This weekend, Formula 1 returns to the streets of Monte Carlo for what is the most glamorous race of all races. Monaco always throws up a few surprises and I expect this year to be no different.
Lewis Hamilton comes into the Monaco weekend with a 3 point lead over Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg. Lewis has had the edge on his teammate all season so far, even when Nico has been quicker, Lewis has managed to take the chequered flag. The fact that Nico has only managed one victory so far this season, at the season opener at Australia, where Lewis failed to finish due to a mechanical failure, most really be hurting Rosberg. He’s 4-1 down in Qualifying, which for me tells a drivers true pace. But I expect that to be 4-2 this weekend. Nico has always been good around Monte Carlo. Last season he won here and was exceptional through the casino square section of the track. Monaco suits Rosberg’s style, where he likes to carry speed through the apex at the expense of getting on the power earlier. Rosberg has to stop the rot, so it really is a now or never situation for him.
Red Bull, Ferrari, Lotus and Williams are best of the rest coming in to Monaco. If anyone can stop Mercedes from another victory, it’s Red Bull. They have a fantastic chassis in terms of handling, it’s looks great to watch in the high speed sections of tracks. RBR’s only weakness is the Renault power plant, which is costing them roughly a second a lap around tracks like Catalunya and Bahrain. But I expect the gap to Mercedes to be much closer due to the short straights on the track. Expect Mercedes to still have a bit on hand, as its power plant still has better energy recovery than that of the Renault.
As for Ferrari, Raikkonen may have been hard done by strategy in Spain, but the fact of the matter is Alonso again beat him. If a Red Bull driver fails to make the podium here, Alonso is my bet for 3rd. Lotus looks very good in the tight stuff just like last season, and now that reliability is looking under control, it looks like Grosjean at least could score more good points here. As for Maldonado, well, you could find good odds on him finishing. Bottas could be a darkhorse here for Williams, he’s a fantastic talent and I expect him to do well. However, the shorter gear ratios on the Williams will hurt them here and Massa isn’t exactly the most reliable driver on the grid, add to that that this seems to be his bogey track if a driver has one.
Regarding the teams fighting for those last few points, Toro Rosso could well struggle here, as they tend to be good at low downforce tracks, and Monaco is anything but low downforce. McLaren look poor and they could well drop further back the pack without the massive advantage of the Mercedes powerplant. Same has to be said about Force India, but Nico Hulkenberg is a fantastic driver and he will score points if his car is reliable. Sauber looks like a dreadful car, Esteban Gutierrez is doing a better job than Sutil at the moment at extracting everything from that car. I expect Adrian to turn the tables on Gutierrez here as he has always been strong in Monte Carlo. All these teams seem to have fallen behind in the development race and they’ll be hoping for a safety car and just random incidents to score some good points.
And at the back of the grid, Marussia have stolen a huge march on Caterham. They actually look like to have gained the most of any team with upgrades in Spain, which is fantastic to see given their tiny budget in comparison to Ferrari, Red Bull and Mercedes. Bianchi is a future world champion in the making and he’s driving the wheels off that car. Chilton is as consistent as ever too, so I really doubt Caterham are going to gain anything in Monaco. But you can never count out Kobayashi doing something utterly ridiculous!
All in all, expect the two Mercedes boys to be at the head of the queue once again, but by a smaller margin. Expect incidents, lots of sideways action and glamorous women on the grid on Sunday.
Robert Enright, Pundit Arena.