Monte Carlo: Pinnacle of Formula One

Andy BarklamContributor IMay 24, 2008

With Round 6 under way, Formula One sees its Monaco Grand Prix of 2008 take place on the 25thof May. An amazing spectacle, few drivers feel any other track in the world even approaches the glamour, difficulty, and undebatable challenge that Monte Carlo provides, with Spa-Francorchamps perhaps being the only exception to that rule.

Despite the fact that the tight and twisty street circuit offers very few overtaking opportunities, the racing in Monaco is rarely boring, if on occasion unavoidably processional.

The result of the Turkish Grand Prix (Round 5) has left the Drivers’ Championship that bit tighter between the top few drivers, most notably between the main protagonists, Raikonnen, Hamilton, and Massa. This has made for something of a breaking point, one way or another, in Monaco.

Can Kimi Raikonnen regain his confidence and cement his seven-point lead, or will either of his archrivals manage to peg him back yet further and cause him greater worry?

With qualifying complete, it is clear that Felipe Massa has not been letting his relative dislike of Monte Carlo affect him, qualifying as he did in the pole position, alongside his teammate Kimi Raikonnen. Lewis Hamilton finds himself third on the grid, just 0.052s away from pole.

Hamilton is perhaps right to feel disappointed with his qualifying run, as it is the first time since 2001 that a Ferrari has started on the front row of the Monte Carlo grid. McLaren have been perceived as having the better car this year as well, emphasising Ferrari’s achievement. Indeed, it is even longer since Ferrari’s last front row lockout.

Qualifying has turned out as few expected, but with the threat of rain during the race, Sunday’s main event may turn into something of a lottery. Hamilton will need all the help he can get, through the race if not at the start. The old adage, “You can’t win the race at the first corner, but you can lose it there,” is no more applicable to the odd one out that is Monaco.

One driver particularly worthy of a special mention after Saturday quali is Heikki Kovalainen. Whenever any driver has an accident in Monaco, time in the car becomes significantly reduced, and getting the best out of a lap at Monte Carlo is usually dependent on how many laps a driver has completed prior to said lap, with drivers’ best time usually improving through the whole weekend.

This said, Kovalainen capped a sterling effort to end up fourth on the grid alongside Hamilton, after having had a significant, if innocuous, crash in practice, damaging the right rear of his car and stopping him going out on track again in that session.

David Coulthard holds the present title of biggest accident this weekend so far, after a high speed shunt involving his car and the Armco—just after exiting the tunnel—left DC in the top ten shoot-out, but unable to participate.

Interestingly, it will be the first time since his quali accident that DC will turn a wheel in anger when he lines up as he does, 10th on the grid on Sunday.

So the scene is set, the three main protagonists having qualified within just over half a tenth of each other, with one or two other notables like Kubica and Rosberg more than capable of causing an upset given half a chance.

The threat of rain looks to continue into Sunday’s race, and will no doubt add to the excitement in keeping the teams and engineers on their toes.

The 2008 Monaco Grand Prix will begin with Felipe Massa hoping to become the first Ferrari driver since Jody Sheckter in 1979 to win in Monte Carlo. Incidentally, Sheckter also won the title that year.