It’s not a very pleasant irony to find yourself writing a preview of the iconic Monaco Grand Prix, one of the world’s truly great motor races, while awaiting the outcome of a court case that could severely affect the future of F1.
But today we’re just going to have to play the hand that we’re dealt. So let’s get on with it.
As ever and in the absence of any complicating factors like weather, qualifying is going to be essential to success in this race.
The twisty Riviera road circuit, redolent with the glamour of the familiar Massenet, Mirabeau, Rascasse and Sainte Devote, has always been the most unforgiving for overtaking on the whole calendar.
It’s going to be interesting to see how the new cars handle this unique circuit on a weekend that is being touted as the best chance of the season for one of the Red Bull boys, or maybe a qualifying specialist like Toyota’s Jarno Trulli, to knock Jenson Button off his perch.
Thing is, Jense has proved over the last few weeks that he’s no slouch at qualifying either and, as countryman Lewis Hamilton discovered last year, a win here is one the crown jewels in a championship-winning season.
And KERS at the start is only going to prove of limited use this time around.
Button is certainly looking forward to having a crack at it: “To go to Monaco with the lead in both the Drivers’ and Constructors’ Championships is fantastic but we saw in Barcelona that the performance margins at the front are extremely close.
“There will be a lot of competitive cars fighting it out this weekend. My usual driving style is very smooth but I will have to change that a little bit to get the best out of the car here.
You have to be aggressive around Monaco and not let the barriers intimidate you whilst obviously paying them due respect. Every time you take to the track, it’s a non-stop challenge which requires you to maintain absolute focus, concentration and precision.”
Team principal Ross Brawn says that he will be taking “a very controlled approach” to the Monaco race weekend.
“The pit lane and paddock is an intense environment to work in due to the location at the heart of the city and it is therefore more stressful than any other race on the calendar.
“You can make just one mistake in Monaco and your race weekend will be compromised. However we love that level of extra challenge and it is what makes Formula One and Monaco so special.
“Our car works very well with low-speed corners and we have a fantastic engine from Mercedes-Benz which has a lot of power and excellent drivability which is important around the twisty street circuit.”
He said the nature of the Monaco track would play to the strenths of both his car and his drivers.
“Your aim in Monaco is always to secure pole or as close to the front row as possible in qualifying and take it from there. Neither Jenson or Rubens has won the Monaco Grand Prix, although both have stood on the podium, so I’m sure they will be determined to make the most of the weekend.”
Last year was Hamilton’s race. This year’s McLaren has downforce problems that make it about as aerodynamic as a housebrick on long, sweeping circuits like Barcelona. Which means he might just be able to make something of the streets of Monte Carlo.
He’s certainly going into the weekend with a positive attitude: “Monaco is my favourite circuit. The sensation you get from racing up the hill at 175mph, trying to make as straight a line as possible between the barriers while just shaving them with the walls of the tyres is unbelievable — the best sensation you could ever have in a Formula 1 car.
“There’s an expectation that Monaco will be another good circuit for our car package because the combination of low-speed corners and absence of any really fast stuff should suit MP4-24. I really hope so because it would be fantastic to have a competitive car and to be fighting at the front again.”
Team principal Martin Whitmarsh added: “We have won the grand prix for the past two seasons and McLaren has triumphed here an unprecedented 15 times – more than any other Formula 1 team.
“As a result, we go into the race with a greater degree of optimism than we had going into Barcelona: both Lewis and Heikki enjoy this circuit and we feel MP4-24 will be a more competitive proposition around the streets of the principality.”
It will also be interesting to see how much of a fight Ferrari can put up. Boy, do they have something to prove at the moment. And there are some mysterious “improvements” to the car that no-one’s saying much about.
Some facts and figures: multiple Monaco Grand Prix winners are members of an elite club. Now David Coulthard has retired, the only one still racing is Fernando Alonso.
Monaco is one of three races that make up the prestigious Triple Crown of Motorsport. The other two are the Indianapolis 500 and the 24 Hours of Le Mans and the only man that has pulled it off is Graham Hill.
But a current racer and former F1 driver is in the frame – none other than Juan-Pablo Montoya. Having got Monaco and Indy wins under his belt, he perhaps has chosen the best race to leave until last.
The Monaco lap record is held by Michael Schumacher, with a fastest time of 1:14.439 in his 2004 championship-winnng season. Of course, he was also responsible for one of its most notorious incidents, with his dubious parking manoeuvre at Rascasse in 2006.
* Last year we celebrated the race by taking a look at Roy Hulsbergen’s Monaco Grand Prix Library site. If you love this event, and would like to enjoy a brighter view of Formula One than is currently available, then pay him a visit.