The Monaco Grand Prix Preview (22-24 May 2015)

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Nico Rosberg arrives in Monaco off the back of his first pole position and race win of the 2015 season and the German will be full of confidence knowing he has not been beaten around this track since 2012. However, both his closest competitors, Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel have also tasted victory around Monte Carlo before and will be looking to take all 25 points for themselves. Expect celebrity, glamour and plenty of champagne drinking on deck in the harbour. Roll out the red carpet, as we arrive in Monaco for Race 6 of the 2015 World Championship…

The headlines from Spain

Nico Rosberg wins his first Grand Prix of the 2015 season with a dominant display at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya. The 25 points that he claimed for the win means that he has closed the deficit at the top of the world championship leader board to 20 points after Lewis Hamilton finished second. Despite Ferrari bringing a performance and aerodynamic package that should have closed the gap with Mercedes, the Silver Arrows looked as dominant as they have all season. Rosberg converted his first pole position of the season by consolidating his lead into Turn One after his team mate got bogged down on the grid with some excessive wheel spin. This win will do wonders for the German’s confidence and remind everyone that it is game on for the World Championship, especially going into Monaco where he has been triumphant the last two years.

Mercedes claim one-two by under-cutting Ferrari, despite a slow stop. Lewis Hamilton would have been disappointed not be on pole for the first time this year, but sitting second on the grid at the start, he would have still had ambitions to win the race. However, his start was far from perfect and by Turn One he was being swarmed by Vettel and Bottas. Luckily for him, only Vettel managed to pass, but his hopes of winning in Spain faded after a problematic first pit stop left him even further behind the Ferrari. Switching strategies to a three-stopper, Hamilton was able to put in the lap times in the middle sector to undercut Vettel and maintain his lead at the end of the race, despite having to do an extra stop.

Number 55, Carlos Sainz Jr impressed at his home Grand Prix
Number 55, Carlos Sainz Jr impressed at his home Grand Prix

Local hero Carlos Sainz Jr finishes an eventful day in ninth place, despite stewards’ enquiry. The Toro Rosso driver managed an incredible fifth place in qualifying and despite going backwards at the beginning of the race, managed to finish strongly and collect two valuable points, taking his tally to eight for the season- two more than team mate Max Verstappen. Verstappen had stolen most of the headlines for Toro Rosso this season, despite the two rookie drivers going into the Spanish Grand Prix on equal points, but it was to be the local boy who did the business at his inaugural home Grand Prix. He did it by overtaking his team mate, then his senior Red Bull counterpart, Daniil Kvyat with a last gasp overtake on the final lap. The two actually clashed and the Spaniard took the place, despite having to go off track, but the stewards saw no justifiable reason to punish him, putting it simply down to a ‘racing incident’.

McLaren’s optimism brakes. On what should have been a weekend where the Woking-based constructor made huge steps forward with a new livery and more importantly a new chassis and engine package, their optimism quickly evaporated. Jenson Button finished the race in a lowly 16th place, behind everyone bar the Marussia’s, and Fernando Alonso retired with brake failure on lap 26. Since the chequered flag, we have found out that somewhat unluckily, Alonso’s retirement was caused by the tear-off strip from his helmet visor blocking his rear brake ducts and Jenson Button has come out and said he doesn’t expect to win a single point all season after claiming his McLaren is “scary” to drive. You could say McLaren are in turmoil.

F1 bosses fuel the 2017 revolution

There has been a growing clamour over the past couple of years to revolutionize Formula 1 as audience’s interest wains and on-track excitement fades all too easily. In recent times, there has been a number of rule changes implemented that have been aimed at making F1 more accessible and sustainable, such as moving to turbo hybrid engines and restricting tyre choice. These restrictions have markedly diminished the cars’ sound levels and has resulted in them slowing down as much as 10 seconds a lap from their 2004 predecessors. However, change is now in the air.

It is worth noting that there have been some truly memorable races in recent times, that have reminded audiences of all that is right with the sport, but they have been too few and far between. We should also not sniff at the efforts of the powers-that-be trying to make Formula 1 more sustainable in an austere world that has slowly been recovering from the financial crisis of 2008.

However, the bottom line is that Formula 1 is in the entertainment business and all too often drivers are having to manage their tyres and drive strategically, instead of all out racing fast. Some drivers like Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso, who currently have four world championships between them, might feel hard done by, knowing full well that if Formula 1 world titles were handed out for pure race pace, they may well share double their current haul.

