So ... will we see Jean-Éric Vergne score the first win of his career at Monaco? Anything is possible going into the sixth grand prix of the season. In five races, there have been five winners, including Pastor Maldonado, who won his first career grand prix in Spain two weeks ago. Moreover, Monaco can provide surprises, especially if it rains on Sunday (which is, as of now, in the forecast).
The Grand Prix of Monaco takes place this weekend on probably the most glamorous public roads in the world. The circuit is smack bang in the middle of the Principality of Monaco, with corners called the Swimming Pool, the Casino and the Grand Hotel Hairpin.
On a regular day, these are regular streets and as such they’re bumpy, greasy and not at all suited to Formula One cars. But that’s the beauty of the race, which is celebrating its 70th running.
Qualifying and race day are intoxicating for other reasons, however. There is an old saying that while the cars never go as slow as they do in Monaco, they also never look so fast. This is a race where you can get up close and personal with the cars, with some of the grandstands remaining wonderfully close to the action. In short, despite the lack of overtaking and the often processional racing, Monaco is still an enthralling place to watch racing drivers go about their work.
Last year, Sebastian Vettel won the grand prix from pole, which may sound like a cake walk, but it was anything but. Vettel switched to hard compound tires on lap 16 and fought hard to keep Fernando Alonso, of Ferrari, at bay.
"Of course this race holds sweet memories for us," said Vettel on Wednesday, "but I think I speak for all the drivers when I say that it is something very special to race in these narrow streets -- barriers and walls within arm’s length, and that at full speed. Any mistake is coming back with a vengeance and still you have to beat the car around the corners without mercy."
Mark Webber, who won in Monaco in 2010, reaffirmed the squeeze of running a Formula One grand prix in such tight confines in a press conference on Wednesday. "It’s quite stressful for the mechanics, all the teams, obviously you guys, everybody getting around," he said, "it’s amazing how we still manage to hold an event here in such tight confines of the Principality."
As in Spain two weeks ago, pole position is of vital importance at Monaco. "Overtaking is a luxury almost unavailable here, so you’d better start first -- to eventually finish first," said Vettel, who added that the toughest part of the street course is the Casino (because the drivers literally drive past the Monte Carlo Casino).
"You arrive there at more than 250km/h [155 mph] in seventh gear and have to hang on to that in some sort of blind flying until you are over the camber and go into turns three and four," he said. "It is there where you really have to go to the limit. What you don’t see on television is how much it goes up and down there - that requires a strong stomach!"
Start time: 8.00 EST
Race distance: 78 laps (161.88 miles)
Circuit length: 2.075 miles
2011 winner: Sebastian Vettel; 78 laps in 2hr 09m 38.373s (75 mph)
2011 pole: Sebastian Vettel; 1m 13.556s (101.57 mph)
Lap record: Michael Schumacher (Ferrari F2004); 1m 14.439s (100.36 mph)
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- Red Bull Racing home page