Formula 1 rolls into Monaco this weekend with perhaps Max Verstappen as the only leading driver in the field with reason to be content. The friction within Mercedes’ camp burst into life as Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg eliminated each other on the first lap in Spain, Daniel Ricciardo sought to take advantage only to be skewered by the wrong strategy and a puncture, while Ferrari lacked pace, and guile, as a win slipped through its fingers for the second time in 2016. In this kind of atmosphere, there can’t be a better place for the sport to reconvene than Monaco.
This will be the 74th running of a race which was first held back in 1929, with the layout of the circuit remaining relatively unchanged. The drivers wind their way through a 3.3km track located within the Monte Carlo and La Condamine districts of the Principality of Monaco, sandwiched between the mountains and the Mediterranean Sea.
Following a blast along the Boulevard Albert 1er the drivers brake for the right-hander at Sainte-Devote, with the exit crucial for the blast up Beau Rivage, jinking left and right as the road rapidly climbs. The long left hander at Massenet gives way to the bumpy right of Casino Square, as the drivers flick past the Hotel de Paris.
Drivers immediately hug the inside of the circuit in order to avoid the crest of the bus stop and then brake for Mirabeau Haute, with the front right wheel often in the air due to the excessive camber at the corner. Next up is the hairpin at Loews, a potential passing point, which is the slowest on the calendar, often taken at 30mph and with full steering lock.
Mirabeau Bas is a comparatively simple right hander which leads on to Portier, as the drivers meet the sea and turn to the right, entering the tunnel. Strong traction exiting Portier is vital as the Nouvelle Chicane provides the best passing place on a lap where opportunities are rare.
As the circuit skates along the harbour Tabac, which has been slightly modified this year, is one of the quickest corners of the circuit, followed by the spectacular Swimming Pool section, as drivers climb over the chicanes for maximum speed through the complex. The tricky Rascasse section, past the eponymous restaurant, presents a challenging uphill exit which leads into the narrow Anthony Noghes corner, and back onto the main straight. All of that will be completed in around 75 seconds!
Despite his first lap exit in Spain, Rosberg must be considered the favourite on account of his previous form and irresistible Monaco results. Rosberg opened his 2016 season with four straight wins and still holds a comfortable advantage as he heads to what is effectively his home race. Rosberg was second in 2012 and has claimed three successive wins around the streets of the Principality, albeit aided last year by Mercedes’ strategic error with the previously dominant Hamilton.
Hamilton has not savoured victory in Monaco since his 2008 triumph in wet/dry conditions and inclement weather is currently forecast for race day.
Ferrari’s drought in Monaco is even longer, with the Scuderia yet to taste success at the track since Michael Schumacher emerged on top in 2001. Both Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Räikkönen have won in Monaco, albeit for Red Bull and McLaren respectively.
The upcoming race also marks 50 years since McLaren made its debut and the outfit will be hoping to prove the strengths of its chassis at a circuit where engine prowess is less important. A strong haul of points is the aim for Fernando Alonso, victor in 2006/07 and 2009 winner Jenson Button.
For the first time in Formula 1 Pirelli will bring its purple-banded Ultra Soft tyre to a race weekend, alongside the Super Soft and Soft compounds. The Ultra Soft has so far been used only during testing, but it is expected to receive extensive track time this weekend. Conventional wisdom suggests a one stop strategy (Ultra Soft/Super Soft) will be used, though this is far from certain.
There will be just a single DRS zone, located along the pits straight, while Emanuele Pirro will be the driver steward.
As usual, free practice will take place on Thursday, with no Formula 1 action on Friday.
Timetable (GMT +2):
Thirsday 26 May
- Practice One: 10:00 – 11:30
- Practice Two: 14:00 – 15:30
Saturday 28 May
- Practice Three: 11:00 – 12:00
- Qualifying: 14:00 (60 minutes)
Sunday 29 May
- Race: 14:00 (78 laps or two hours)