After dominating the first five races of the Formula 1 season, with four successive one-two finishes, Mercedes duo Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg may not have it all their own way on the streets of Monaco on Sunday.
If the sound of Mercedes’ rivals clutching at straws has become more audible, unlike the cars, a flutter on a different winner could still be a better bet than many placed at the imposing casino this weekend.
“I think Monte Carlo will be one of the few opportunities to challenge Mercedes, especially for Red Bull,” Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso told reporters after Spain where Hamilton chalked up his fourth win in a row for the German manufacturer with team mate Rosberg second.
“On the corners [Red Bull] are very fast and on the straights they seem to lose a lot of lap time. In Monte Carlo there are no straights so maybe Red Bull could challenge Mercedes there. We’ll see,” said Alonso.
Alonso has won twice in Monaco, once for Renault and once for McLaren, and would become the first driver to win the most glamorous race on the calendar with three separate teams.
Monaco, with its narrow streets ringed by unforgiving metal fences, may be a processional race with little overtaking but it can never be predictable. The fickle weather, and the ever-present risk of Safety Cars and collisions, sees to that.
However Ferrari, the most glamorous team, have not threaded their way to victory in the calendar’s most alluring race since Michael Schumacher’s triumph in 2001.
Red Bull, with Australian Daniel Ricciardo and quadruple champion Sebastian Vettel third and fourth at the previous race in Spain, look to be picking up speed.
“They are still the benchmark,” recognised Mercedes motorsport head Toto Wolff. “The power unit [in Monaco] is not so important. Monaco is always different and I guess there is a team that has clearly an advantage at the moment and probably on a street circuit like Monaco everything can be different.”
History backs that up: On the last three occasions that a team has started a season with five straight wins – Ferrari in 2004 and Williams in 1996 and 1992 – the run has bust in Monaco.
This year, it may just be Hamilton’s rather than Mercedes’ winning streak that comes to an end as the championship-leading Briton chases his fifth in a row. Rosberg won from pole last year and grew up in the principality.
The German knows every kerb and corner, every turn and twist, from his boyhood journey from home to school and is determined to use that familiarity to good effect after falling three points behind his team mate in Spain.
“To re-gain the advantage at my home race would be fantastic, so I’ll be pushing harder than ever to make that happen,” he said.
It is also a favourite of the Briton, now also a Monaco resident and winner with McLaren in 2008 when he took the championship.
“I honestly never expected that I’d win four consecutive grands prix in my career and I’d love to continue that run here,” said Hamilton.
Red Bull have won Monaco three times in four years, twice with now departed Australian Mark Webber whose successor and compatriot Daniel Ricciardo is raring to go.
If racing around Monaco is, as Brazilian triple champion Nelson Piquet once observed, like cycling around your living room then Ricciardo is up for it.
“When I was a kid I used to love riding my little bike around inside the house. It was more fun, there were more obstacles and a bit more danger. That really is what this is like,” he said.
The new V6 turbo hybrid engines, with more torque and wheelspin, also threaten to liven things up with drivers likely to be more on the ragged edge than ever.
“I think Monaco will be a very, very difficult race,” commented Brazilian Felipe Massa. “We drive with the car a lot more sideways.”
“The torque we have from the engine is maybe double what we had last year, and the grip from the tyre is not very high, so Monaco will be a very easy race to crash. I think it will be the toughest race of the season,” added the Williams driver.
Monaco Grand Prix Facts & Statistics
- Mercedes have won all five races so far this season. The last team to start a season with five wins was Ferrari in 2004. That run ended in Monaco, when Italian Jarno Trulli won for Renault.
- Williams also won the first five races in 1996 and 1992, with both those runs also ending in Monaco.
- The last team to win the first six races of a season was McLaren, who won 11 in a row in 1988.
- Red Bull’s quadruple world champion Sebastian Vettel has 39 career wins, Alonso 32, Lewis Hamilton 26, Raikkonen 20 and Jenson Button 15. Rosberg has four.
- Vettel needs two more race victories to equal the late Ayrton Senna’s tally of 41. Only Alain Prost (51) and Michael Schumacher (91) have won more.
- Ferrari have won 221 races, McLaren 182, Williams 114 and Red Bull 46.
- Hamilton’s win for Mercedes in Spain was his fourth in a row. No driver has ever won four races in a row without taking the title the same year.
- Red Bull have not gone six races without a win since their first victory in China in 2009.
- Mercedes – with Hamilton (Australia/Malaysia/China/Spain) and Rosberg (Bahrain) – have started every race on pole.
- The last team to start the first six races of a season on pole was Red Bull in 2011.
- Vettel took nine poles last year, and now has 45 for his F1 career, but has not been on pole in 2014.
- Hamilton now has 35 poles, more than any other British driver in the history of Formula One.
- Ferrari’s last pole position was in Germany with Fernando Alonso in 2012.
- Ferrari have finished a record 72 successive races with at least one car in the points, a run that dates back to the 2010 German Grand Prix.
- Caterham and Marussia have yet to score a point after four seasons in F1.
- Toro Rosso’s Daniil Kvyat is Formula One’s youngest point scorer – aged 19 years and 324 days.
- Red Bull have won three of the last four Monaco Grands Prix.
- Ferrari have not won in Monaco since 2001, with Schumacher. They have, however, set the fastest lap in five of the last 10 races.
- The driver on pole has won nine of the last 13 races in Monaco. In 1996, Frenchman Olivier Panis won from 14th on the starting grid – the lowest winning start position to date.
- Since 1950, only 10 times has the race been won by a driver starting lower than third.
- Six former Monaco winners will be on Sunday’s grid: Rosberg (2013), Vettel (2011), Button (2009), Hamilton (2008), Alonso (2006 and 2007), Raikkonen (2005).
- If Alonso wins on Sunday, he will become the first driver to win Monaco for three different teams. His previous wins were with Renault and McLaren.
- This year marks the 30th anniversary of McLaren’s first Monaco win, with Alain Prost finishing ahead of Ayrton Senna’s Toleman in a rain-shortened race with half points awarded. (Reuters)
Subbed by AJN.