Formula One heads to the glitz and glamour of Monaco this weekend and one of the highlights of the racing calendar.
The unique and special nature of the iconic street circuit always provides much spectacle and drama. As Jenson Button recently described, Monaco is “one of the most crazy, unpredictable and exciting races of the year.” As we head to the Principality, Mercedes have extended their lead over main rivals Ferrari in the Constructors' Championship to eight points, and Vettel still leads Hamilton in the Drivers’ Standings, but only by six points, after Hamilton was victorious in Spain.
Expect this weekend to be a continuation of the Hamilton and Vettel battle. As always in Monaco, the emphasis will be on qualifying and a clean start - it is virtually impossible to overtake. It is such a tightly confined circuit, where drivers simply must qualify on pole.
Most commentators expect Mercedes’ qualifying advantage to be decisive. However, there is a school of thought that the W08’s longer wheelbase could harm the Silver Arrows in the narrow space of Monaco. This is not a power circuit, so Mercedes’ upper hand in pure engine grunt will be lessened.
History is against Ferrari. They have not won here since Schumacher prevailed in 2001 - a long sixteen years since the prancing horses were triumphant. Yet Ferrari, according to Christian Horner, seems “the more driveable car and appears easier on set-up” – they could sneak a position on the front row or just behind and could jump the Mercedes on the start.
Key questions this weekend are; how will the 2017 wider cars cope with the narrow and historic circuit? Could Monaco be Palmer’s last race with Renault? At a circuit less reliant on engine power, can Red Bull get in the mix and spoil things between the top two? Can Force India continue to impress?
McLaren are sadly now the only team to have not scored a point this season, with Sauber scoring a deserved eighth-place finish in Spain. Monaco is probably McLaren’s best chance to pick up a good result – but can they scoop much needed points here?
How much will Alonso not appearing this weekend hurt the Woking team? With Jenson Button making a “surreal” one-off return (to tie with Michael Schumacher on 306 starts), how well will the former world champion do on his reappearance and can he bank McLaren's first points in 2017?
The battle of the Finns continues, as Bottas and Raikkonen vie for third place in the Drivers’ Standings, and already it is looking like both drivers are out of the championship. Bottas was clearly playing a defensive role to protect Hamilton in Spain. If either Finn are to mount a serious title charge, Monaco is where they need to stamp their authority on the championship.
Look out for the new Haas livery and colour scheme this weekend and new ‘extreme’ ramp kerbs around the swimming pool complex.
Mercedes have the qualifying performance advantage and with the importance of securing pole they are looking favourite. Assuming Hamilton makes a clean start, and no weather upsets normal running, then Hamilton should take the win in Monaco. Although, don’t be surprised with the Ferrari tyre durability, better car driveability, and some clever strategy, that Vettel could just sneak the win.