The Monaco Grand Prix has long been the jewel in Formula One's crown. Held in the second-smallest country in the world, the race has been a fixture on the calendar every year since 1955.
This is the race that every driver on the grid wants to win, and most of the sport's greats have at least one Monaco victory to their names. Ayrton Senna won here six times, while Graham Hill and Michael Schumacher have five wins apiece.
Of the current drivers, only Fernando Alonso and Mark Webber have more than one win.
The unique challenge of Monaco is that almost every inch of the track is lined with barriers. If a driver makes a mistake, there's a strong probability he'll come into contact with one of them—and that could well end his race.
The expected front-runners will be Ferrari, Red Bull and Lotus. But with tyre wear less of an issue here, Mercedes may be able to translate their blistering one-lap pace into a half-decent race performance.
The Spanish Grand Prix did a lot to make the drivers' championship more interesting. Sebastian Vettel's lead over Kimi Raikkonen is now just four points, and Fernando Alonso is 17 points off the lead in third.
Lewis Hamilton and Felipe Massa are (for those who remember 2011) disturbingly close in fourth and fifth. The current top 10 is:
|01||Sebastian Vettel||Red Bull||89|
|06||Mark Webber||Red Bull||42|
|08||Paul di Resta||Force India||26|
Red Bull lead the constructors' championship by 14 points. Ferrari are second, and Lotus are third.
Force India's excellent season sees them ahead of McLaren in fifth, but Sauber and Williams are having a tough time. The teams with at least one point are:
The Circuit de Monaco is one of the world's greatest race tracks, and little has changed since it first hosted a World Championship race back in 1950. Though they're now dressed up in the trappings of modernity, many of the corners we see today have been there over 60 years.
It's the shortest and slowest circuit of the year, featuring 19 barrier-lined corners and zero obvious overtaking spots. As F1 has evolved, Monaco has stayed behind—it's among the most dangerous circuits left on the calendar, and the races here tend to be dull processions.
Had a race never been held here, the FIA wouldn't dream of allowing one to take place.
But the glamour and prestige of the event allow it to remain on the calendar. As long as there is F1, there'll be a Monaco Grand Prix.
The track guide includes links where available to explain the origin of the corner names.
Turns 1 and 2
A lap begins at the start-finish line a little over halfway down the pit straight, which isn't straight. It's more like a long, flat-out curve which generally leans to the right.
The cars have a short run down to St. Devote (Turn 1). The corner is a tight, almost 90-degree right and home to one of the few run-off zones at the track. It might be needed on the first lap.
By Monaco standards, this counts as an overtaking spot, but don't hold your breath. Without an error or a significant speed differential (perhaps caused by severely worn tyres out of the final corner), a chasing car will never get cleanly past into here.
The cars then head uphill along an almost-straight road through Beau Rivage ("Beautiful Shore" in French) which counts as Turn 2. It's not what you'd normally call a "corner"—rather, a series of wobbles, going first left, then right, then left again and right again.
TV cameras show off the degree of slope here, which is quite substantial.
Turns 3 and 4
Next up is the long left-hander of Massenet (Turn 3). In the wet, this corner is a beast—in the dry, the entry has been known to catch the odd driver out.
The exit of Massenet leads immediately into the slightly tighter right-hander at Casino Square (Turn 4).
The cars then file down a short straight, swerving right to avoid a substantial bump on the left of the track.
Turns 5 and 6
Next up is braking for the very tight, slow, downhill right-hander Mirabeau (Turn 5). I believe it's named after the hotel of the same name, but it could be the other way round.
On occasion, you might see someone try to pass down the inside here, but probably only on the first lap.
A very short run downhill follows, into the slowest corner on the F1 calendar, Loews (Turn 6).
Well, strictly speaking it's the "Fairmont Hairpin" now, but to many fans, it'll always be Loews, the name bestowed upon it in 1973.
Other names the corner has had through the years include Station hairpin, Grand Hotel hairpin and Sun Casino hairpin. On a related note, one hopes selling corner naming rights never catches on.
Etihad Eau Rouge, anyone?
