The Power of Ferrari will be Unassailable at Monaco
The position is this: Ferrari are the dominant force in F1 at the moment. Two wins for Massa and two for Raikkonenleaves makes it four out of five for Ferrari. However the Turkish Grand Prix shed some doubt over this dominance.
Lewis Hamilton, through a three stop strategy was able to defeat Raikkonen and challenge Massa for victory. Ultimately he failed but many believe this is the beginning of the Mclaren/Hamilton fightback, starting at Monaco, the crown of F1. The question is, is this realistic?
Well lets look back to Australia for some evidence to support such a view. Hamilton strolled to an effortless victory during the action packed race around Albert Park. Neither Ferrari challenged the Brit, or even finished the race. It seemed as though the championship was almost decided as Hamilton single-handedly destroyed the Ferraris.
Both Ferrari drivers had made suprisingly simple errors. Massa had spun off at turn 1 while Raikkonen had made two errors at turn 3. Not only did Mclaren seem supremely fast (Kovalainen took fastest lap), but also reliable and diligent, unlike Ferrari. Only a small strategic mistake, having to pit Kovalainen late on in the race, prevented a dominant victory for Mclaren.
But what a false dawn that proved and Ferrari have dominated every other round to date. Indeed they dominated so much that it proved a suprise when Hamilton was able to race Massa and Raikkonen with an inferior pit stop strategy. Pro-Hamilton fans were quick to claim that this meant that Mclaren were back and would surely challenge Ferrari in Monaco.
Indeed Mclaren does have a strong history at Monaco. Of course they took a controversial 1-2 last year, but also won in 2005, 2002 (during the dominant Schumacher years), 2000 and 1998. All years where Ferrari could be conceived to be a potent force. Hamilton himself claims that Monaco is his favourite circuit, and indeed it was suprising to see a rookie like Hamilton take to a circuit as daunting as Monaco so quickly.
Recent highly rated rookies have struggled around the demanding, unique challenge that is Monaco. Jacques Villeneuve for example, in 1996 could only manage to qualify 10th on the grid in the best car. J-P Montoya crashed out on the third lap during his Monaco debut.
Monaco is a circuit which is notoriosuly difficult for rookies; Andyet Hamilton took the Monaco challenge with huge confidence and courage. All this points to a driver ready to take his chances around Monaco.
But will Mclaren be able to overhaul the Ferrari team? Well sadly for Mclaren it is unlikely. Last year Massa finished a minute behind the Mclarens' in the race. This can be attributed to the Ferrari's longer wheel base meaning it was less suited to the tight twisty streets of Monaco.
However this year, both cars are similar in length thus that advantage that Mclaren had has gone. Secondly the driver options. Kimi Raikkonen messed up his qualifying last year, this year however you can be sure that Kimi won't. If there's one circuit which does fire up the ice-man it's Monaco.
Like Hamilton, Kimihas the gift of being able to understand the unreliable nature of the Monaco streets. For example, in 2005 he absolutely tore everybody apart. In 2006 he was the fastest man on the circuit. Hamilton will face stiff competition from Raikkonen, who with the Ferrari chassis under him should be the favorite for the race.
Furthermore Hamilton will have to make do with a teammate who has limited experience at Monaco. This has come up many times, but the Hamilton and Kovalainen partnership is one of the least experienced on the grid. Hamilton will not have a world champion in the team and thus tactically it will mean that Kovalainen is less likely to bow to Hamilton should Hamilton be leading, like Hamilton did for Alonso last year.
Kovalainen is an ambitious, talented driver who has a winning car under him. Therefore he is less likely to take stock and settle for second if the situation should arise.
There is also the argument that there really is no reason for the Mclaren's to be faster. Although Hamilton has shown good pace during the Paul Ricard test in between Turkey and Monaco, F1 testing is notoriously unreliable when considering true race pace.
Williams for example spent the whole of the winter third fastest out of the teams, but have yet to deliver any true race pace similar to this. By the same token BMW Sauber where solidly midfield until Australia when Kubica almost stuck it on pole. There is no way of knowing whether or not the Ferrari's where holding back during the test session.
The prediction is therefore that Ferrari will continue to dominate in Monaco. Two weeks is far too small for a team to find three-tenths of a second, which is the margin between Ferrari and Mclarenat the moment. If you combine that with the pace of Kimi and the relative lack of experience of the Mclaren Duo, Monaco should continue the status quo.
This of course does not take into account the sheer unpredictability about Monaco. Rain is predicted over the weekend, and when it rains in Monaco, sparks do fly. No ardent F1 fan does not know the events of the 1984 Monaco GP, or the 1996 Monaco GP, where rain played a huge factor on both days.
Furthermore Monaco has the tendency to bring the best out of the midfield. In 2006 for example Red Bull had started very poorly in the season. However David Coulthard was able to finish third in the race (Red Bull's first podium), while Christian Klien had run ahead of him before retiring.
Mark Webber in the mediocre Williams was able to run up at the front andcould have won had he not had a engine failure. It remains to be seen however if the likes of Williams, Renault, Red Bull, Toyota or Honda could upset the top three. It all comes down to race day when in Monaco anything can happen.
When anything does happen you usually want to be in the best car at the right time. More evidence to show why Ferrari should see themselves as the top dogs in F1 this weekend.
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