like the ultimate roll call of Formula 1: Ayrton Senna is the outright record holder with six wins, while Graham Hill and Michael Schumacher took five wins apiece.
Take a look at our Monte Carlo Track Guide:
Rewind to 2011 and other Memorable Moments
Despite concerns that the soft and super-soft Pirelli tyres could fall to pieces during the race, the teams opted for a host of different strategies in what was an enthralling Monaco Grand Prix last year.
With track position being everything, pole-sitter Sebastian Vettel opted for a single tyre stop while his main rivals visited the pits a little more frequently, which left Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button faced with the task of hunting him down and getting by him.
Hopes of a grandstand finish came a cropper when the race was red-flagged with a handful of laps to run after Vitaly Petrov crashed his Renault at the Swimming Pool, and Vettel was able to fit fresh tyres during the suspension of the race to claim an unchallenged win when the race resumed.
The main talking point coming out of the race was a shocking performance by Lewis Hamilton, who seemed intent on running into as many drivers as possible as he tried to fight his way up the order after a botched qualifying performance. He earned a penalty for a mid-race tangle with his old mate Felipe Massa, and then followed that up with another collision with Pastor Maldonado in the closing laps. His “Maybe it’s because I’m black” post-race tantrum was something to behold…
So what have been some of the highlights from the many races at Monaco? Here’s our shortlist of the best Monaco Grands Prix ever:
1955: The race’s first return to Monaco since 1950, and it was a thrilling race of 100 laps lasting close to three hours. Fangio and Moss each took turns in the lead in their dominant Mercedes-Benz entries, but both retired. When Moss retired with a blown engine, Alberto Ascari was seemingly distracted by the Englishman’s blown engine and crashed at the Harbourfront Chicane, flipping over and landing in the harbour! Fortunately he bobbed up to safety, but fate would intervene when he was killed just days later in a testing accident at Monza.
1972: Appalling weather conditions greeted the drivers for this year’s race, and it was a surprise when Jean-Pierre Beltoise took the lead at the first corner in his BRM. The impossible conditions saw several drivers clobber the barriers or slide up escape roads, and the Frenchman took his only win – BRM’s last – by half a minute from the era’s rain master, Jacky Ickx.
1984: The race where Senna first made his mark in F1, using a Monaco downpour to great effect to haul his little-fancied Toleman up the order during the race. Early race-leader Nigel Mansell crashed his Lotus and Alain Prost assumed the lead, only for Senna to reel him in. But fate would intervene before Senna could take an incredible win, when the race was red-flagged at mid-distance…
1992: Nigel Mansell had won each of the opening five rounds of the season, and it finally looked like he would break his Monaco hoodoo when he planted his Williams on pole and skipped off into a comfortable lead. But a late pit stop to correct what was believed to be a puncture unexpectedly gave Ayrton Senna the lead, and the Brazilian took a brilliant win after a thrilling dogfight with Mansell in the closing laps.
2004: A scintillating qualifying lap by Jarno Trulli saw the Renault driver start from pole at Monte Carlo, leading the field to take an emotional maiden – and so far, only – F1 victory. Behind him it was all action – Schumacher and Montoya collided behind the safety car in the tunnel, of all things! – and Trulli hung on to win from a fast-closing Jenson Button.
Monaco Talking Points
So what are three critical talking points of the race weekend before we let our expert analysts have their say?
The lack of overtaking: One might be almost inclined to overlook the track’s lack of passing opportunities simply because the setting is utterly epic. Even when the cars are in a train, there’s so little room for error that one slip could change the game completely. The Safety Car will almost certainly make its first appearance of the season – it was used four times here last year – and drivers will need to manage these interruptions. KERS and DRS didn’t play major roles here last year, but the difference in tyre performance certainly saw some frustrated drivers bottled up behind slower cars. Lewis Hamilton, take note…
The race for the underdogs to shine: The circuit is not particularly aero-dependent, and this is one race where the lower-rung teams can realistically have a shot at some points. It’s often a case that being around at the end of the 78-lap event usually means you’re running in the points, and several midfield runners will be aiming to punch well above their weight this weekend. Last year’s race saw a very promising performance from Pastor Maldonado, who looked on course for a healthy points haul in the Williams until he was punted out of the race in the closing laps by Lewis Hamilton. Given his excellent win last time out at Spain and his brilliant form here in the lower categories, he could well be a contender this weekend.
Tyre management: Pirelli’s contribution to this race – as has been the case all season – will be a huge factor. With this year’s tyre compounds proving to be higher-wearing than their 2011 predecessors, teams will again be concerned with how to manage the ‘super-soft’ tyre compound, which makes its first race appearance this weekend. Some teams will target a one-stop race here because the track is not particularly punishing on tyres, but pit stop strategy – particularly with trying to emerge on a clear track – will be crucial. Qualifying is going to really matter here more than anywhere else.
So what do the RichardsF1.com readers and contributors think will happen this weekend?
The Form Guide
Formula 1 has never witnessed six different winners in the first six races of a Grand Prix season, but this weekend’s Monaco Grand Prix has every chance of adding a memorable chapter to the sport’s history.
If we assume that the trend will continue, then there are four likely candidates to claim the honour: Mark Webber or Lewis Hamilton are the winless ‘other half’ in their respective Red Bull Racing and McLaren garages.
But there’s also the undeniable momentum being enjoyed by the two Lotus E20 challengers belonging to Kimi Räikkönen and Romain Grosjean, who are both emerging as realistic challengers for a seemingly inevitable visit to the top step of the podium. Despite a slow start to the season, the pair has scored 60 points between them at the last two races; a win for either this weekend would be a testament to the nimbleness of the E20 chassis, as well as present us with the sixth difference Constructor to win this year. Amazing!
The other team that has been quietly going about things is Sauber, which could be a serious threat to claim another podium finish this year. At last year’s race, Kamui Kobayashi claimed a then-career-best fifth place, and he achieved the same result last time out at Spain with an excellent, aggressive drive. Keep an eye out for his team-mate Sergio Pérez, who’s bounced back after his concussion-inducing crash here last year with some sterling drives in 2012.
Its dramatic pit lane fire aside, Williams has been riding the crest of a wave since it returned to the winner’s circle a fortnight ago. Assuming they can master the softer tyres this weekend, there’s no reason to believe why the team couldn’t claim back-to-back wins, especially with Pastor Maldonado and Bruno Senna enjoying strong records here in the junior categories.
In truth, however, you could probably throw a blanket over the top six teams and have good cause to nominate any of their drivers – with the possible exception of Felipe Massa – as a likely winner, and there’d be little reason to refute your selection. It’s wonderful to be witnessing such a closely-fought and unpredictable championship. Bring on Monaco!
Don’t forget to enter your F1 Predictions!
The sixth round of the 2012 RichardsF1.com F1 Predictions Competition is now open, and you can enter your predictions for the race right here to be in the running for some great prizes throughout the season and at the end of the year!
The cut-off to submit your predictions is no later than five minutes before qualifying starts, so make sure you’re in it to win it!
As we have already seen in the first five rounds of tipping, some of our contestants elected to claim their ‘double up’ early on to give them a head start over the rest of the field. Are you confident enough in your predictions to use yours this weekend?
To enter your predictions, click here.
As always, RichardsF1.com will be bringing you the best of the on- and off-track action this weekend, so make sure we’re your first port of call for your Monaco Grand Prix fix!