The reality of street racing by the men who know best
Anything can happen in Monte Carlo, which is exactly why the drivers love it. The Formula One field look ahead to one of the biggest challenges of the Grand Prix season 78 laps around the tight confines of Monaco, where accuracy is everything.
Cristiano da Matta, Toyota:
"I enjoy racing at the Monaco Grand Prix, and I just missed out on the points on my debut there in 2003. Realistically, though, we will struggle to improve on that performance this year. In theory, Monaco is a difficult circuit for us because it's a bumpy track and one that requires lots of downforce, and these are two areas where we still need to find improvements. As I live in Monaco, I can usually go straight home on a scooter after my day's work, so that's a nice feeling and a refreshing change from the other races on the calendar."
Olivier Panis, Toyota:
"To be honest, I don't think Monaco is the perfect circuit for us right now, as our package is not fantastic at low speeds, but I have always enjoyed the grand prix. Apart from winning in 1996, I have also had some very good results there. That's why I'm still quite positive and staying focused on the job in hand. Sometimes something happens at Monaco, which can move you up the field, so we will be looking to capitalise if it does. The most important thing about driving at Monaco is to be confident with the car you have but what you need to do is stay concentrated for the whole race and certainly not make any mistakes."
Ricardo Zonta, third driver, Toyota:
"I quite enjoy the Monaco Grand Prix weekend. It's a nice place to race, but the track's not easy. I've only raced around the streets once in Formula One, back in 2000. You don't feel like you're driving an F1 car around there purely because we don't reach such high speeds as other tracks. Like Cristiano and many other drivers I live in Monaco. Normally, it is a very quiet place to live with little activity, but at race time it gets very busy. Hopefully the new paddock should make it easier than normal for the pit crews to work."
Giancarlo Fisichella, Sauber:
"We've been really strong at the last race in Barcelona. The team has worked very hard and the chosen two-stop strategy paid off. Scoring two points was a valuable result for us. Now I'm quite curious how things will go for us in Monaco. I love Monaco! I was second in the Formula Three race there in 1993 and won it in 1994, and back in 1998 I was second behind Hakkinen. I was really happy with my own performance, and the car's, that day. The place has plenty of good memories for me.
"I feel very confident on the circuit. It's very challenging, because you need to get so close to the walls yet be so precise in everything you do. Ste Devote, for example, is quite difficult to get absolutely right; I've seen a lot of drivers lose a race there. If you go in just a few metres too late, you are in the wall. All round the lap you have to keep your concentration at the maximum, from the first lap to the last. And if other drivers make no mistakes, it's impossible to overtake anyone. Having said that, in 1994 I made a bad start and lost the lead to Jorg Muller, but managed to outbrake him at the chicane on the opening lap before he established his rhythm.
"Perhaps one of the best things about Monaco is the fact that it is a place where you can make a difference as a driver. You still need a very good car to do well there, but you can do a bit more to help make it quick."
Felipe Massa, Sauber:
"The only race I have ever done at Monaco was the 2002 Grand Prix, and I crashed out of that very heavily in a head-on accident at Ste Devote after a rear brake problem. Despite that, I love the circuit! It is a difficult and challenging track, with the walls so close all the time. You have a much greater sense of speed as a result. You don't let them intimidate you, but you do have to be aware of them because they penalise the slightest mistake.
"It's very technical and traction is very important. You also need handling stability; the last thing you want is oversteer, especially braking hard for the chicane.
"We tested well in Fiorano in preparation for Monaco and have some more new parts for the car, so I hope we will be able to qualify well and therefore race strongly."
Jenson Button, BAR:
"Monaco is very different to any other circuit. There are big barriers all the way around and it is very fast - it also seems faster to drive because the barriers are so much closer to the track. There is no margin for error and that's why you normally see people building up to a good lap time - some taking longer than others. It's obviously going to be very important to get plenty of mileage on the car and so hopefully Anthony will be able to do plenty of laps during Thursday's running. It's a circuit I enjoy and I think that we are going to be very strong there. Ferrari obviously remain the dominant force but it would be nice to get a good result and get back on the podium, especially after the accident I had here last year. All in all, I'm really looking forward to it."
Takuma Sato, BAR:
"I am very excited to be racing in Monaco next week. It is a very special Grand Prix in the calendar. This is the first time I have raced there since 2002 and I am very interested to see all the changes to the circuit and the paddock area since then. Having had a strong weekend in Barcelona, I think we are looking very positive for the race and personally I am looking forward to it. We have been testing at Paul Ricard this weekend and hopefully the development work we have conducted there will give us a good boost."
Juan Pablo Montoya, Williams:
No doubt the Monaco Grand Prix is both very special and very difficult at the same time. The track punishes you for any mistakes because if you lose the car you end up in the wall. It is an art to learn how to push there! It's a unique race because it's the only real street circuit we race at and this is the main reason why it has so much charm.
