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Six key questions ahead of the Monaco race

29 May 2016

Daniel Ricciardo's scintillating qualifying pace came as a surprise to many. Can the Red Bull man maintain momentum in Sunday's Formula 1 Grand Prix de Monaco 2016, or will Mercedes, Ferrari, the weather - or something else - prove his undoing? We consider this and some other important points to ponder...
Can polesitter Ricciardo get payback after the strategy switch in Spain?

There was great news - and even better news - for Daniel Riccciardo in qualifying.

First, of course, he took the first pole position of his F1 career, after a brilliant lap.

"It's a special place,” he said, “and I knew coming in we'd have a shot at it. It looked good from Thursday. I had it in my mind the whole time, and after Barcelona, I felt like I've been driving well and not got the rewards. So I came into this weekend with a lot of confidence and a lot of belief that I could be in this position. I've always enjoyed this place, we've got a good package and it's nice to make the most of it."

Then there was the fact that he set his best Q2 time on the supersoft tyres, which means he will start the race on them and will thus have a more flexible strategy.

"We had time on our side so I tried the supersoft - we feel it opens up a few more options for the race. I don't think there is too much difference in pure performance between the compounds, but it should have a better tyre life. It's important to be in clean air here so it could open up a window and give us a bit more freedom."

What does it mean, Red Bull now fighting Mercedes here? Lewis Hamilton had the best answer: “It’s good for the sport.”

Indeed it is, and a Ricciardo win would be hugely popular. All things being equal, don’t bet against it.

Should Mercedes have been on pole?

Not according to Nico Rosberg. The German admitted to huge surprise at the Australian’s pace, and that he’d thought his own time was looking pretty satisfactory. “But when he was three-tenths up the road early on, I knew it would be difficult to reach.

"So I don't think pole went away from me - it was never with me. He was just quick today, a well-deserved pole. I wasn't quick enough.”

Interestingly, the fuel temperature/pressure heatsink problem that hurt Hamilton also affected Rosberg, so to end up with second and third on the grid was a decent consolation for Mercedes in what could have been disastrous circumstances.

What chance does Hamilton have?

When Hamilton’s Mercedes ground to a halt for the third time in four qualifying sessions, everyone immediately suspected the ERS system, but it turned out to be a heatsink problem which increased the fuel temperature and in turn lost him fuel pressure; cars don’t get a lot of clean-air running here.

While Rosberg was late out of the garage as a result but at least got his two runs in, Hamilton rolled to a halt near the pit exit, and his car had to be wheeled back to the garage for remedial attention. That delay cost him his first planned run, then he was obliged to do three warm-up laps in order to get up to the same speed as rivals who were on their second quick runs.

"It was a difficult qualifying, I don't really know what to say," Hamilton said. "I did get out to get a lap, it was not as bad as some have been with respect to engine problems. But pole was there for the taking."

Starting third at Monaco usually militates against victory, but though he’s resigned to that Hamilton promises to fight.

"I'll do what I can in the race to salvage what I can. If the car keeps going I'll be fighting as hard as I can with these guys. You can't overtake here. Daniel is on a potentially better strategy than we'll be on. But hopefully it rains - that'll be pretty amazing."

So will it rain?

All weekend the weather forecasts for Sunday, while gloomy, have been rebutted by locals. The forecasts apply to the region, but Monaco is renowned for its micro-climate.

Currently, the downpours originally predicted for the afternoon are now expected by some for the morning, with showers in the afternoon. But, equally, given that quirk in the Principality’s weather, it could stay dry.

Either way, there’s a fascinating race in prospect.

What happened to Ferrari?

For yet another race, Ferrari disappointed in qualifying after looking good in FP3, and an angry Sebastian Vettel said that the team should have done a better job after his chances of pole evaporated when neither he nor Kimi Raikkonen went faster on their second runs.

The German said that his SF16-H just got worse and rued a missed opportunity as he lined up only fourth.

"We started well, the confidence was there and then we struggled to extract the grip that was there," he said. "Unlike everyone else we didn't get any quicker. I think we should have, could have done a better job. It is what it is, so we have to focus on tomorrow.”

Vettel at least has a shot at the podium. Raikkonen - starting 11th after his gearbox penalty - has a mountain to climb.

Two shunts in a day… What went wrong for Verstappen?

Things could hardly have been tougher for the hero of Barcelona, after his brush with the wall at Massenet in FP3, then his heavy crash exiting the Swimming Pool in Q1.

“I turned in a bit too early, clipped the inside wall, broke the inside suspension and then couldn’t turn anymore,” he confessed of his afternoon incident. “I felt quite good, in my first push lap I felt more confident than all the other laps and also in terms of car balance it was better, because my second sector was nearly two to three tenths faster than I ever did. It was all coming together but then into the chicane, maybe I underestimated the grip I had and turned in a bit too early. Or maybe I was just too optimistic…”

He faces a tough afternoon, starting with a fresh chassis from the pit lane on a track where overtaking is a nightmare.