Turns 7 and 8
Out of Loews it's downhill again toward what I call the double right-hander of Portier (Turns 7 and 8). Each is a little over 90 degrees, and the second leads out onto a straight and into the only proper tunnel in F1.
Turn 9 (The Tunnel)
The tunnel is just one of the unique things which sets Monaco apart. It curves to the right through a long, flat-out right-hander aptly named "Tunnel" (Turn 9).
It's very dirty off-line through here and accidents are likely if a car goes wide for whatever reason. After around five seconds of relative darkness, the cars exit into the daylight beside the Mediterranean at close to 170 mph.
Turns 10, 11 and 12
Shortly after the tunnel exit comes the Harbour or Nouvelle ("New" after it was remodelled in 1986) Chicane—Turns 10 and 11. The approach here is the fastest section of the Monaco track, and the best overtaking opportunity on the circuit.
Of course, this being Monaco it's not a good overtaking opportunity, and we'll be lucky if we see five moves taking place into the chicane during the race.
The chicane flicks first left then right, with a little bit of left again at the exit.
The cars next race beside the water to Tabac (Turn 12), a deceptive left-hander requiring precision on the entry to ensure a fast and safe exit.
It always looks like someone is going to run too wide here, but they rarely do.
Turns 13, 14, 15 and 16
Shortly after Tabac comes a quick left-right chicane (Turns 13 and 14), followed immediately by a tighter, right-left chicane (Turns 15 and 16). This section is known colloquially as the "swimming pool chicane"—singular, despite there being two of them.
Officially, the first part is named after Monegasque racing driver Louis Chiron, and the rest is named Piscine ("swimming pool" in French).
As one might expect, this corner complex is so named because it was constructed to navigate around a swimming pool built in 1973.
Turns 17, 18 and 19
Out of the swimming pool it's a short straight before a barely-there left (Turn 17) leads into the into the tight La Rascasse (Turns 18)—a slow, almost 180-degree right-hand corner.
The final corner, Anthony Noghes (Turn 19), is a tight right-hander which pinches in at the exit. This is a great spot to watch how close the cars come to the walls, especially when a driver hangs the rear end out a little.
Then it's onto the anything-but-straight pit straight, and the start-finish line is a little over halfway down.
The pit entry is just after Turn 18, while the exit is just after Turn 1, which leads to one final question. If the pit lane doesn't have its entrance or exit on it, is a pit straight still a pit straight?
Monaco is well-known as a circuit light on tyres. The corners are slow, loads are relatively light and the track surface is the least abrasive on the calendar.
Pirelli are bringing the red-marked super-soft and yellow-marked soft tyres. These are the "stickiest" compounds available, necessary for Monaco's low-grip surface.
They're also the least durable, but even they should last fairly well. The high-wear issues which have plagued certain teams in recent races (Mercedes in particular) shouldn't be as evident here, and Pirelli are expecting two stops to be the norm.
Someone will probably try a one-stop, though.
Every race this year has had two DRS zones, but Monaco will only have one. That's not because DRS is needed less here (quite the opposite is true), but because there aren't enough straights.
The one and only zone will cover the length of the pit straight, with a detection point just after the exit of the Turn 16.
In the past this has been almost useless, because the track is too curved and narrow for overtaking—DRS seems more effective this year, but it's unlikely to make much difference.
By a dedicated photographer in the Red Bull celebration pool.
In the past, rain has helped to produce some of Monaco's most memorable races.
Nowadays, the painted lines on the track and apparent inability of modern cars to drive in the wet means the FIA-branded fun-sponge would probably be out in an instant to stop the race if a cloud so much as sneezed over Monte Carlo.
So we should be thankful that old Dripsy seems likely to be staying away this weekend.
BBC Weather, Accuweather and Formula1.com all agree on dry sessions throughout—but there's an outside chance of a shower on Saturday.
As always, the Monaco Grand Prix weekend will consist of three free practice sessions, qualifying and the race.
Uniquely, there'll be no running on Friday. Local residents get a day off from the F1 circus, with the sessions instead taking place on Thursday.
All times given are Monaco local time. Formula1.com has a handy one-click tool to convert them into your own time zone.
Enjoy the weekend!