Can McLaren rivals get back on terms in Principality?
Fernando Alonso still leads the world championship after five rounds but as the Spaniard discovered in his home event, the opposition is getting stronger by the race. Renault go to Monte Carlo as reigning champions of the famous street race, but this is a weekend when anything could happen...
McLaren showed in Barcelona just how strong their MP4-20 package now is, and you would be unwise to bet against a repeat success for the silver arrows. Kimi Raikkonen is driving superbly at the moment, and is on a mission to grab as many points as possible from Alonso as he aims to claw back lost ground in the title chase. At the same time, Juan Pablo Montoya is a past winner in the Principality, having triumphed there for Williams back in 2003. Austrian Alexander Wurz will be on duty again for McLaren on Friday.
Their success in Spain has really fired up the Anglo-German team, though Norbert Haug, vice president of Mercedes-Benz Motorsport is not letting himself get carried away. The task to be at the Monaco Grand prix in a similar position as in the last race in Spain is not an easy one. The nature of the Monte Carlo street circuit is completely different from Barcelona and in fact all the other tracks on the calendar. The race on the streets of the Principality is the one with the slowest average qualifying and race speeds. Only about 50 per cent of a lap is run under full throttle. Currently I can see at least half a dozen drivers and as many teams that are basically in a position to win.
Over at Renault, expectations are high after Jarno Trullis victory for the team here last year and the way the R25 has gone so far this season. There is no reason whatsoever why the R25 should not be highly competitive in Monte Carlo, and both Alonso and Giancarlo Fisichella, who got his campaign back on track in Spain, will be pushing hard to win.
While McLarens win in Spain did not surprise Renault, Alonso for one does not believe the picture there was totally representative. We knew they were a bit quicker than us all weekend, they had a new package there and it did the job. But I don't think the race gave a representative picture of the difference between our cars, because Kimi was able to pull away too easily in the first stint as I was struggling with the car. I think we will be much more equal in Monaco, and am feeling very confident.
And interestingly, the Spaniard does not share the view that Monte Carlo is the definitive drivers circuit. Historically, people have said that, but everything needs to be good. In the three years I have driven there, I have driven the same way - but a few years ago I was back in the pack, then last year with Renault we were fighting for the win. The car is very important as well: you need good suspension, the aero is maybe less important, but the engine must be good, and soft in the power delivery. The R25 is easy to drive, and predictable, so I think we have a strong car for this circuit.
Jarno Trulli is feeling particularly excited at Toyota and believes he has the right package for the weekend. "Monaco is obviously one of my favourite tracks and I have some special memories from last year, when I won the race from pole. It's a dream for any driver to win his first grand prix and the way I won, dominating qualifying and the race, gave me a lot of satisfaction.
The most important corners for connecting up the Monaco lap are Ste Devote, Casino Square, the entry to the tunnel, the chicane, the Swimming Pool and Rascasse. Of those, the Swimming Pool entry is my favourite. It's quick, very challenging and I like the change of direction from left to right. Toyota have had a great season so far but it's difficult to predict exactly how we will perform at Monaco until we try the circuit with our package. Its a place where the driver probably makes more of a difference than anywhere else, but the handling of the car is still important and so are the tyres. We'll be giving everything to keep up our run of good results."
If these are the three teams most likely to challenge for victory - especially in the enforced absence of BAR as they sit out their second race ban - Ferrari and Michael Schumacher can never be discounted, even though the world champion will be sporting bruises after a heavy tackle against Didier Deschamps, the former French football captain against whom he was playing in a recent charity match between a Formula One side and the Monaco All Stars!
Williams are hoping that further subtle revisions to the FW27s will help to repeat their 2003 win here, Sauber believe that in the C24 they now have a car with the right degree of mechanical traction to go well in Monaco, and Red Bull Racing have high hopes for former winner David Coulthard and last years F3000 victor Vitantonio Liuzzi. On a circuit where there is often a high rate of retirement, Jordan and Minardi are optimistic that they might just sneak into the points.
The race will run over 78 laps of the 3.340 km track, and starts at 1400 hours local time, which is two hours ahead of GMT.