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Pre-Monaco analysis - drivers relishing Monte Carlo challenge

22 May 2014

Despite the optimism of Red Bull and Mercedes, and even Mercedes Motorsport boss Toto Wolff playing down expectations in the Principality, Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton believe their Mercedes will be quick again this weekend. Rosberg in particular made no bones about it yesterday.

While discussing the approach he would take to the weekend and whether he is anxious to regain the championship lead as quickly as possible, he declared: “I’m not too focused on that. Of course I would prefer to be ahead than behind but it’s very, very close and there’s still a long way to go. So I’m just focused on this weekend here, looking forward to it, because I know that I have a fantastic car at the moment and I expect it to be very, very quick also here in Monaco. They [the opposition] they might be a lot closer to us this weekend and we need to wait and see if we are the fastest and the chances are we will be, but I look forward it and hope to have a fantastic weekend again.”

Hamilton said he hoped that their rivals will be closer, relishing the prospect of a battle.

“I really hope they [Red Bull and Ferrari] are with us so we can have a serious race. How sick would it be if we’re all scattered in the top six? A serious battle would be wicked. I want to race. I know how it was when I used to wake up and watch it and there was some racing going on, how amazing it was.”

There’s a quiet determination in the way that four-time champion Sebastian Vettel is talking these days, and he is convinced that Monaco will give him his best chance of causing an upset as Red Bull struggle to get back on top. Hailing improvements to his RB10 which saw him and team mate Daniel Ricciardo chase the Mercedes home in Barcelona, he said: "The step we made in in the race in Spain, with very little practice to talk about, was quite good in terms of speed, tyre wear and result. I think we have an explanation for it. So, really to confirm we need to see here and in Canada. Obviously the track here is different - it is not a real race track. But historically it has always been a good reference of where you are as a driver and where the car is. So in terms of ranking it should not be any different I guess.

"You have to respect that Mercedes has a very, very strong package. I guess they will be very strong here. Nico and Lewis are very good around here, so they will be the ones to beat - but maybe we can be a bit closer.

"Barcelona was a step in the right direction, at least in terms of race pace. In qualifying they were obviously quite far away but the target for sure, as long as it’s dry, is to put in a very good qualifying because that is more or less half of the job already done on Saturday.”

Meanwhile, as he harbours his own hopes of a stronger performance for the McLaren MP4-29 here, 2009 winner Jenson Button said he expects problems from the new surface that has been laid from the exit to Casino Square down to the chicane. It is intended to smooth out some of Monaco’s infamous bumps, but he said he can see it causing problems of a different kind.

"Out of Massenet, from there all the way through the tunnel, it has new asphalt - which we think is probably quite similar to Austin in the first year," he explained. "It’s going to be very, very low grip. That will be a big issue for everyone. The soft tyre is going to be tough for everyone to get working - especially the fronts. But the supersoft should be good."

Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso echoed the feeling that we could be in for a spectacular first practice session this morning.

"This weekend is a question mark for everybody," he said. "The cars have been quite tricky to drive and we arrive to a very special circuit with a unique layout and some risky points.

"We need to see which team can adapt the car a little bit better for here. In a normal circuit an update is worth two or three tenths, but in Monaco it's not so important. Confidence in the car can give you half a second or seven tenths. With zero updates, if you have confidence in the car with a good set-up and good preparation you can be a lot better - that's our aim for this weekend."

Spare a thought, too, for Toro Rosso’s Monaco virgin Daniil Kvyat. As team mate Jean-Eric Vergne says that Monaco is one of the hardest races to which one should always arrive in a humble state of mind even if things have gone well for you in previous years, the impressive young Russian has not only never raced here, but has never raced on a street track in his career.

“Monaco for me will be an absolutely new experience,” he said. “Not only have I never raced there, I have never even been there on a visit. Of course, I have watched a lot of races from Monaco on TV and a lot of onboard footage. But it will really be a step into the unknown for me, even if I have now driven it on the simulator. In fact, I have never raced on any street circuit. I’m really looking forward to the weekend, mainly from a driving point of view, but I also want to find out what it is that makes this race such a special event for all fans of motorsport.”

We’ll find out this morning how much track conditions might conspire against him in that learning process.