Thursday race preview - Monaco 29 May 2003
Under sunny skies the Monaco Grand Prix meeting has got off to its official start this morning, and all the talk continues to centre on what strategy teams will adopt for Saturday's crucial qualifying session.
David Coulthard commented wryly that he stands to lose the most, given that he has so far had a 12th, a 13th and a 14th in qualifying this season, but is in optimistic mood that he can repeat his superb 2002 race victory.
"Obviously you don't have the opportunity to find out where the track is, or also where your car is. I think the history of the MP4-17 at McLaren, we haven't had it as a particularly good qualifying car. It's been on the front row three times in its career, but otherwise it's tended to be a much stronger race car so I think we probably struggle a bit more than the others."
One of those front row positions came at Monaco last year, however, when he went on to out-sprint poleman Montoya to Ste Devote.
One of the inescapable realities of the weekend is that everyone must leave a margin on their best lap, because anyone who crashes in qualifying will have to start from the back of the grid, and if you are starting there a strong finish is close to impossible at Monaco.
Every car in the pit lane shows clear signs of the search for increased downforce - absolutely critical on this slippery and bumpy track. The more you can press the car down to the road, the less chance there is of it sliding into the barriers and walls that lie in wait only inches off the line.
Discussion has also centred briefly on the revisions to the track, principally at Rascasse. They have not been as extensive as had perhaps been expected - there is still a flick on the exit to the swimming pool, but the entry to Rascasse has been eased significantly.
"It should be okay," Fernando Alonso thought, "more possibility to overtake and lap as well, so it's a good change."
Coulthard thinks that it looks a lot more open. "I'm conscious of not saying it looks easier," the Scot said, "just in case I drop the ball there, but it does look like it's less challenging, the entry to Rascasse, than it was in the past, which in some respects is a shame because that was one of the difficult spots of the track. But I think, generally, it may give us more opportunity for overtaking."
"You're coming in at 45 degrees, instead of 90," Jenson Button observed, "otherwise it's not very different, is it?"
Meanwhile, as he prepares for the race that could see him equal Ayrton Senna's record of six victories in the Principality, Michael Schumacher admitted that having to fight harder for victory makes his job more satisfying.
"When you have to fight there is a certain satisfaction. Having said that, a driver fights for the championship instead of victories and the earlier and quicker he can achieve that the more confident and happy he is in another way, so you don't lose happiness by doing what we did last year."