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Monaco preview - no safe bets on Monte Carlo's streets 22 May 2013

Mark Webber (AUS) Red Bull Racing RB8 leads at the start of the race.
Formula One World Championship, Rd6, Monaco Grand Prix, Race Day, Monte-Carlo, Monaco, Sunday, 27 May 2012 Race winner Mark Webber (AUS) Red Bull Racing celebrates at the podium.
Formula One World Championship, Rd6, Monaco Grand Prix, Race Day, Monte-Carlo, Monaco, Sunday, 27 May 2012 Race winner Kimi Raikkonen (FIN) McLaren Mercedes MP4/20 crosses the finish line. 
Formula One World Championship, Rd6, Monaco Grand Prix, Race Day, Monte Carlo, Monaco, 22 May 2005 Lewis Hamilton (GBR) Mercedes AMG F1 on the grid.
Formula One World Championship, Rd5, Spanish Grand Prix, Race Day, Barcelona, Spain, Sunday, 12 May 2013 Nico Rosberg (GER) Mercedes AMG F1 W03.
Formula One World Championship, Rd6, Monaco Grand Prix, Practice Day, Monte-Carlo, Monaco, Thursday, 24 May 2012 Nico Rosberg (GER) Mercedes AMG F1 W03.
Formula One World Championship, Rd6, Monaco Grand Prix, Race Day, Monte-Carlo, Monaco, Sunday, 27 May 2012 Race winner Jenson Button (GBR) Brawn Grand Prix celebrates on the podium.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 6, Monaco Grand Prix, Race, Monte-Carlo, Monaco, Sunday, 24 May 2009 Jenson Button (GBR) McLaren MP4-27.
Formula One World Championship, Rd6, Monaco Grand Prix, Practice Day, Monte-Carlo, Monaco, Thursday, 24 May 2012 Paul di Resta (GBR) Force India VJM05.
Formula One World Championship, Rd6, Monaco Grand Prix, Qualifying Day, Monte-Carlo, Monaco, Saturday, 26 May 2012 Romain Grosjean (FRA) Lotus E20 and Michael Schumacher (GER) Mercedes AMG F1 W03 collide at the start of the race.
Formula One World Championship, Rd6, Monaco Grand Prix, Race Day, Monte-Carlo, Monaco, Sunday, 27 May 2012 The car of race retiree Pastor Maldonado (VEN) Williams FW34.
Formula One World Championship, Rd6, Monaco Grand Prix, Race Day, Monte-Carlo, Monaco, Sunday, 27 May 2012 Fernando Alonso (ESP) Ferrari F2012.
Formula One World Championship, Rd6, Monaco Grand Prix, Race Day, Monte-Carlo, Monaco, Sunday, 27 May 2012 Fernando Alonso (ESP) Ferrari F2012 leads Felipe Massa (BRA) Ferrari F2012.
Formula One World Championship, Rd6, Monaco Grand Prix, Race Day, Monte-Carlo, Monaco, Sunday, 27 May 2012 Kimi Raikkonen (FIN) Lotus E20.
Formula One World Championship, Rd6, Monaco Grand Prix, Race Day, Monte-Carlo, Monaco, Sunday, 27 May 2012 Grid girls.
Formula One World Championship, Rd6, Monaco Grand Prix, Race Day, Monte-Carlo, Monaco, Sunday, 27 May 2012 Automobile Club de Monaco flag on the grid.
Formula One World Championship, Rd6, Monaco Grand Prix, Race Day, Monte-Carlo, Monaco, Sunday, 27 May 2012

With its tight corners, chicanes, Armco barriers, bumps and white lines, it’s easy to see why Monaco is regarded as the toughest track on the calendar. And just as it was in 2012, it’s a circuit on which form is impossible to predict accurately.

Yes, it will suit Lotus, Red Bull and Ferrari, but it should also enable Mercedes to continue their front-row qualifying performance. And Force India and McLaren could also get in on the act.

Red Bull have to start as favourites, having won the race for the past three years with Mark Webber in 2012 and 2010, and Sebastian Vettel in 2011. The RB9 has more downforce than any other car - no surprise when it’s down to Adrian Newey to source it - and both drivers know how to use it. But Ferrari will also be strong; Fernando Alonso won the race twice, for Renault in 2006 and McLaren in 2007, and they come to the Principality on a high after their 1-3 in Spain.

Kimi Raikkonen is also a past winner, from 2005 with McLaren, and Romain Grosjean won here in GP2 in 2009. The Lotus E21 is a very strong race car, and the team are confident that they will have some tweaks which should make it a better qualifier, too.

That, of course, leads us to Mercedes who have taken pole for the past three races, but faded badly in some of them. Lewis Hamilton won in Monaco for McLaren in 2008, while Nico Rosberg was a GP2 winner in 2005.

“Whilst there hasn't been a lot of time since Barcelona, we've been working hard to put the disappointment there behind us and focus on the opportunities ahead,” Hamilton says.

“Monaco is one of my favourite races of the year and I love driving the streets. As a driver, you know that you have to perform on every single lap and it's a challenge that I really enjoy. It's a real experience to see the barriers flashing past at high speed and I love the fact that the fans can get so close to the track, making for a great atmosphere.

“Perhaps more than at many other tracks, qualifying and getting the best possible track position is crucial in Monaco, but we have to keep our focus on Sunday as well and keep working to improve our race pace.”

“Monaco is always a fantastic weekend and it's great to race in the city where I live,” says Rosberg. “Knowing that all my family and friends are watching makes it very special and I love being able to drive from home into the paddock on a scooter!

