Monte-Carlo, Monaco. The jewel in the Formula One crown. The only place that gives more to Formula One than Formula One gives to it. But on the eve on the sixth round of this years' championship, who will be crowned the king of the principality?
If the bookies are anything to go by, Jenson Button will be the man to beat this weekend. After another Button and Brawn GP master class in Barcelona, the likelihood of it being a similarstory in Monte-Carlo seems ominous.
Brawn GP's superior downforce in the lower-speed corners will inevitably give them the edge at the slowest track on the F1 calendar, and this paired with a driver who is on the very top of his game right now sould lead to another victory to the Brawn GP team.
Of the chasing pack, Red Bull still appear to be the team most likely to challenge the Brawn cars. Vettel's engine issue aside, the new aero package Adrian Newey and his team have brought (including the new, once controversial "double diffuser"), should give them an overall performance improvement, but whether they can overhaul the Brawns remains to be seen.
Surprisingly, and going against what we've come to expect this season, McLaren and Ferrari both seem to be back in a genuine position to at least be challenging for the thicker ends of the points. While it's still not anywhere near where they'd ideally like to be, all the signs are all their to suggest that we could soon see Ferrari and McLaren returning to winning ways sooner rather than later.
In Lewis Hamilton, they have a driver who always excels here, having won previously in Euro F3, GP2, and of course triumphing here last year in F1. This could be his best chance of the season so far to put himself back up at the sharp end and maybe bag his first podium of the season.
Of the rest of the chasing pack, Toyota's indifferent performance that seems to fluctuate with every race makes their true performance difficult to predict, although their practice times don't seem particularly promising.
Williams and Rosberg claimed their mandatory fastest time on Thursday morning, but as so often this season, the team then goes on to flatter to deceive with lacklusture Saturday and Sunday performances, and I can't see it being any different this weekend.
BMW's miserable season sees no signs of an immediate improvement. Kubica's lack of running time on Thursday after an engine problem will surely be a factor, and with the car showing no signs of a step forwards, even getting both cars into Q2 would be regarded as an achievement.
Renault are another team struggling. Despite temporarily ditching their KERS system, the car's aero package still hasn't been enhanced enough to push it into a more challenging position, and it could be a good while yet before Alonso and Piquet start to appear back at the front.
Force India and Toro Rosso still seem to be the tail enders, but I wouldn't be surprised if we see Force India start moving forwards once the much sought after Mclaren KERS system is installed. This weekend though looks still like another bleak one for the team.
Whilst Force India struggle, the other Mercedes powered team are still the team to beat. I really can't see past it being a Button-Barrichello 1-2, with a Red Bull 3-4, but we all know; one mistake in Monaco is all it takes to end your race and never before has the motto "to finish first, first you have to finish" been more apt than at Monaco.
Like the new article format? Send us feedback!