Fernando Alonso may hold few hopes of winning this weekend’s Monaco Grand Prix for Ferrari, but he does believe that champions Red Bull can mount a challenge to runaway leaders Mercedes.
“This year,” he said, after the recent Spanish Grand Prix, “I think Monte Carlo will be one of the few possibilities to challenge Mercedes – especially for Red Bull. It is a chance, but not I think, for us.”
The 32-year-old Spaniard has not won in the principality since the second of his two successive victories in 2007, in a race that ended amid controversy as he led his then-Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton home.
Hamilton, then a rookie, claimed he should have won because he was faster than Alonso, but was told to obey instructions and hold position. A post-race inquiry vindicated the team’s position in controlling their drivers as they claimed a crushing one-two victory.
Since he joined Ferrari in 2010, Alonso has finished twice on the Monte Carlo podium but the top step has eluded him while Ferrari last scored a victory at the world’s most prestigious race back in 2001, with Michael Schumacher. Prior to that the Maranello outfit had won the race eight times since 1952 – the occasion of their first F1 victory in Monte Carlo.
This time around, Hamilton arrives in Monaco not as a new boy, but as the in-form championship leader following four straight wins for the ‘silver arrows’ – and intent on adding another triumph to that he claimed with McLaren, following Alonso’s abrupt departure, in 2008.
And, after clocking the fastest times in qualifying for the last two years, Mercedes know they should be confident of securing another pole position, perhaps a front-row lockout and turning the traditional 78-laps contest into a private in-house duel.
But, contrary to expectations, there is an air of nervous concern in the Mercedes camp as German Nico Rosberg, last year’s winner and Hamilton’s main rival, bids to halt the Englishman’s streak of success.
Team chief Toto Wolff explained that, perversely, it is the near-perfection of the team’s car performance that may undermine their qualifying supremacy of recent years on the famous Mediterranean street circuit.
That was achieved, by Rosberg last year, and compatriot Michael Schumacher in 2012 (before he was penalised for a misdemeanour at the previous race) thanks to their car’s characteristic of over-heating the tyres, a negative issue for anywhere else, but perfect for peak performance one-lap blasts in Monaco.
“In the past, on a low-grip circuit like Monaco, we have been able to keep the tyres alive easily, but over-working the tyres is not a problem for us anymore,” said Wolff.
That, plus the tight, twisty and punishing nature of the 3.34 km circuit means that Mercedes’ power advantage this year may also be reduced, according to Alonso, who believes that Red Bull have the performance characteristics to mount a challenge.
“In the corners, [Red Bull] are very fast, but on the straights they seem to lose a lot of lap time,” explained the Spaniard. But in Monte Carlo, there are no straights. So, Red Bull could challenge Mercedes there.” (GP247-AFP)
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