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PADDOCK INSIDER: Monaco is one of F1's great challenges – and it's where Red Bull's rivals will feel they are beatable
Monaco is one of Formula 1’s great challenges. The traffic is monstrous – and that’s just when you’ve got 20 cars fighting for position around the tight, twisty and barrier-lined street track.
Drivers need to beware of slower cars when on a hot lap – no easy feat when there are several blind corners and only a narrow path to thread your way past. Misjudge and it’s lap over. There’s a bottleneck in the final segment during qualifying, too, as drivers back up to give themselves some clear air to push for a flying lap.
Communication, then, is key. The radio waves heaving, with engineers giving their drivers consistent updates about where other cars are on the track to help them thread their way around the track without having to lift off the accelerator and give up precious lap time. It’s a balance, though, as too much communication can be distracting as a driver tries to focus.
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At just 3.3km, it’s the shortest track on the calendar. Packed into that route, which winds its way up and down the hilly Principality is 19 corners. There is little time for the drivers to relax, even in the high-speed run through the iconic tunnel. It’s stressful, there’s barely time to catch the break.
When the margins are so tight, mistakes happen. It’s inevitable. Sometimes you get it right, sometimes you get it wrong. It’s why a drivers’ skill is clearer to see around here. They can make more of a difference.
Harnessing those skills requires confidence – and drivers get that by building it up through the three one-hour practice sessions. Never is practice more important than Monaco.
And unlike other race weekends, it is qualifying where all the emphasis is. The last three dry Monaco Grands Prix have been led from start to finish - Ricciardo in 2018, Hamilton in 2019 and Verstappen in 2021. Overtaking isn’t impossible, it’s just very, very, very, very difficult. So a grid spot will likely define your race on Sunday.
This is why Ferrari are optimistic this could be a weekend where they can really shine if they get everything right. Their car over one lap has been promising, with Charles Leclerc the only non-Red Bull driver to start on pole this season. Their race pace, however, drops like a stone – and they struggle to fend off the likes of Aston Martin and Mercedes – and at times, the Alpine and Haas cars.
That deficit won’t hurt them here – providing they can get on pole or, better still, lock out the front row and stay reliable. They also have the fastest pit stop of the year, with Charles Leclerc getting fresh boots in just 2.10s in Jeddah.
They’ve been rapid in the pit lane in 2023, with three of the fastest four stops. And that would put them in good shape to hold on in the race, even if they aren’t the fastest car. But the red cars are not the only ones who fancy their chances around the streets of Monaco.
Aston Martin, who this week announced an impressive deal to bring Honda to the team in 2026 as their works engine, are also very much eyeing up their strongest result of the season.
Double world champion Fernando Alonso has finished third in four of the five races to sit third in the drivers’ championship. But he’ll fancy an upgrade, ideally to a victory that would be his first in 10 years, dating back to the 2013 Spanish Grand Prix.
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Those green cars – like their red rivals Ferrari – are very strong at slow-speed corners. That’s handy given there are so many of them around Monte Carlo.
The slight unknown is Mercedes, who have brought their long-awaited update to the Principality. The most visual change is the sidepods, but the more significant tweaks will be less clear, namely around the front suspension and floor.
Boss Toto Wolff has played expectations down – “it won’t be a silver bullet”. But they do hope that the change gives Lewis Hamilton and George Russell more confidence in the car. Do that and they very much could be in the mix this weekend.
Red Bull, though, remain favourites as, while they don’t lead the way in the slow corners performance charts, they do have the overall fastest car with oodles and oodles of downforce – something that is key around Monaco.
Sergio Perez clinched victory last year, with his team mate and championship leader Max Verstappen taking the spoils the year before.
READ MORE: 'It's not our strongest circuit' – Perez and Verstappen admit Red Bull could 'struggle' to 'show our strengths' at Monaco
And what a season they are already having. The reigning world champions are only one short of their single-season record of five one-two finishes, with Verstappen having finished every race in 2023 in the top-two.
That is a stunning run of form – and one which will be difficult to end. But Monaco is the place where their rivals Ferrari, Aston Martin and Mercedes will feel they are beatable.
Eight drivers in the fight for victory? Yes, please.
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