(Image source: Will Pittenger)
After the chaos of Baku, F1’s return to mainland Europe was a disappointment. Lewis Hamilton romped to a comfortable victory in Barcelona, with Valtteri Bottas unchallenged in second place. It was a result that brought flashbacks to 2014, ’15, and ’16 when the Silver Arrows were untouchable.
This weekend should be more unpredictable as Formula One returns home (or at least half the drivers do) to the tight streets of Monaco. A playground for the rich and famous, the Principality also hosts the most recognisable track on the calendar. The twists and turns caused real problems for the Mercedes last year, resulting in an easy one-two for Ferrari. Will it be more of the same this time round? Or will we see Red Bull and even McLaren get involved at the front?
Precision or destruction
Monaco is perhaps the biggest challenge for drivers. Nowhere has a lower average speed or closer, more destructive barriers. A millimetre off line can cause the end of of session and a long night for the mechanics.
Winning in Monaco has long been a sign of greatness, and that Ayrton Senna holds a near-untouchable record with six wins tells all you really need to know about the difficulty of creating a vehicle and driver partnership that can be consistently great around this track.
A Saturday race
While Monaco's glitz and glamour may draw the eye of casual observers and the history of the race will always entice fans to it, the limitations of the Monaco circuit become clearer and clearer every year.
Overtaking was already nigh on impossible due to the narrow circuit, but even wider cars in 2018 will make the race even more of a procession.
That moves all the emphasis onto qualifying. While the last three races in Monaco were not won by the pole sitter, from to 2005 to 2014 eight of ten pole sitters ended up taking the victory on the Sunday. The one variable has been pit stops.
In 2016, Daniel Ricciardo owned qualifying to take his maiden pole, only for a pit stop mishap to cost him the win. Last year, Ferrari performed something of a pit stop switcheroo to get Sebastian Vettel the win over pole sitter Kimi Raikkonen.
Monaco's garages are notoriously small and make life very difficult for pit crews to operate. The team that doesn't let the conditions affect them, could well gain a place or two.
No, Pirelli haven't controversially changed tread depth again, but they have a special compound that will debut this weekend. The hypersoft compound is even stickier than the ultrasoft and will serve as the primary compound for every team.
Monaco's low wear rate forced Pirelli's hand into trying to make something a little trickier for teams to work with, and the hope was that these hypersofts would force extra pit stops in the race.
However, Red Bull, Williams, and Renault have all taken the maximum number of sets of hypersofts (11); Ferrari, Force India, Toro Rosso, and Sauber have opted for ten; and Mercedes, Haas, and McLaren have loaded nine. So, there is no sitting on the fence here. Every team thinks this will be a one-stop race barring weather or damage, and that could lead to another disappointing procession of a race.
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