I was on pole two years ago and I won last year. I remain very proud of this particular victory as it has long been one of my main Formula One ambitions to win at Monaco. This year will really down to the car if we'll be able to catch up with our competitors. Naturally I'll be giving my all to repeat last year's success.
Ralf Schumacher, Williams:
I am looking forward to next weekend in Monaco as I lived there for many years. That said, the track is not up-to-date, but nevertheless, last year it was the highlight of the season as on Saturday I was on pole and on Sunday Juan won the race! It was the turning point of what had been a disappointing start of the season and in the end we nearly claimed a World Championship.
At the moment we are far away from that possibility, but I would like to believe in a little miracle in the Principality. But looking at it realistically, we are not going to be fighting for the victory unless other teams do not perform at their best. At present the Team is working round the clock, but it will take some time before we can be at the front again.
Jarno Trulli, Renault:
(Q: You come into Monaco on the back of your strongest result of the season so far: how big a boost is that for you?) So far, the team has had a very strong start to the season, and for me, this is definitely the best start I have had in my time at Renault. Barcelona was a great result because we earned our finish - there was nothing lucky about it, no presents from other teams - and both Fernando and I are performing strongly in the championship. As a team, we are strong with perfect reliability, and motivation is high for Monaco.
(Q: As a driver, is Monaco a special weekend?) As a Renault driver, definitely! The atmosphere is nice because there are big crowds, and also lots of Renault supporters. It is uncomfortable because of the restricted space, but I think that things will improve this year with the new garages. In terms of working on the car, Monaco is a strange place: rather than looking for the optimum set-up, you concentrate on getting the car working so that you can put it where you want to on the circuit. You need a good car, and we have that, but the driver can make a real difference. There are compromises to be made everywhere, but to be quick, the driver has to be 100% confident in the car.
(Q: In terms of performance, the team finished the Barcelona weekend as the second team on the grid. How will things go in Monaco?) We will only find out how fast we are when we actually get on to the track, but the circuit should suit us. Even though the layout stays the same, Monaco is a different race every year, with its own surprises and characteristics.We made progress with the car at Barcelona, and it was very consistent in performance during the race. I think this can be a good race for us, but there are too many variables now to make any definite predictions.
Fernando Alonso, Renault:
(Q: You have finished every race in the points this season, but not been on the podium since Australia - can that change in Monaco?) So far, the results this year have been excellent for the team - our third and fourth places in Barcelona helped us build a gap to BAR in the Constructors' Championship, so that is extremely positive. Obviously, I was disappointed not to get onto the podium in the race, but I set third fastest lap just one tenth slower than Michael, so it was clear we had a good level of performance with the car. But to use that race performance consistently, we need to work hard on qualifying further up the grid, and that will be even more important in Monaco where it is so difficult to overtake - if we get stuck behind slower cars, it is much harder to make up positions there than at other circuits.
(Q: Monaco is a unique circuit, and experience is crucial: how successful do you think your third visit to the Principality will be?) We will see - the race is so different to anywhere else that we cannot make any predictions until we have started running on Thursday. It is very important to know the circuit well and to have experience racing there, to know how the track changes, and to best understand how to set the car up and cope with the changing conditions - grip levels increase very quickly, and that can catch you out if you don't have the experience to adapt. Also, we have an extra day between practice and qualifying, and the circuit changes a lot in that time: you have to learn everything again on Saturday morning.
(Q: When it comes to favourite circuits, Spa and Suzuka are inevitably mentioned - but not often Monaco. Do you enjoy racing there?) To be honest, you are so busy in the car, all the time, at every point around the circuit, that it is hard to enjoy it.You need maximum concentration at every stage of the race, because any mistake will put you out. For me personally, the best part of the circuit is the first sector, with the quicker corners at Massenet and Casino Square, but Monaco is definitely more of a challenging circuit than an enjoyable one.
Michael Schumacher, Ferrari:
Last year we didn't seem to have that spark about us and this time at Monaco we want to do better! I see no reason why we shouldnt perform well in the Principality. However, I realise that, above all, BAR-Honda are in good shape. Monaco is little like Imola and I seem to recall that they did really well there. Renault will also be a threat at Monaco.
We have analysed all the starts of the first five races and come to the conclusion that they are as good as the other teams, even though they don't seem to be, so I am not really worried too much about Monaco. More than anything, the pole position is more important that it is elsewhere but thanks to a sound strategy, you can win even if you start further back.
We always want to win and this is particularly true at Monaco. I like this race as it is such a technically demanding one. It's the fact that it stimulates drivers that makes it such a challenge. It is a prestigious challenge and this is where the stimulation comes from. I am always motivated for Monaco and this time wont be any different.
