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What to Watch for - Monaco

24 May 2015

According to the old adage, you can’t pass at Monaco… but as first-time polesitter Lewis Hamilton says, there is still a long, long way to go - and massive physical and mental challenges to conquer - before the chequered flag falls. From the crucial first lap to traffic, safety cars and likely stars, we break down the main story lines to look out for in one of the most iconic events of the year: the Formula 1 Grand Prix de Monaco 2015...

The safety car

The very nature of Monaco means that drivers are constantly dancing on the edge, flirting with disaster in order to eke out those crucial extra tenths. It’s a punishing act to maintain over 78 laps, and harder still when 19 other cars are sharing the same piece of road. No surprise, then, that in the past 15 years, just five Grands Prix have passed without at least one safety car being called onto the Monte Carlo streets.

Such events can always change races, of course, but in Monaco perhaps more than at any other circuit fortunes can swing entirely on the emergence of the safety car. If it falls at the wrong time, victory can be snatched away - as was the case in 2011, when Jenson Button and McLaren’s gamble on three-stopping was undone by accidents elsewhere.

Expect teams to keep an extremely wary eye on what is unfolding not only with their own drivers, but also elsewhere on track - after all, calling the safety-car windows right, and capitalising on any opportunities they present, might just determine the outcome on Sunday.

First lap collisions

While not quite a given, first lap collisions are a common occurrence in the Principality given the intricate nature of the opening eight turns. Last year, for example, Sergio Perez was taken out at Mirabeau; the year before Pastor Maldonado and Giedo van der Garde came to blows; while in 2012 Romain Grosjean didn’t even make it to Ste Devote before being nudged into a spin that left him facing the field as they surged into the first turn.

But while drivers know the risks of the lap one melee, they also know the opportunities on offer. Jules Bianchi, for example, gained five places on the opening lap of last year’s race, giving him the platform for his subsequent surge into the top ten - a points score Marussia have commemorated this weekend. With overtaking so difficult, drivers simply have to try and make headway from the start - and that often produces early flash points.

Take nothing for granted

It’s a well-pedalled line that the polesitter has gone on to triumph in nine of the last 10 races here in Monaco. But over the same period, there were just two occasions when the top three on the grid finished in the same order at the flag.

That’s not to say that traffic and overtaking won’t be problematic on Sunday. But it does mean that it’s massively premature to say the race is already settled. As Hamilton points out, “It’s difficult to express just how difficult this track is. This [pole] is not even half the job”.

One-stopping will be the default option

With tyre degradation typically low, Monaco is one of the more straightforward races in terms of strategy - at least on a theoretical level. In an ideal world the fastest route will be to start on the supersofts and switch to softs around lap 27, with no further stops required.

In Monaco, though, theory and practice are often wildly different - so while one-stopping will be the default option, teams will have to be ready to react to any stoppage or incident - or to any rivals who have opted to gamble - during the 78 laps.

This weekend, there’s an additional wild card: the weather. The current forecasts suggest there is a possibility of rain, with conditions likely to mirror those of Saturday - when rain did indeed threaten in the very early stages of Q3. If the heavens open, all bets are off...

Red Bull in the podium mix

It speaks volumes for Red Bull’s surge up the competitive order here that both Daniel Ricciardo and Daniil Kvyat were slightly frustrated even after booking fourth and fifth on the grid. Nevertheless, a first podium of 2015 is tantalisingly close.

The team have always run well here historically - in fact the last time they missed having at least one man on the podium was back in 2009, a sequence they’re determined to continue. “At Monaco every grid position counts,” Ricciardo reflected in the immediate aftermath of qualifying, “but we’re in a good place to attack and we’ll go all out to try for a podium finish in tomorrow’s race.”

Perez chasing first points

Somewhat surprisingly, Sergio Perez has never scored points in Monaco. In fact, it remains the only circuit where he has contested four Grands Prix or more and failed to crack the top ten. On Sunday, he has the perfect opportunity to set the record straight.

Perez earned the chance through his own brilliance in qualifying. Just 0.008s split the Mexican and Lotus’s Romain Grosjean in Q2, but that proved the difference between progressing into the pole shootout and missing out. And once in Q3, Perez performed brilliantly to secure an unlikely seventh for Force India.

While in his own words that is '90 percent' of the battle, Perez has a chequered history in the Principality. Leaving aside his massive Q3 accident in 2011, he crashed in qualifying and then earned a drive-through penalty in 2012, collided with Kimi Raikkonen after a very aggressive drive in 2013, and then was caught up in the first lap melee in 2014. The good news is he has the speed to capitalise on his grid slot this time around - but he’ll also need to rein in the errors if he is to end his Monaco jinx.