After a very brief respite Formula 1 returns to action this week with one of the most popular and iconic races of the season – the Monaco Grand Prix.
The circuit is not only steeped in history but one of the ultimate tests of man and machine as drivers twist and turn their way around the streets of Monte Carlo.
Anyone who wins in Monaco deserves their place in the history books.
The circuit has remained similar throughout its lengthy history and its corner names are some of the most famous in the sport.
The lap begins with a blast across the curved pit ‘straight’, before a hard braking point at Sainte Devote, a tricky right hander with an escape road if it goes wrong. The drivers then blast up Beau Rivage to the highest point of the circuit before Massenet and the entry into Casino Square. Drivers jink right to avoid a bump on the run down Mirabeau Haute, which leads almost straight into the Loews hairpin. It’s been an occasional overtaking spot but is the slowest corner on the Formula 1 calendar, taken in first gear.
The circuit descends rapidly to Mirabeau Bas and Portier, a right hander which is crucial for getting a good run through the iconic tunnel. The left-right-left at the Nouvelle Chicane provides one of the best overtaking opportunities of the lap, before the fast left hander at Tabac. The Swimming Pool chicane provides some kerb action as drivers fly through this section before lining themselves up for La Rascasse, a tricky hairpin which leads onto Anthony Nouges and the pit straight. All of this takes around 75 seconds – at least for the quick guys anyway.
The circuit bucks the trend for DRS zones as just one will be used – along the pit straight – while Derek Warwick will act as the driver steward.
The first Monaco Grand Prix pre-dates the Formula 1 world championship as its first event, won by William Grover-Williams, was held in 1929. It joined the inaugural Formula 1 championship in 1950 and has been a mainstay ever since.
The 1960s was dominated by ‘Mr Monaco’, as Graham Hill claimed five victories – a feat only surpassed by the legendary Ayrton Senna in the late 1980s/early 1990s.
Safety upgrades in the 1970s meant that the circuit was eventually lined with Armco – a few years after Lorenzo Bandini was fatally injured during an accident at the chicane.
The event has, in the past, thrown up several unexpected race results.
The 1982 race is regarded as the one that no-one wanted to win. Early leader Rene Arnoux retired, while Alain Prost crashed out in the damp with a handful of laps remaining. Riccardo Patrese inherited the lead but he spun, allowing Didier Pironi to assume the position. He consequently ran out of fuel on the last lap, as did net leader Andrea de Cesaris. Eventually Patrese bump-started his car and claimed the win.
In 1996 wet weather caused chaos as several drivers crashed out in slipper conditions while other frontrunners encountered mechanical woes. Eventually, Olivier Panis – who started from 14th – came through to take his sole Formula 1 win in a race where only three cars crossed the finish line. It is still the most recent case of a victory by a French driver.
It’s difficult to look past Mercedes to extend their winning margin – it’s a circuit on which Lewis Hamilton thrives but could Nico Rosberg arrest the Brit’s momentum? Rosberg, who grew up in Monaco, has always gone well at the track and finished second in 2012 before winning last year. It’ll be another race which adds to the developing dynamic between the two Mercedes racers and it’s one which Rosberg needs to win.
The reduced emphasis on engine power should aid Mercedes’s rivals – even if their advantage is unlikely to be completely eroded – and that should help Red Bull. If they can be close to Mercedes then it probably presents their best opportunity to win a race in 2014 – Sebastian Vettel won in 2011 while Daniel Ricciardo has encountered difficulties in both his races around the Principality.
Ferrari has not won in Monaco since 2001 and its recent form suggests that victory drought won’t be ending, while over at Lotus, Romain Grosjean and Pastor Maldonado have registered five accident-related retirements in their five starts.
Further down the grid, this could be a crucial weekend for Jean-Éric Vergne. The French driver has excelled at circuits where grip is at a premium and finished a fine eighth last year – team-mate Daniil Kvyat is the only driver never to have even visited Monaco before.
Further back, the rate of attrition which Caterham and Marussia hoped for pre-season ultimately failed to materialise. But with barriers in close proximity, rain forecast and cars pushed hard for 78 laps, could this represent their best chance of points in 2014?
Thursday 22 May
Practice One: 10:00 - 11:30
Practice Two: 14:00 - 15:30
Saturday 24 May
Practice Three: 11:00 - 12:00
Qualifying: 14:00 (60 minutes)
Sunday 25 May
Race: 14:00 (78 laps or two hours)