It is finally time for the legendary Monaco Grand Prix, the sixth race of the season and perhaps the one race that every driver dreams of winning.
“If you could have the freedom to choose any race on the calendar that you would want to win, it would without doubt be Monaco. Ask up and down the paddock and you would get the same answer,” said Ferrari driver Sebastian Vettel.
Although he had won the 2011 Monaco Grand Prix for Red Bull, his present team, Ferrari, has not registered a win in Monte Carlo since 2001 when Michael Schumacher finished at the top of the charts.
“I would say it is about time that Ferrari wins again here,” said Vettel, who is currently leading the season’s drivers’ championships standings ahead of Lewis Hamilton.
Run since 1929, this circuit, beyond being considered to be the most prestigious of the calendar, has also hosted some of the most iconic races in Formula One history, so much so that names of certain sections of the track have become commonplace.
The Portier corner can heavily influence the lap timing of a driver in the circuit. It is preceded by the famous Loews hairpin, the slowest corner in the sport, and followed by the dimly-lit tunnel, one of the only sections of the track where the driver can freely press the paddle.
While quite a few great names have crashed in the barriers here, this race has also made the careers of many drivers.
Before the advent of electronic media, Graham Hill’s rise to fame — perhaps even his immortality in F1 culture — came after he won the race five times in the 1960s. He is since known as Mr Monaco. The only other driver with five wins here is Schumacher.
But the phase for which the Monaco Grand Prix is most fondly remembered is perhaps the Prost-Senna era. For the decade between 1984 and 1993, the race was won by only two drivers: Alain Prost of France and Brazilian Ayrton Senna. The most celebrated of F1 rivalries was exposed during this time, with Senna winning six times here and Prost four times.
Even though the circuit itself has seen a lot of changes since it was first raced on, the glamour and exclusivity associated with the Monte Carlo race has stayed intact. The narrow, winding road passes through some of the most expensive real estate, yachts and cars in the world.
The city is also quite a favourite among the current drivers. Daniil Kvyat, Felipe Massa and Daniel Ricciardo all own apartments in the same building, while Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button also reside here.
For Button, this will be the first Formula One race this season. But he insists it will not be his last. “I’m not here to say goodbye,” he said, “I’m here to have fun.”
But Button’s fun might be cut short after a 15-place grid penalty he has been awarded on Saturday because of another engine change by Honda. The Englishman, who will be replacing Fernando Alonso after the latter decided to race at the Indianapolis 500, will have to start the one-off race from the back of the pack on Sunday.
Of the 20 drivers that will line up on the grid on Sunday afternoon, Lewis Hamilton, Kimi Raikkonen, Jenson Button and Sebastian Vettel have won the Monaco Grand Prix before. This list is unlikely to change on Sunday.
The fight at the top of the grid is likely to be as it has been in the season so far, between the bright red Ferraris and the grey Mercs.
Hamilton has described Mercedes’ performance on Thursday as “night and day” during the two practice sessions, but it will be a tough fight against the confident Ferraris.
Setting a personal best time of 1:12.720 in the second practice session on Thursday, championship leader Vettel topped the timesheet ahead of Red Bull's Daniel Ricciardo with a gap of a comfortable 0.487 seconds.
So far, Sunday’s race has set itself up for a decent fight between the top three teams, on a circuit that is infamous for setting apart the good and the great.
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Updated Date: May 27, 2017 22:27:55 IST