Mark Webber, Jaguar:
"I have great memories of Monaco especially from my win here in 2001 when I was competing in F3000. The street-circuit tends to favour those who have experience here, so for me this is a track that I really enjoy although even with a few years experience it can still throw surprises your way. The on-track activities are starting on Thursday this week and we will be looking to make the most of having three cars on track in order to complete as much mileage as possible. The track is generally quite slow and also bumpy so the set-up and balance on the car can take some time to adjust. Mechanical grip is important here, perhaps more so than aero. I know that the team will be doing a good job in preparing the R5 so it will be down to me to keep it on track. You need 100% concentration on this track at all times as there is no run-off areas, you don't get a second chance if you make a mistake. I will be looking to qualify well as there are few overtaking opportunities and as a result you need to make the most of attrition, of which I am sure there will be some! You also need to be careful about getting stuck behind some of the slower cars as traffic on the track can really mess up your strategy. Whatever way we look at it, it's going to be an interesting race and the spectators are always guaranteed some entertainment here!"
Christian Klien, Jaguar:
"I don't know this circuit at all so this is going to be a testing weekend for me on track. However saying that, this will not be the first track I will have raced at where I have no experience so I am going into it open-minded and motivated. I have read much about the circuit and the race weekend and I am looking forward to racing on a circuit that has so much history connected to it. My team of engineers has been doing their best to describe the likely challenges of the circuit to me but until I get out there I won't really know. I will be making the most of the Thursday testing and working on my set-up and balance here. The circuit is also likely to be quite hard on the tyres and traction will be important here. We have a good competitive car in the R5 and I will be aiming for the chequered flag here and points would be a bonus. If I can bring the car home in one piece and avoid the barriers I will be pleased."
Bjorn Wirdheim, third driver, Jaguar:
"I've raced on the Monaco circuit twice and both times have been exhilarating, especially last year when I was in F3000 and finished second. I love the street circuits and I have been fortunate enough to have raced in Macau (Malaysia) on their street circuit so this should stand me in good stead for Thursday's practice. Monaco has got to be one of my favourite tracks. There is no margin for error and you have got to be in full control at all times, which is why I enjoy the circuit so much. Thursday should be quite interesting because there are going to be a lot of cars on track and not a lot of space. The circuit offers few overtaking opportunities so you need to be watchful not to get stuck behind too much traffic on your laps. The team has been working hard during these last two weeks to prepare the car so I will be doing my best to support Mark and Christian in their bid for some points. This is going to be one of my busiest races this year in terms of PR and Marketing events and I suspect that I will spend as much time on the circuit in my moped going to events as I will do driving it in the R5".
Nick Heidfeld, Jordan:
"Monaco is one of my favourite circuits, along with Suzuka. Its a very special race, driving through the city, as it doesnt give you room for mistakes and on top of that its a very special atmosphere every year. From the teams point of view, we probably have a better chance here than we had in the last couple of races because if you look at history, anything can happen in Monaco. We will try our best and see what happens.
Giorgio Pantano, Jordan:
I expect Monaco to be very challenging for me as I have never been there with an F1 car. It will be quite hard to understand quickly how to use it best, finding its limits, where the braking points are and so on. Fortunately I know the circuit as I have been there three times in F3000, so its a case of applying my existing knowledge to learning Monaco in F1. Its demanding because there is absolutely no allowance for mistakes every error will damage your car, for sure. The trick is to concentrate and be careful while at the same time going fast and always on the limit. Its a circuit where it may be possible for us to get a good result as you never know what might happen."
David Coulthard, McLaren:
For me, the Monaco Grand Prix is definitely one of the key features of the Formula One season, and hopefully this year it will be a little easier for everyone working in the pitlane with the new facilities. They have been under construction since mid-2002 and they look very impressive and will definitely improve the working environment. Although there are no particularly fast sections of track, and consequentially no hard braking points in comparison with say Monza, it is still a very tough circuit for the drivers. There are 16 corners over the shortest track on the calendar, 2.075 mile / 3.340km, all of which are tight so it requires constant concentration. Despite this quantity of corners overtaking is virtually impossible. There are some chances, such as the braking zone into Mirabeau, but its always very risky. My two victories at Monaco have been highlights of my career so far. Realistically it is unlikely I will add another Monte Carlo win to my tally this year, however hopefully we will be able to improve on performance in Spain and take some points.
Kimi Raikkonen, McLaren:
Like most of the drivers, I always enjoy the Monaco Grand Prix. There is a special atmosphere about the event, its a totally different race than all the other tracks on the calendar, I would say it is a real drivers circuit. It is a proper street circuit and therefore is very tight. Rather than having the usual run-off areas, the Armco barriers line the edge of the track itself so any slight error is likely to mean the end of your race. Because its so narrow, its also very difficult to overtake. There are a couple of opportunities including the first corner, Ste Devote, but as with the whole track you have to be very careful through here, particularly at the start of the race. I had a close battle with Juan Pablo last year, it was a good race, and although it is unlikely we will be at the front of the pack this weekend on current form, we are aiming to be more competitive than at the Circuit de Catalunya on the narrow streets of Monte Carlo.
More to follow.