“The surroundings definitely make Monaco the coolest track on the calendar and the atmosphere over the weekend is great. I have good memories from the race last year after finishing in second place, and I hope we can get another good result this time around. At the moment we have a good car for qualifying which helps in Monaco as it's the most important qualifying session of the year as track position is so important.”

Jenson Button is the other Monaco Grand Prix winner on the grid, having triumphed on the streets for Brawn in 2009.

“Monaco is unlike any other racetrack in Formula One,” he says. “A qualifying lap around there is an exhilarating experience for a driver: you turn into corners on the limit and you kiss every barrier at the exit. To get pole position, as I did in 2009, is hugely satisfying and you need to be inch-perfect for 78 laps. It’s a great challenge.

“The average speed around Monaco is the slowest of the year, but it feels very quick. The track’s quite narrow in places and there are some fast sections. The run up the hill from Ste Devote to Casino Square involves some quick changes of direction, as does the Swimming Pool, and the Tunnel is fast, loud and dark.”

Button, however, makes it clear that McLaren are not expecting to be a contender for victory when he adds: “Everyone here has been working flat-out since the Spanish Grand Prix. We’re not yet where we want to be in terms of competitiveness, but I’m confident that we can make another small step forward in Monaco.

“We’ll continue to chip away at the performance of the MP4-28 until it’s capable of challenging at the front; there’s no other agenda for a winning team like McLaren. The aim for Monaco is to get both cars home in the points, as we did in Barcelona.”

At Force India, meanwhile, Paul di Resta aims to continue his latest run of excellent form, and says of his ‘home’ race: “We are fairly happy with the end result in Spain: with the limited time we had in the car and the DRS problems later in the race, seventh was a good position to come away with.

“As for Monaco, having more time to optimise the car with the upgrades should allow us to extract even more performance from it. Monaco was a rewarding race for us last year and we will try to go there and continue our run of points finishes.

“It’s really interesting to see how busy the place gets when the race is in town and the atmosphere builds up throughout the week. Racing close to home is really nice because I can go back to my place every night. I sleep in my bed and enjoy my own space. It’s also a chance for my family and friends to come and stay with me, and when the weather is nice, there’s nowhere better.

“Our strength has been our consistency - we have been performing well in each of the races so far, and we are now looking forward to Sundays with confidence.”

Tyre wear and degradation are less likely to be crucial factors this weekend, as Pirelli ambassador - and former Monaco podium-finisher - Jean Alesi points out: “Both are low in Monaco but it is still something you have to think about because the circuit gains massively in grip over the course of the weekend, perhaps more than anywhere else all year. You always use the soft tyres at Monaco so you can push hard, which is a great feeling.”

As has been the case for the last two years, Pirelli have brought their yellow-marked soft and red-marked supersoft compounds, the two softest in their range.

Monaco is the slowest and most tortuous circuit on the calendar, where overtaking is almost impossible, and that makes rapid warm-up and high levels of mechanical grip from the tyres essential to counter wheelspin and oversteer. But because wear and degradation are so low nobody is likely to make more than two pit stops compared to the four that the majority of runners had to make in Spain. Last year most made only one.

Monaco’s surface isn’t very abrasive, which means relatively low tyre wear, but it’s really heavy on brakes and that transmits heat through the wheels and into the tyres and stresses their structure. Entering Ste Devote, for example, the cars scrub off 160 km/h in just 100 metres. The tyres also have extremely big demands placed on them in the Swimming Pool complex, where they hit the kerbs at more than 200 km/h and experience lateral forces of 3.65g.

Drivers make more than 130 steering inputs every lap at Monaco, and change gear on average every 50 metres. That means an awful lot of work for the tyres, especially over the over the full 78 lap/260.520 kilometre race distance.

The hairpin is the slowest corner of the season, taken at around just 45 km/h, and that means that there isn’t any aerodynamic downforce being generated, so with full steering lock the front-right tyre is doing all the work when it comes to changing direction.

“In Monaco we’d expect an average of two pit stops per car, in complete contrast to the last race at Barcelona,” Pirelli motorsport director Paul Hembery says.

“This doesn’t make the race any less strategic however, as in the past we have seen drivers trying completely different strategies yet ending up very close to each other at the finish.

“The last race in Spain was won from lower down on the grid than it has ever been won before, so it will be interesting to see if this pattern can repeat itself in Monaco: a track that is renowned for being difficult to overtake on. Because of this, strategy will become even more important than usual, with teams trying to use tactics to improve on their starting positions.”

If drivers are to make-up places on-track rather than in the pit lane, the likely place they’ll do it is within the circuit’s only DRS zone on the pit straight. Other than that, the best place to pass is out of the dauntingly fast tunnel before the tight harbour-side chicane.

Things can become even trickier for the drivers if the weather takes a turn for the worse, but they’ll be pleased to hear that the forecast is for a largely dry and sunny weekend, with just a chance of rain on Saturday and temperatures in the range of 18 to 20 degrees Celsius.

There have been only minor changes to the circuit since 2012: the track has been resurfaced on the pit straight and between Turns 1 and 3; a number of improvements have been made to the left-side debris fencing on the approach to Turn 3 and on the left between Turns 8 and 10; a new 50cm wide kerb has been installed at the apex of Turn 5; and the kerb at the exit of Turn 19 has been widened by 20cm.

As is tradition in Monaco, the two opening free practice sessions take place on Thursday rather than Friday. Sunday’s race will start at 1400 hours local time, which is two hours ahead of GMT.

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