IT'S RACE WEEK: 5 storylines we're excited about ahead of the Monaco Grand Prix
Following the heartbreaking scenes in Emilia-Romagna that led to last weekend’s postponement, a delayed return to racing takes place this weekend. But it’s one of the highlights of the year that kicks off what is now a double-header, so here are some of the big stories heading to Monaco.
1. Well, it’s Monaco!
There’s just something so utterly mind-blowing about seeing Formula 1 cars on the streets of Monaco, and it never gets old. The stunning Principality circuit winds its way past the Casino and through the tunnel before wrapping round the harbour and past Rascasse on its way back to the start line, in one of the most incredible settings for a racetrack.
It’s a venue where legends are made and the great and the good of motorsport – and beyond – all want to be seen, seeking the best vantage points ready for when the streets are reverberating with the sound of F1 machinery. It all adds up to a race that all of the drivers want to win, to cement their place in the storied history of the Grand Prix.
Fans trackside get some of the most incredible views of an F1 car threading its way between the barriers and can get closer to the action than at many other races, but for those watching from home there will be a few changes. This year Formula One Management (FOM) is taking over production duties for the coverage in Monaco, to guarantee continuity with all of the other races on the calendar.
2. Thoughts with Emilia-Romagna
As excited as we all are to get back to action in Monaco, there remains the sadness that there was no racing possible at Imola last weekend.
The scenes in the Emilia-Romagna region were terrible as the widespread flooding and landslides hit the area, leading to the decision – made with all the relevant local authorities – to call off the race.
Since then, a lot of hard work has been taking place to try and repair damage and reunite people with their homes, and that will continue for some time to come. That’s why Formula 1 made a €1million donation to the Emilia-Romagna Region's Agency for Territorial Safety and Civil Protection, following a similar commitment from Ferrari, while food and water originally allocated for guests at the race has been passed on so that it can be distributed to those in need.
AlphaTauri’s home town of Faenza was one of the places badly hit, with team members – including Yuki Tsunoda – spending much of their time helping with the clear up. This weekend, F1 goes racing again with those affected very much in mind.
3. A threat to Red Bull?
Red Bull have enjoyed a sensational start to the 2023 season with one-two finishes in four of the five Grands Prix so far, including last time out when Max Verstappen beat Sergio Perez to victory in Miami.
While the two team mates could well enjoy another thrilling battle on a track where Perez won last year, Monaco also provides the best opportunity for the chasing pack to put an end to Red Bull’s run.
Saturday’s qualifying session in Monaco is one of the most amazing sights of the year as drivers put it all on the line over a flying lap on low fuel, knowing that pole position would take them a huge step closer to victory on a track that is so difficult to overtake on. Position changes in the race are not impossible by any stretch, but the leader out of Turn 1 on the opening lap is the heavy favourite to win.
And that means the likes of Aston Martin and Ferrari will be eyeing a first victory of the season. Both have been able to get closer to Red Bull on a Saturday rather than a Sunday – including Charles Leclerc’s double pole position in Baku – and if one of their drivers can get the better of Verstappen and Perez in Monaco there’s a chance they can dictate the race.
Red Bull’s Sunday advantage and DRS strength is far less likely to have its usual impact around the tight streets, meaning it could all come down to who puts it together in Q3.
4. The question marks surrounding upgrades
If we rewind to last week’s It’s Race Week feature, one of the main topics was about upgrades, and the new Mercedes parts that were planned for Imola in particular. Not that Mercedes were going to be on their own, of course, but there is significant anticipation surrounding the developments they have been working on since the start of the season to try and close the gap at the front.
But now there is less certainty about new parts. Monaco is such a unique circuit that drivers need to spend as much time as possible simply getting comfortable on the track and being able to push the limits, rather than focusing on analysing updates.
And any updates can also be tough to analyse, because of the track’s low-speed nature that puts an emphasis on mechanical aspects such as braking stability and traction. Of course, the better a car is, the better it will perform here too, but it’s difficult to judge just what the impact of new parts can be.
So teams will have a decision to make, between introducing updates that could change the way the car handles, or prioritise a more known quantity that potentially doesn’t have the outright performance level that an upgraded car could have if all goes smoothly. And that’s all before factoring in that components are more likely to get damaged in Monaco than at many other venues…
5. Rookies ready for a steep learning curve
Upgrades might be an unknown for some teams, but so too will be how rookie drivers will take to the challenge of Monaco. 2023’s grid is full of immense talent, but prior knowledge of how it feels to take a Formula 1 car around this track certainly helps the more experienced drivers get up to speed.
Although all three have raced here in Formula 2, for Oscar Piastri, Logan Sargeant and Nyck de Vries it’s a new test to try and replicate their performances in F1. It’s a track where the driver can make even more of a difference than at some others, and so they have to balance the risk/reward factor trying to impress in machinery that hasn’t been overly competitive so far this year for any of them.
Regardless of the potential results their cars offer up, how quickly each of them get comfortable and find the limit – or otherwise – will still be an intriguing aspect of the weekend.