The Monaco Grand Prix Preview 24 May 2006
Can Michael Schumacher scoop the jackpot with Ferrari as the Formula One field heads for Monte Carlo this weekend? For a variety of reasons the seven-time champion has been frustrated on the streets of the Principality in recent years, denied the sixth victory that will draw him level with the late Ayrton Senna.
We have made a lot of improvement in the car in recent races, he said, and I am confident that we will be very strong this weekend. The car is good, and so are the tyres. We will be competitive.
Fernando Alonso, however, believes that Monaco will give him the chance to increase his championship lead with Renault. I think the car will be quick there. You need good traction at this circuit, and that has been a strong point for the R26 all the way through the season so far. Michelin did a fantastic job in Spain, and they have always been very strong in Monaco, so they should be there as well. This has been a good Renault track in the past but more than ever, we will need a perfect, mistake-free weekend to fight for the win. That will be what we are focusing on.
McLaren can be expected to challenge here too, with past winners Kimi Raikkonen and Juan Pablo Montoya. Another victory would be particularly sweet here, as 2006 marks the 40th anniversary of the marques Formula One involvement. Founder Bruce McLaren raced his McLaren M2B Serenissima here in 1966.
Two years ago Jenson Button came the closest he ever has to victory as he hounded home winner Jarno Trulli, and now the Honda star is ready to take his own first win. "I'm really looking forward to this year's Monaco Grand Prix. I had a good race there in 2004, finishing second after a really exciting battle. It's a crazy place to be racing, the circuit is very tight and twisty and you can really feel the speed of the car when the barriers are so close to you. It's a different race than any other on the calendar, with so much history, and it means even more to me as I live in Monaco so it's one of my home races.
"You need good mechanical grip from the car and this is also a circuit where the driver can make even more of a difference to the race outcome. We've been really strong in qualifying all this year and that will be very important for the race as it's almost impossible to overtake except in the pit stops. It's also a fantastic race for the fans who can get so close to the action."
Qualifying will be crucial to any strategy, which puts every one on Orange Alert from the get-go on Saturday afternoon. And the unusual knockout format introduced this year could spring some surprises at a place where all things are possible. As Alonso said, a mistake-free weekend is critical, and very difficult to achieve, and anyone who encounters problems on Thursday - remember Friday sessions take place a day early in Monaco - or Saturday will have an uphill struggle. With Williams, Toyota, BMW-Sauber, Red Bull Racing and Toro Rosso all closely bunched in the midfield, it will be an absorbing battle.
The level of grip is so low in Monte Carlo that all teams will run the softest available compounds, something they can get away with this year now that tyre changes are allowed once again. All of them have been testing since Spain, most at Paul Ricard, where the track was configured to mirror Monaco as much as possible in the search for the ideal tyre, maximum downforce, and the most efficient traction control.