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Monaco Preview: Leclerc dream and Lauda memories stir emotions

Charles Leclerc will race around his home streets in a Ferrari for the first time in Sunday’s Monaco Grand Prix, a boyhood dream come true, but dominant Mercedes also have sentiment on their side this weekend.

The death on Monday night of Austrian Formula 1 great Niki Lauda – a triple world champion, a two-time Monaco winner in his driving heyday and most recently non-executive director of the Mercedes F1 team – has cast the showcase race into a different light.

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A week ago there were those who feared a sixth successive Mercedes one-two finish, at a tight and twisty track that has seen plenty of processions in the past, would have the fans turning off in droves.

Now that looks more like a fitting tribute to a man who won his titles with McLaren and Ferrari but would have been cheering on the Silver Arrows of Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas as loudly as anyone.

Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff said his compatriot had been a guiding light, “As a team-mate over the past six and a half years, Niki was always brutally honest — and utterly loyal.”

“It was a privilege to count him among our team and moving to witness just how much it meant to him to be part of the team’s success.”

Hamilton leads Bottas by seven points going into one of the Briton’s favourite races, and one he has won twice already, and the characteristics of the car suggest Mercedes will again be frontrunners.

“If you look at their performance in the low-speed section of this (Barcelona) circuit, you would expect them to be very strong (in Monaco),” Red Bull boss Christian Horner said after Hamilton won in Spain 10 days ago. They’ll certainly be very much the favourites.”

Red Bull won last year from pole position with Daniel Ricciardo, but the Australian has moved to Renault and Max Verstappen is the main hope now.

The young Dutchman does not have such happy memories of the track, wrecking his chances last year by hitting the wall in Saturday’s final practice and lining up last.

“Looking at the low-speed performance in the last sector (in Spain), we are clearly not the favourite and I also don’t expect it to be like last year when we were super strong in Monaco,” he said.

Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel is a two-times Monaco winner but much of the attention will be on Leclerc, who was born in the principality and can become the first local driver to score points at home since Louis Chiron in the 1950s.

A first career F1 win for the Monegasque, who crashed out last year on his debut with Sauber, would be truly momentous.

“It’s my first home GP as a Ferrari driver and it’s bound to be a special weekend,” he said.

“I remember as a kid, I would spend the afternoon with a friend who lived in a flat with a balcony overlooking the Ste. Devote corner. We used to play with toy cars while the real ones rushed past beneath us. I always told myself that one day, it would be great to be driving in this race.”

Ricciardo, who has finished only once in the points this year with a best result of seventh, is unlikely to be standing on top of the podium on Sunday but the Australian does expect a better showing.

“I’ve done it before so it’s familiar territory. I’m really curious actually to see how I perform this year in Monaco,” he told Reuters. “I think we can get a good result. Maybe our best of the year. We’ll see.”

Statistics for Sunday’s Monaco Grand Prix, the sixth race of the season:

  • Lap distance: 3.337km.
  • Total distance: 260.286km (78 laps)
  • 2018 pole: Daniel Ricciardo (Australia) Red Bull
  • 2018 winner: Ricciardo
  • Race lap record: One minute 14.260 seconds, Max Verstappen (Netherlands) Red Bull 2018.
  • Start time: 1310 GMT (1510 local)

Monaco Grand Prix

  • This year’s race is the 66th edition in championship history and 77th since the first grand prix in the principality in 1929. It has been a fixture on the F1 calendar since 1955 after first appearing on it in 1950.
  • The late triple world champion Ayrton Senna holds the record for most Monaco wins — six, including five in a row with McLaren between 1989 and 1993.
  • A safety car deployment is highly likely. Last year escaped with just a virtual one but the six grands prix before that all had the real car thing.
  • Mercedes have won four of the last six Monaco Grands Prix, but not the two most recent ones — Ricciardo last year and Vettel in 2017 for Ferrari.
  • Ferrari have won nine times in total in Monaco.
  • The driver on pole has won 11 of the last 18 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.
  • Four former Monaco winners will be on Sunday’s grid: Vettel (2011, 2017), Hamilton (2008, 2016), Raikkonen (2005), Ricciardo (2018).
  • Two of Ricciardo’s three career poles have been in Monaco. His only win from pole was in Monaco last year.
  • Leclerc can become the first Monegasque to score points at home since Louis Chiron finished third in 1950.

Race Victories

  • Hamilton has 76 victories from 234 races and is closing the gap to Schumacher’s record 91. He has also won 54 of the 105 races in the V6 turbo hybrid era that started in 2014.
  • Vettel, third on the all-time list, has 52.Ferrari have won 235 races since 1950, McLaren 182, Williams 114, Mercedes 92 and Red Bull 59. Former champions McLaren and Williams have not won since 2012.

Pole Position

  • Hamilton has a record 84 career poles, Vettel 55.
  • Only one race has been won from pole so far this season, by Valtteri Bottas in Azerbaijan.

Podium

Hamilton has 139 career podiums and needs to finish in the top three in every race this year to equal Schumacher’s record of 155. Vettel has 113.

Milstones

  • Mercedes have won the first five races of the season with one-two finishes, the first team to do that.
  • Kimi Raikkonen is entered for his 300th Formula 1 weekend.

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