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IT'S RACE WEEK: 5 storylines we're excited about ahead of the 2024 Monaco Grand Prix

Special Contributor

Chris Medland
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An edge-of-your-seat ending to the last race in Imola has definitely whet the appetite for more on-track action, and it comes thick and fast with the quick trip to one of the sport’s most iconic venues. There’s plenty to get excited about as the paddock reconvenes in Monaco.

The close fight at the front

The way Red Bull started the season, you would be forgiven for expecting them to be the heavy favourites at every single race this season, and you might have still needed convincing otherwise despite the win for Lando Norris in Miami.

Arriving in Imola, Red Bull had some new parts but with Ferrari also bringing a new upgrade the top three teams were closer than ever, with Max Verstappen admitting he wasn’t expecting pole position on Saturday and actually targeting a top-five starting spot among the McLarens and Ferraris.

READ MORE: Horner praises ‘phenomenal’ turnaround by Red Bull at the end of ‘stressful’ Imola GP

2024 Emilia Romagna Grand Prix: Norris crosses the line to take P2 after thrilling chase for the win

Even after the comfortable opening half of the race from Verstappen’s point of view, Norris came back at him to deliver the thrilling finish as they crossed the line just 0.7s apart. And afterwards, Norris confirmed McLaren now need to get used to fighting for wins each weekend after the step forward they have made.

READ MORE: Leclerc pleased with Imola podium as he says ‘it’s looking good’ for Ferrari in remainder of season

Charles Leclerc felt Ferrari missed out in qualifying at Imola, and he certainly posed a threat to Norris in the middle part of the race, with Leclerc, Norris and Verstappen all stating their impression that the gaps between the top three cars was under 0.1s last weekend.

That sets up the mouthwatering proposition of a race weekend where at least three teams will be targeting the victory when they hit the track on Friday, at a circuit where the driver can make that bit more of a difference, too.

Leclerc’s home race

While Leclerc was a little disappointed to only finish third in Imola given the potential Ferrari had shown earlier in the weekend, he won’t have long to dwell on it as he heads to one of the busiest events of his season.

As a Monegasque, Leclerc always has huge support in Monaco and with it comes an intense focus on his chances. It’s often referenced how he used to take the bus to school around sections of the grand prix circuit; a place he knows so well.

IMOLA, ITALY - MAY 19: Third placed Charles Leclerc of Monaco and Ferrari attends the press

Will racing on his home turf hand local hero Leclerc an advantage in Monaco?

So far it hasn’t been the kindest venue to the 26-year-old, though, with a best finish of fourth place despite securing two pole positions - the first of those coming in 2021 when he failed to start the race due to reliability issues surfacing on the laps to the grid.

The podium at Imola was Ferrari’s first at that venue since Michael Schumacher in 2006, and as much as Leclerc will be targeting victory, a top three finish would also see him stand on the iconic Monaco podium for the first time.

The driver market, with Sargeant ‘at risk’

As the more familiar motorhomes that make up the paddock at European races were put in place in Imola, many drivers were heading in and out of the different units as the driver market continues to bubble away.

Alex Albon’s new deal took one seat out of the equation, but who joins him at Williams next year was the centre of more focus after team principal James Vowles confirmed to Sky Sports that Logan Sargeant is “at risk” and needing to improve to retain his drive.

WATCH: ‘I believe in this journey’ – Albon discusses multi-year contract extension with Williams Team Principal James Vowles

Vowles insisted he wasn’t looking at making any changes during the season, but hinted there could be movement on the second driver for 2025 and 2026 in the coming weeks. Andrea Kimi Antonelli has been linked, but so too have more experienced names such as Valtteri Bottas or even Carlos Sainz depending on how the Red Bull, Mercedes and Audi situations play out.

IMOLA, ITALY - MAY 17: Logan Sargeant of United States and Williams prepares to drive in the garage

Sargeant could use a good result in Monte Carlo as he bids to keep his seat for 2025

But while a lot of it is discussed off-record, Vowles was open about the task facing Sargeant, while also stating he has not made any final decisions and that the door remains open for the American to retain his seat.

A strong weekend in Monaco would be a real statement from Sargeant if he can put a clean one together, as Vowles looks for signs of progress in his second year on the grid.

It’s Monaco

Need I say more? The sight of Formula 1 cars being wrestled around the streets of Monaco is one of the most incredible in sport. Every year there is a special buzz from the moment the cars roll out at the start of FP1, as you get to see the drivers building up their confidence and pace and slowly getting closer and closer to the barriers. Or in some cases, a little too close…

It’s a track that rewards bravery and commitment but punishes mistakes so heavily, and also places different levels of importance on the competitive sessions during a weekend.

MONTE-CARLO, MONACO - MAY 28: Max Verstappen of the Netherlands driving the (1) Oracle Red Bull

The race start at Monaco is among the most perilous on the F1 calendar

So much of the focus for the teams and drivers will be on qualifying performance and that all-important best single lap on Saturday, with starting position so much more crucial in Monaco than anywhere else. Strategy can always play a part, but securing the best spot on the grid is imperative.

To that end, the qualifying laps when the cars are at their fastest and the drivers taking the most risks are mesmerising to watch, and a real highlight of the season. And the backdrop isn’t too bad, either…

Could the weather play a key role?

The Monaco Grand Prix might conjure up images of a clear blue sky and gorgeous Mediterranean waters shimmering in the sunshine, but there have been many occasions where the weather has played a key role in the outcome of the race. And this weekend could be one such case.

Monaco in the wet is a challenge unlike any other, with so little room for error and driver skill coming to the fore even more than usual. At the time of writing, that could be required on Saturday, with a risk of rain around the time of qualifying.

Based on the long-range forecast, the practice sessions all look dry, so there could end up being a situation where drivers are dealing with wet conditions for the first time when it matters the most. And if that comes to pass, who knows what the final grid will look like?

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