This weekend the Formula One circus pulls into the second smallest and most densely populated country on the planet. Where the per capita annual income is over $153,000, and a square yard of land costs $60,000. Welcome to the micro State led by a monarch who’s family became so successful on the gambling tables of the Monte Carlo Casino that no income tax has had to be collected from residents since 1869!
The Monaco Grand Prix will be the sixth round of the world drivers and constructors championships; for the winner there is the prestige of winning the signature race of motor sports highest echelon and an opportunity to shake hands with royalty. Everyone else will be struggling in a race that three time world champion Nelson Piquet, who never won the Monaco Grand Prix, described as “like trying to ride a bicycle around your living room”.
Of the three championship contenders two-time Monaco winner and World Champion Fernando Alonso must fancy his chances after dominating with a gamblers strategy last time out in Spain. He lies a not too distant third in points and a second win on the trot, third of the season, would boost his championship aspirations.
Ferrari must be doing something right for a clearly rattled Dietrich Mateshitz of Red Bull to publicly criticise them for using an aggressive pit strategy in Spain. Maranello earlier this week dismissed the put down with all the contempt it deserves.
Red Bull, no strangers to the effects of a public whipping in the press from their opponents, are leading this years constructors championship. Tension exhibited earlier in the season between their drivers can only be heightened this week as Mark Webber has won two of the last three Monaco Grand Prix to teammate Sebastian Vettel’s one.
Mark would be thrilled to put one over his team mate, to do so he must be aiming to start from pole as he did on both of the occasions on which he won. Mark is the only non-champion to have won this race since 2004.
However all things being equal look for championship leader Vettel to put in a strong performance on Sunday, anything less than a podium might be interpreted as the start of an unwelcome mid season slump. A win from pole, as he did in 2011, would consolidate Sebastian’s claim to the championship and make things difficult for his two emergent challengers Alonso and Kimi ‘Iceman’ Räikkönen who won the Monaco Grand Prix in 2005.
Kimi won the opening race of the season and since has scored three consecutive second places, in the last three races, the kind of consistency that neither Vettel or Alonso have come close to achieving this year. If the race at Monaco is anything but a procession expect to see Kimi make the most of others mistakes, a win is possible but my gut feeling is that third place is more likely.
Ferrari and Lotus de facto number two drivers Felipe Massa and Romain Grosjean respectively are outside contenders for podium finishes, but with the current state of reliability in the field this is most unlikely.
The spanner in the works of all predictions at Monaco this year is the Mercedes Benz team who have won the last three consecutive pole positions this season and then completely fallen off the cliff on race day to record a single podium finish from a front row start. If Lewis Hamilton or Nico Rosberg start from pole, which either is capable of, with the other locking out the front row the race will be one of the most entertaining since 2008 when Lewis Hamilton managed to win from third on the grid.
Baring some miracle development back at the Mercedes Benz factory in Brackley over the last ten days to over come the Mercedes propensity for eating it’s tyres I do not anticipate Hamilton or Rosberg being on Sunday’s podium, but do not gamble on it.
Outside the top four teams Paul di Resta or Adrian Sutil scoring a maiden win at the principality for Force India is unlikely, a finish on the podium would most likely be the result of an unforeseeable chain o misfortune for the top four teams.
The so far disappointing McLaren team, which convincingly won the last two races of 2012, have in Jenson Button a world champion and former Monaco winner, for him a top six finish would be a massive step forward, for Perez any top ten finish would be a result and a finish ahead of Button possible.
Only a gambler with nerves of steel would put money on Williams Pastor Maldonado winning the second race of his career. In the event of many misfortunes further up the field a points finish for Pastor or team mate Valtteri Bottas is the best that, last years Spanish GP winners, can hope for.
Torro Rosso drivers Jean-Éric Vergne and Daniel Ricciardo are far more likely to be there to pick up the last point or two than the Williams drivers as is the Sauber driver Nico Hülkenberg. Nico’s Mexican team mate Mexico Esteban Gutiérrez has yet to score and yet to show the capacity to punch above his weight.
The Marussia rookie Jules Bianchi appears to have the legs of the Caterham drivers Charles Pic and Giedo van der Garde but neither team have finished in the points since they joined the Formula One circus in 2010 and the pressure is on Caterham to up it’s game and improve on it’s best 14th place finish this season. Like Gutiérrez rookie Max Chilton has yet to punch above his weight in the second Marussia.
To summarize, I’m going with Alonso to win for Ferrari, who have not won here since 2001. I expect a strong second place finish from Sebastian Vettel in the Red Bull and the consistent Kimi Räikkönen to round out the podium positions for Lotus. Mercedes Benz may shine on Saturday and once again almost certainly fail on Sunday.
Lets play dice!