Iconic. Glamorous. The jewel in the crown. Yes, it's Monaco Grand Prix weekend, a race which provides one of the greatest sporting spectacles as 22 Formula One cars blast around the tight streets of Monte Carlo. Even talk of tyres and DRS should be kept to a minimum as the drivers have to use all of their skill, talent and concentration to thread their cars between the Armco in an attempt to win the race that means just that little bit more.
On FormHe may not have won a race since the opening round in Australia, but Kimi Raikkonen's three consecutive second places at the last three races have marked him out as a serious championship challenger. The Lotus is still not fast enough over one lap but in the races Raikkonen has managed his tyres to perfection, taking full advantage of the E21's inherent strengths. He has now scored points at the last 22 races and the only blot on his copybook as a Lotus driver is the 2012 Chinese Grand Prix where he was looking like a podium contender until his tyres went off. Monaco may prove a harder hunting ground than Bahrain and Spain if he can't qualify near the front of the grid, but even a bit of damage limitation will see him still in the running at the top of the championship.
Out of FormMcLaren has featured a lot in this section of the preview this year. It's getting another mention this week because of the lack of progress in Spain despite a noticeably large upgrade package in Spain. It's true both cars scored points at Barcelona, but overall they scored less than the team had at the previous two rounds. The lack of progress will be frustrating and Jenson Button has said he is not expecting much more in Monaco. The one upside from Spain was that the correlation concerns seem to have been addressed, which is vital for 2014 as well as 2013, but the lack of outright performance is still clear to see. News that Honda will arrive in 2015 is a major boost but will also bring its own challenges, and means McLaren is working on three very different cars for 2013, 2014 and 2015. The question is whether the 2013 project will be canned early with few signs of progress.
One to watchAdrian Sutil has been unlucky at the last four races. In Malaysia both Force Indias retired with wheel nut issues, in China he was hit from behind by Esteban Gutierrez, in Bahrain he suffered a puncture after contact with Felipe Massa and in Spain a cross-threaded wheel nut cost him 55 seconds. At all of those races he showed impressive pace over the weekend and it's just a matter of time before it all comes good for him. On his last two visits to Monaco he has scored points and in 2008 he made his name when his Force India was running fourth before being taken out by Kimi Raikkonen. This year's VJM06 has been quick in qualifying so he stands a good chance of getting a decent grid position and then challenge for points in the race.
Talking PointsPaddy Lowe and Mercedes
News this week that Lowe will be joining Mercedes hardly came as a surprise, but that it will happen as early as June 3 was not expected. Lowe had a McLaren contract until the end of the year and was expected to see out a full season of gardening leave before joining rivals Mercedes, but a deal has been struck to let him start work next month. Don't expect any major impact on 2013, but it is significant news for 2014 and beyond as Lowe can get his feet under the desk in his newly-created role as executive director (technical). The team was keen to point out that Ross Brawn is still in charge as team principal, but it will be interesting to see how the relationship between the two technical heavyweights develops.
News that the tyre construction and compounds will be tweaked from Canada onwards has not gone down well with Ferrari and Lotus. As two of the teams that made the tyres work to their advantage in the opening rounds it is understandable for them to be upset, but Pirelli are now saying the changes will not be as dramatic as the teams are making out. Nevertheless, with F1 so tight at the moment, any change will have an effect and it will only be after a few races that we really see how it alters the title race.
Honda and McLaren
Honda returning to the sport with McLaren in 2015 is great news for Formula One, but there are still a few unanswered questions. Will Honda supply another team? Will it be a benefit or a hindrance to come in one year after its rivals? And can it return McLaren to championship-winning glory? There will be plenty of opinions floating around in the Monaco paddock but we are unlikely to get any answers.
It sounds like such a boring topic, but Monaco sees the most important qualifying session of the year and in order to set a competitive time you have to get a clear lap. As ESPN's Sam Bird points out: "Traffic doesn't cost you tenths around Monaco, it costs you seconds." Finding a clear part of track can be difficult, but it's also not that easy to allow another car past on the narrow streets - especially in the tight final sector - and one radio message you're bound to hear will be a driver complaining about being held up. If the grid penalties that were handed out in Barcelona are anything to go by, it might not be until late on Saturday that we get a provisional starting grid.
- Despite its crown jewel status, Monaco is not one of the ever-presents on the Formula One calendar having been absent from 1951-1954
- Due to the low average speed around the streets, Monaco is the only grand prix that runs to less than a grand prix distance - at 260.52km it is almost 40km shorter
- Though it's so difficult to overtake in Monte Carlo, the lowest starting position that the race has been won from is 14th (Olivier Panis, 1996)
- Last year's race saw the top four drivers all cross the line covered by just 1.343s
- This is the 57th running of the Monaco Grand Prix as a championship race
- There is just one DRS zone - on the start/finish straight - with the activation point just 18m after the final corner
- Drivers will make an average of 50 gear changes per lap
- Based on the last ten years, there is an 80% probability of a safety car period
CircuitThis track requires three things: downforce, traction and driver skill. The tight and twisty nature makes the drive out of each corner crucial, while the close proximity of the Armco barriers means it is down to the driver to use every inch of the circuit and remain fully committed when just millimetres from disaster. A car that rides the bumps well is also important; although some track resurfacing has taken the emphasis off this slightly. Overtaking is nigh on impossible but opportunities can occur in to the Nouvelle Chicane, while a dive up the inside in to Ste Devote is also possible.
WeatherIt's hardly set to be a scorcher in Monte Carlo, but an earlier threat of rain appears to be decreasing as the race weekend draws nearer. Early forecasts suggested a wet Saturday, but now it looks set to be a dry and stable weekend. With tyre degradation not usually an issue in Monaco, the low ambient temperatures might still provide some teams with a headache regarding how to get the tyres up to temperature.
FIA driver stewardEight-time Le Mans winner Tom Kristensen returns to the role as driver steward having last fulfilled the role at last year's championship-deciding Brazilian Grand Prix.
BettingFresh from his victory on home soil, Fernando Alonso is the bookies' favourite at 5/2 to repeat his success in Monaco. Sebastian Vettel isn't much longer odds at 11/4, while Lewis Hamilton is 11/2 to take his first Mercedes victory. Kimi Raikkonen might look tempting at 6/1 but his occasional qualifying issues could hurt him this weekend, so Nico Rosberg is a good bet at 13/2. For those looking at previous form, Mark Webber - winner here in 2010 and 2012 - is 12/1.