Ferrari practice a pit stop in 2009 when refuelling was last in use
Ferrari practice a pit stop in 2009 when refuelling was last in use

So the bosses of F1 have proposed some bold changes this week. Refuelling will be reintroduced for the first time since 2009, plus there will be higher revving and louder engines matched with changes aimed at making cars “five to six seconds a lap faster”. This will please the likes of Sebastian Vettel who have come out and said that F1 needs to bring back the ‘fear factor’ and speed cars up, but he should be careful what he wishes for as his four world titles with Red Bull were based on having a huge aerodynamic advantage, not on him outdriving the rest of the field. Put in the same car as the very pacey Daniel Ricciardo last year and he struggled.

Whatever your standpoint of the current rules, know one thing for sure; things will be changing quite dramatically. Let’s just hope that for once the drama stays on the racetrack instead of in the paddock and the press.

The Monaco Grand Prix

The Monaco Grand Prix is without doubt the most iconic track on the Formula 1 calendar and will surely always have a place on the schedule, despite the globalisation and modernisation of the sport. It is the most prestigious circuit and has been the jewel in F1’s crown since 1955. Over the last few decades, Formula 1 has moved away from its rich, ‘playboy’ roots that saw daring and dashing drivers literally risk their lives for the pure thrill of racing- Monaco may just be the last surviving link to a bygone era.

The famous Fairmont Hotel hairpin at the Monaco Grand Prix
The famous Fairmont Hotel hairpin at the Monaco Grand Prix

The Monaco Grand Prix forms the Triple Crown of Motorsport alongside the Indianapolis 500 and 24 Hours of Le Mans (only one man has achieved the feat of winning all three) and combines tight, twisting corners with close roadside barriers that push the driver’s right to their very limits of skill and concentration. Interestingly, it is the only Grand Prix that does not adhere to the FIA’s mandated 305 kilometres (190 mile) minimum race distance.

Monaco has proved a happy hunting ground for those who have mastered it. Graham ‘Mr Monaco’ Hill won the Grand Prix five times in the 1960’s, Schumacher matched that feat between 1994 and 2001, and Ayrton Senna won five of six Monaco Grand Prix’s consecutively between 1989 and 1993. Alain Prost managed a very commendable four wins here and British duo Jackie Stewart and Stirling Moss both triumphed three times. Sitting on two race wins are current drivers Fernando Alonso and Nico Rosberg, with the latter much more likely to add to that tally this weekend than the former. However, Hamilton and Vettel will both want to join that esteemed grouping on two wins come Sunday that also contains Fangio, Trintignant, Webber, Coulthard, Scheckter and Mercedes non-executive chairman, Niki Lauda.

Oh and the only man to gain the Triple Crown of Motorsport by winning all three races? Graham Hill.

Predictions

We all know that qualifying in Monaco is absolutely critical. Out of the last 10 races, nine of the winners have won from pole, including Nico Rosberg in 2013 and 2014. The only man who managed the feat of winning without claiming pole though just so happened to be Lewis Hamilton in 2008 after starting on the grid in third place. That day, Hamilton even suffered a tyre puncture on Lap 6, but a mixture of safety cars, spins and changeable weather conditions helped him to take his only chequered flag at Monaco.

Lewis Hamilton during First Practice in Monaco in 2015
Lewis Hamilton during First Practice in Monaco in 2015

If the weather is consistent over the weekend then, it will be absolutely vital for each team to set out their cars for a fast qualifying time as track position is key. Hamilton and Rosberg will both feel confident in their own way and it is hard to see a front row that will not include both of them pointing towards Turn One. Therefore, it would be a bold man who predicted a non-pole sitter to win, but we think that 2008 will repeat itself and Hamilton will come from behind to beat a pole sitting Rosberg- you heard it here first!

Further back, Williams could just pin back the Ferrari’s and there could just be a podium in sight for Felipe Massa or Valtteri Bottas. Red Bull might feature further up the grid this weekend if they get their setup correct as historically they have been strong on downforce. Sauber, Toro Rosso and Lotus are most likely to scrap it out for the final points and it would be seen as a triumph if any of those teams got both drivers home in the top ten on Sunday.

 

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