The Ferrari and McLaren battle
Ferrari and McLaren are likely to be very close again in Monaco just as they were in Turkey. It is very unlikely that we will see the repeat of the McLaren whitewash that we saw at last season’s Monaco GP. The main causes of Ferrari’s poor performance in that race was their long wheelbase and a car which struggled overall through slow and tight corners and on kerbs. Ferrari struggled at all slow tracks last season, and Monaco was the place where they suffered the most by a long way. Over the winter Ferrari has worked very hard to catch up with McLaren in this particularly area.
From recent races it seems Ferrari has made significant improvements. Ferrari was fastest in the final sectors of both the Spanish and Turkish tracks. Both of these last sectors have tight fiddly bends in them and the Ferrari seemed to get better traction out of the corners. In the final sector of the Spanish track alone Ferrari gained 0.2 of second over McLaren in just that one sector, so that bodes very well for their chances at Monaco where the track layout is like that sector of that track throughout the whole lap.
However, McLaren’s history has always been very good at Monaco and the setup is completely different from anywhere else on the calendar so there is no reason why McLaren won’t be able to put themselves in a competitive position again and take the fight to Ferrari. However, Ferrari will be a big threat this weekend. It should be a very tight battle between the two teams and it will be tough to pick a winner.
I must point out, McLaren always does seem to find something extra at Monaco. In 2002 they beat the ultra-dominant Ferrari on merit. In 2004 their car was awful, but was still able to race in the top six in Raikkonen’s hands. McLaren won convincingly in 2005 after Renault had dominated the start of the season. In 2006 McLaren had the pace to win a race for the only time that season. Raikkonen would likely have won comfortably had it not been for an engine failure behind the safety car. In 2007 they won by a gigantic margin that wasn’t seen by them anywhere else. So despite Ferrari’s likely improved Monaco form, you can always count on Mclaren being able to find some extra pace for the street of Monte-Carlo.
Driver-wise, Massa has always struggled at Monaco. It’s a track he just doesn’t feel comfortable at. He prefers wider tracks with heavy braking zones at the end of long straights and lots of understeer. Tracks designed by Hermann Tilke feature all of these elements, which is why he always wins in Bahrain and Turkey. Raikkonen, on the other hand, has often excelled at Monaco (apart from last season when he crashed in qualifying) so I would expect him to lead the main Ferrari challenge.
In the McLaren camp, Hamilton loves the streets of Monte Carlo. He has won here in F3 and GP2 and came in 2nd here last season, so he is likely to challenge very strongly again. It's hard to say what sort of challenge Kovalainen will throw at him and Raikkonen. Kovalainen had a terrible race last year when he had difficulty getting used to his Renault. He also got impeded by Coulthard which prevented him from progressing in qualifying, and qualifying low down the grid at Monaco will always lead to a long afternoon.
Kovalainen could well surprise everyone at Monaco and become a contender for the win. We will just have to wait till practise begins to find out where he is in the pecking order.
The BMW Sauber threat
McLaren and Ferrari will be very close this weekend, but BMW Sauber may well come and spoil their party. After three podiums in the first three races of the season, BMW has fallen off the pace slightly in the last two races. However, Monaco is a track which will suit them very well.
The BMW loses out most to the Mclaren and Ferrari in the fast corners and on long straights, but none of those are a feature at Monaco. Therefore, BMW should be right on the tail of the front runners. BMW is a very good car aerodynamically and has very good grip so it will work well on the twisty, bumpy streets of Monte Carlo. So far this season the car looks as if it can look after its tyres pretty well and with high wear rates expected, that will only help their chances.
Heidfeld has been excellent in Monaco in the past when he got a second place for Williams in 2005 and even managed to score points for Jordan in 2004. He should figure strongly this weekend, as will Kubica who beat Heidfeld here last season. Kubica has been leading the BMW charge so far this season, and Heidfeld is struggling a little bit at the moment. In a potentially crazy race, Heidfeld’s wise head often stands him in good stead. He finished 2nd in the crazy season opener in Melbourne and in the chaotic racer in Montreal last season.
Overall this is BMW’s best chance of a win all season, no other track apart from Hungary (often called Monaco without walls) will suit the car as well. If they don’t find the pace here then they won’t have a hope of winning a race anywhere else this season. In my opinion though they will be right up there after a bit of a blip in Turkey.
Who can spring a surprise?
Alonso is always fantastic around Monaco. As a double world champion and winner of the past 2 Monaco GPs, he will be able drive above his car’s limits and deliver a good result. I expect him to be very aggressive in qualifying and to try and get as near the front as possible and see what he can do from there. He is certainly a strong contender for his first podium of the season.
I think Red Bull will have their best weekend of the season here. Cars designed by Newey have always been fast at Monaco. He has masterminded victories for Williams and McLaren in the past. Red Bull David Coulthard has two wins and a pole position at Monaco. He even got a podium for Red Bull in 2006, so he will very likely feature in the points here once again.
Webber has had some great drives in Monaco too. He finished 3rd in the Williams in 2005 and in 2006, started on the front row and was challenging for the victory until a reliability gremlin cruelly denied him a podium at the very least. I expect good things from Red Bull and their drivers this weekend.
As for the backmarkers, Fisichella has the best chance of scoring a point. He finished 4th in the poor Renault car last season and has been on the podium for Benetton in the past. Monaco has regularly been a happy hunting ground for him and if there is a high attrition rate, I expect him to make the most of it.
What if it rains?
If that were to happen the formbook flies out of the window. It's then about which teams make the best tactical calls and which drivers keep their head. You would probably have to favour the experienced drivers more or drivers with great history in the wet conditions (such as Alonso or Button). The younger drivers could well struggle. As seen in the 1996 Monaco GP, rain really makes it a complete lottery. In that particular race it was Oliver Panis’s number which came up that day.
To conclude it will be close between McLaren and Ferrari. Despite Ferrari’s big improvement on slow circuits, I do have to put McLaren as favourites due to their recent history at the event and the fact that their cars always run well on the slower circuits and with that particular setup. I think Hamilton has a great chance of victory this weekend, but both BMW and Ferrari will be snapping at their heels. For the surprise of the weekend, the three drivers I would tip to make a big impact are: Alonso, Coulthard and Fisichella.
- Hamilton 2. Raikkonen 3. Alonso
Enjoy the race on Sunday, it promises to be a cracker.