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Monaco preview - Rosberg aiming for third successive 'home' win

20 May 2015

Besides placing a huge premium on downforce, Monaco - the shortest and slowest track on the F1 calendar - places high demands on power unit performance. Sheer horsepower is important for the climb up from Ste Devote to Casino Square, while torque comes into play punching the cars out of the slow corners. The difference between the two? According to one top driver, horsepower is how fast you hit the wall, torque is how much of the wall you take with you...

The real key factor in the Principality however is driveability, not just because it helps the car to perform at its best, but because Monaco is a track where the driver can make a big difference to lap time - so long as he feels confident in the car and the way it behaves.

One driver who knows that only too well is pre-race favourite Nico Rosberg, who has won the last two races at the circuit for Mercedes. The German, who grew up in the Principality, also claimed a confidence-boosting victory last time out in Spain to re-apply the pressure on championship-leading team mate Lewis Hamilton, who will be determined to rebound this weekend, when he is expected to finally announce that he has re-signed for Mercedes for 2016 and beyond.

Of course, last year here Hamilton believed that Rosberg indulged in deliberate subterfuge at Mirabeau in the second runs in Q3 to safeguard his pole position, and interestingly this time he will be the first of the two to run in that session. Ostensibly, that was due to a pre-season toss of a coin when such matters are determined, Rosberg getting the nod in odd races, Hamilton in the even ones. Whatever the reason, it could give the reigning world champion the advantage he seeks to help him win the race for a second time. 

Either way, battle between the two team mates is well and truly engaged.

"We had a perfect weekend in Spain and, for me personally, it was good to close the gap a little in the points," Rosberg says. "Monaco is a home race for me and it's strange to just walk or take a scooter to the racetrack - but also very cool to sleep in your own bed each night! 

"The circuit itself has very unique setup characteristics and we evaluated a few of those during the (post-race) test in Barcelona, as the last sector there has a lot of tight corners which are quite representative. The car felt very good so I'm feeling optimistic and ready for this next race. If we can have everything running smoothly from the start it should be a good weekend, so I'm really looking forward to it."

Hamilton says: "I didn't have the best weekend in Barcelona, so to come away with second was okay in terms of damage limitation. I'm now fully focused on Monaco - the race that everybody looks forward to and one I particularly love. It's the biggest challenge of the year for a driver and, when you get it right, that feeling is hard to beat. 

"Building a rhythm right from the beginning of practice is so important, as you really need to feel your way into the circuit. You have to be inch perfect at every point, as the slightest slip can ruin your weekend. It's about pure driving skill and pure bravery behind the wheel, which for me is what makes it so special. 

"Like Spain, it's another circuit where I haven't had the best of luck in the past - but I'm not interested in what's been and gone or in making any predictions. I'm just here to get in this fantastic car we have, race it hard and give it everything I've got, like always."

Ferrari meanwhile are sticking with the aerodynamic upgrades that they ran on Sebastian Vettel's SF15-T in Spain, despite the team's poor performance there. Post-race testing and subsequent data investigation have revealed that the updates were working as expected, and that lack of mechanical grip, especially in the third sector, were the reason behind the 45s end-of-race deficit to Rosberg's winning Mercedes. That, ironically, is likely part of the reason why the car is so kind on its rear tyres.

Both cars will run in the same specification, with extra tweaks specifically for Monaco, after Kimi Raikkonen ran mainly with the older configuration in Spain so that the team could try and get a comparative handle on things.

Williams, Red Bull, McLaren and Lotus all have new parts and new hopes, as the battle in the upper midfield heats up.

Red Bull pray for more progress from power unit suppliers Renault, Williams acknowledge that the FW37's core characteristics aren't suited to the track but are optimistic about the balance the car had in Spain, and McLaren believe they've solved the handling problem that prompted Jenson Button to describe the MP4-30's behaviour there as "the scariest 30 laps I've ever driven."

Lotus's Romain Grosjean, for whom this is the closest thing to a home race, has high expectations for the weekend. "The emphasis at Monaco is on low-speed corners, which historically hasn't been our greatest strength, but this year our package has proved to be pretty good no matter what the circuit layout: the E23 is a pretty adaptable car! 

"Bumpy straights and a low grip surface are the other main Monaco characteristics and how well you adapt to them can make or break your weekend. We generally prefer the softer tyres of Pirelli's range, but you need really, really soft and grippy tyres for Monaco as it's so slippery! The E23 has been pretty confidence-inspiring, which is something very good on a street course."

Memories of Jules Bianchi's performance here last year will make this an emotional weekend for compatriot Grosjean, and of course for Marussia, for whom the two points the injured Frenchman scored for ninth place proved so crucial in their winter fight for survival. Much of what was achieved then was predicated on a promise to do the right thing in honour of Bianchi's strong drive that day.

"No question, it's going to be difficult, an emotional occasion for us," sporting director Graeme Lowden says. "Monaco last year is where everything really came together for us, and everything we have achieved since is based on that." 

Much of the track has been re-surfaced since 2014 and can be expected to be the least abrasive still of the season, but the teams still expect it to be very slippery until it has started to rubber-in. The Friday 'day of rest' doesn't help this process, as the track is open for public use and this affects track evolution quite profoundly. Minor changes at Turns 12-14 also mean the track is three metres shorter than previously.

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For the first time this season, Pirelli's red-marked supersoft tyre will make an appearance, together with the next softest compound, the yellow-marked soft.

The supersoft is a brand new compound - a low working range tyre which features the rapid warm-up characteristics essential on street tracks and which is designed to offer greater resistance to graining and blistering.

Monaco has several unconventional aspects, notably its short length - 3.340 kilometres (2.075 miles). It also boasts the slowest corner on the calendar and the lowest average lap speed. Though maximum downforce is required, mechanical grip is at least as important. 

"Monaco is one of those races that everyone looks forward to: there are very few words that can adequately describe the spectacle," says Pirelli's motorsport director Paul Hembery. "We're bringing our brand new supersoft tyre for the first time this year, together with the soft, as has been the case since we started our current Formula One era in 2011. Monaco has often been described as a circuit where overtaking is impossible, but we have seen in the past there how tyre strategy and degradation has often led to positions changing, including on-track overtaking. In particular, the way that drivers use the new supersoft tyre, with its notable performance advantage, will be crucial. 

"There are a number of unusual aspects to Monaco, including the timing of the sessions themselves, which only add to the famed unpredictability of this race and inevitable comparisons with the roulette wheel. But as is always the case, the right preparation and collection of tyre data during practice will put any driver in a strong position to maximise their potential in the race as well as the crucial qualifying session." 

As last year, the circuit will feature just one DRS zone, which is situated on the pit straight with the detection between the Swimming Pool complex and Rascasse. 

The weather for the weekend is predicted to be quite unsettled, with the chance of showers on Thursday. However, it's expected to be sunny for the race, which starts at 1400 hours local time (1200 GMT) on Sunday and will run over 78 laps or 260.286 kilometres (161.734 miles).