The Monaco Grand Prix is probably the most clichéd sporting event in the world. If I was given £1 for every time the words ‘glitz’ and ‘glamour’ were mentioned over the course of the week of the race, I’d probably be able to afford a trip to the principality next year…well, providing I don’t try and buy any loaves of bread there.
What is the Monaco Grand Prix, though? To be honest, it’s the second-biggest pain in the arse of the F1 season (the biggest being the annual Bernie Ecclestone Offensive-Comment-a-Thon). It’s that one time a year when the rich and famous crawl from under their rocks and turn up at an F1 race, claiming they have always loved the sport and that they want the red car to win. The races are generally tedious processions, as it’s virtually impossible to overtake around the circuit; believe it or not, what Herbie did in the tunnel in Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo is actually impossible.
And it’s also incredibly dangerous – there’s not much stopping a car leaving the circuit and flying into a building or the harbour. Even the various safety improvements, taking the barriers back and thus making crashing far less likely (and the races more predictable), have not changed that.
And yet…the place has an aura. Nothing in F1 beats the feeling when watching the first moment of qualifying, where a car comes out of the pits and accelerates up the hill to Casino Square for the first time. As a circuit that’s only active for two weekends per year (the other being the Historic Grand Prix weekend, which clashed with the Spanish Grand Prix last weekend and proved to be much more interesting than the ‘real’ thing), it has still retained its special feel.
Lewis Hamilton – 1.60
Nico Rosberg – 2.60
Sebastian Vettel – 15.00
(All odds provided by AllYouBet.ag are accurate as of today and subject to change)
Only the relatively minor events in Pau and Macau can compare for racing around such a dramatic city. Only the Indianapolis 500 (which incidentally takes place on the same day as Monaco) and the Le Mans 24 Hours have the history and status to match it. Ask any lay person about motorsport and Monaco is probably one of the things they will mention. Ask any lay person about Monaco and the grand prix is probably the first thing they will mention.
But the bigger picture entering Monaco week is that this may be another two-horse race. Lewis Hamilton arrives at the principality having won the last four races, and his team having won all five of this season’s grands prix. Lewis has only won the race once, but the way in which he won it suggests more are to come: in 2008, he recovered to win a dramatic wet races after an early puncture. He has always performed well and the circuit suits his driving style. Once again, he enters this race as the favourite for victory.
Team mate Nico Rosberg is also at home on the streets of Monte Carlo – quite literally, in this case, as he lives here. He won last year’s race convincingly, having finished second in 2012. After four second-place finishes in a row, he is undoubtedly keen to pick up his second win of the season; a fifth consecutive finish behind Hamilton will only increase the Englishman’s momentum and make it much more difficult for him to keep pace.
But while Mercedes’ dominance this year has been crushing thus far, there are some who doubt they can maintain it on the Monegasque streets, including Fernando Alonso. However, a Ferrari challenge seems unlikely judging by recent form, despite Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen having a combined total of three wins here themselves. Amazingly it’s now 13 years since Ferrari last won in Monaco, making it one of the team’s longest barren runs. The last win came courtesy of Michael Schumacher, who somehow managed to contrive not to win here during his most dominant seasons, a lesson Hamilton and Rosberg should heed.
The most likely challengers to Mercedes should be Red Bull, who have emerged as best-of-the-rest despite a rocky winter testing period and the disappointing Renault engine. Before Rosberg’s win last year, they had won three consecutive Monaco Grands Prix, with two wins for Mark Webber and one for Sebastian Vettel, who benefited from a late race stoppage in 2011. The champion’s record around Monaco has been inconsistent, which may again play into the hands of young team mate Daniel Ricciardo, fresh off the back of his first career podium in Spain.
You can probably also count on a challenge from Williams. Felipe Massa is a former pole sitter at Monaco, while Valtteri Bottas is performing well up against the experienced Brazilian, having qualified fourth in Barcelona. But like Ferrari, the team also don’t have a great record here, with their last win coming in 2003 with Juan Pablo Montoya at the wheel; their previous victory came courtesy of Nico’s father Keke Rosberg in 1983. A podium here this year would be a very good result for them.
As for McLaren, they are slowly slipping back into the midfield despite a positive start, with Jenson Button and Kevin Magnussen struggling to live up to the high expectations. They are no longer even the third-best Mercedes-powered team, with Force India now more likely to score points; they picked up a fifth place finish at Monaco last year thanks to Adrian Sutil, and a similar result would provide them with a major points boost.
But once again, this is Mercedes’ race to lose. They have the pace, the reliability and the drivers to secure another win. However, the Monaco Grand Prix is rarely that simple, especially factoring in the weather conditions. Rain is forecast for Sunday, and wet streets can make this race unpredictable, because while Monaco may have changed a lot since 1929, it’s still a street circuit, with bumps and slippery white lines. All of the great drivers have made mistakes here. If there’s one race Mercedes could lose this season, it is this one.
Betting Instinct tip – with Mercedes so dominant this season, there may be some value in more niche markets. Nico Rosberg to record the fastest lap, as he has done in three of the five grands prix so far, is 2.90 with Intertops.eu
JAMES BENNETT (James) is a History MPhil/PhD student, who writes about soccer, Formula 1 and the NFL in his spare time to pay for his studies. He is also a Torquay United fan. He publishes articles in his sports blog, and you can follow him on Twitter and Google+.