Monaco Grand Prix preview - who to back for Monte Carlo glory? 20 May 2009
Will Brawn GPs Jenson Button make up for his near miss in Monaco back in 2004, when he finished less than a second behind Jarno Trulli? Will the Italian finally score Toyotas first victory? Can Ferrari break through for much-needed success, or will Lewis Hamilton work his magic for McLaren?
What of Red Bull, with Chinese Grand Prix victor Sebastian Vettel, and Mark Webber, who would love to take his turn at the top? Or Timo Glock, or Nico Rosberg in the Williams? Past winner Fernando Alonso in the Renault? Robert Kubica, one of the stars of the 2008 race for BMW Sauber? Monaco is a place where unusual results are not uncommon, and this might be the most open race there in years.
Where Spain was all about the introduction of new aerodynamic packages to maximise downforce while minimising drag, the latter is less important here so everybody will be loading their cars with as much downforce as they can muster.
Button starts the favourite, with his four wins from the previous five races, and has pledged to remain aggressive in his quest for wins and maximum championship points. And team mate Rubens Barrichello is desperate to wipe out his disappointment in Barcelona.
"Monaco is a unique and unpredictable venue and you have to take a very controlled approach to the race weekend, says their team principal Ross Brawn. 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. The BGP001 car is very good mechanically, which you need to take advantage of the slow speed nature of the track. Monaco is a real drivers' circuit where their performance can make all the difference.
Jenson and Rubens are both precise and consistent drivers and we will give them as much practice time out on track as possible to get into the rhythm of the lap. 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."
"The Monaco Grand Prix is always a very special race weekend, says Button, and as a resident of the Principality, it will be my first home race of the season with the British Grand Prix at Silverstone following next month. 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. I think we will see a very exciting qualifying session on Saturday as grid position is so significant in Monaco. It's almost impossible to overtake once the race is underway so being at the front and getting a good start will be important for a successful weekend."
Hamilton says: Monaco is my favourite circuit. The sensation you get from racing up the hill at 175 mph, 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 One car. Theres 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.
McLaren hold the record for wins here with 15, and want to make it sweet 16. Ferrari, meanwhile, are cautiously optimistic after their upturn in Spain, and the boost from their KERS system might be just the answer in the all-important drag to Ste Devote.
"I really think that the Monte Carlo race can be the turning point in our season," Massa says. "We'll have new things in our aerodynamic package. We come from a start of the season that we didn't expect, however we've improved a lot, especially in the last race at Montmelo we saw some steps forward. For all these reasons I believe in the first podium of the season, and also in our recovery."
Bridgestone are making an exception to their 2009 race tyre allocation philosophy of leaving a gap between compounds by bringing their soft and super-soft tyres to what is the most slippery race of the year.
The 3.340-kilometre track is mostly corners with few serious straights - the climb up from Ste Devote and the run through ther tunnel, and the short squirt past the pits, though all are curved rather than straight. Then there are the unyielding barriers, which stand ready to trap the unwary and to penalise even small mistakes.
The constant road traffic that normally uses the streets of the Principality poses a unique challenge as it polishes the road surface. That makes it particularly hard to find grip, hence Bridgestones choice of tyres from the lower temperature operating range which means faster warm-up.
Bridgestone will debut a new softer compound intermediate tyre here, which has been designed to offer more grip in the wet. It will be used for the remainder of the season.
The 2009 breed of car has less downforce, of course, but the slick tyres have greater mechanical grip than the grooved tyres of previous years.
For video highlights of last year's Monaco Grand Prix, click here.