The Monte Carlo Grand Prix this weekend, also known as the Jewel in the Crown in the Formula One calendar. Rightly so as it has been hosting Grand Prix races since the 1930s.
It is also the tightest, most unforgiving and mentally toughest race of the year. Famously described by one ex-F1 driver as “trying to ride your mountain bike around the living room”, it’s a complete contrast to last week’s Barcelona leg, which had open spaces and fast sweeping corners.
Monaco is the only true street track other than Singapore on the calendar, with proper armco barriers completely around the track. Other tracks like Valencia, Montreal and Melbourne are more half street track-half road circuits, with some areas having lots of run-off.
While Monaco is not as hot as Singapore, it is tough due to the constant sequence of corners with no straights to relax on. Even the start-finish straight is a curve, with the first corner appearing into view a fraction of a second before you have to hit the brakes at nearly 300kph.
With this year’s race likely to go close to two hours, it is going to take the maximum concentration from the drivers not to make a mistake and end up in the barriers.
2011 has been an overtaking fest, with lots of action on the track. Mostly, this has been down to the Pirellis having high degradation, but will it help here?
While I believe we should expect one or two passing moves more than in previous years, the tightness of the track should mean there will not be as much overtaking as we have come to expect this year.
That said, there will be plenty of drama and high tension, mostly because the slow speed nature of Monaco means that Red Bull will lose their advantage in the high speed corners. They should still be the favourites to win, but expect the McLarens to run them close. Even a bit of Alonso magic in a struggling Ferrari could see him upset the form book.
While Vettel has been the form man this year, Monaco is not a circuit he has gone well at, with his team mate comprehensively beating him last year. Let’s see if Mark Webber can put Barcelona behind him and go on to win for the first time this year.
But I have a feeling that Hamilton could sneak a win here. He has been driving very well this season, pushing the McLaren car into results it should not be capable of, and I fancy his confidence to be high enough to not only challenge for Pole Position, but also the win.
With the super soft tyres being run for the first time this year in Monaco, there will be some trepidation amongst the teams on how well they will last.
I do expect most of the front runners to risk starting on the softer tyres; although they run the risk of wearing out their tyres too quickly, the hard to pass nature of this track means it’s key to get in a good qualifying session.