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Formula 1: Lights Out - What to look for at the Monaco GP

25 May 2022 04:06:57 EST
The narrows streets of Monaco await this weekend

There's no room for error around the tight streets of Monaco and Charles Leclerc may already feel the same about the title race heading into his home Grand Prix this weekend.

Leclerc has seen reigning world champion Max Verstappen reel him in and overtake him over the course of the last three races and he now trails the Dutchman in the drivers' championship by six points.

Having lead the standings by 19 points going into last weekend's Spanish Grand Prix, the dramatic turnaround has left the Ferrari driver playing catch up for the first time this season.

With Verstappen taking the chequered flag in each of the last three races and Mercedes making drastic improvements in Barcelona, the signs are ominous for Ferrari's lead driver.

However, Leclerc is 1.57 to hit back in Monte Carlo with a race win, and with good reason, the Scuderia having put forward a strong case to be considered the favourite for Formula 1's blue riband race.

Leclerc eyeing redemption

Not much has changed about the layout for the Monaco Grand Prix since its inaugural appearance on the Formula 1 calendar in 1929.

With the Mediterranean Sea at one side and the densely populated city on the other, there's little room to adapt the circuit to bring it more in line with modern venues.

Instead, what we get is a unique test for the drivers, who have to combine speed, accuracy, patience and concentration to make it round the narrow street circuit.

With weather forecasts suggesting a chance of rain on Saturday and Sunday, their abilities will be pushed to the max.

Of the current members of the grid, Lewis Hamilton, Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso have all shown they can cope with the intense demands of Monaco, winning on multiple occasions, while Daniel Ricciardo and last year's winner Max Verstappen also have a victory to their names.

Verstappen led from start to finish last term, becoming the third driver in succession to win from pole position in Monte Carlo. However, it could have been a very different outcome had Leclerc not been forced to miss the race.

The 24-year-old secured pole position but also crashed his car in the final session of qualifying, the damage from which Ferrari couldn't repair in time before race day.

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Slow and steady wins the race

The Scuderia were quick last year and they should go well again this time around.

Leclerc's DNF in Spain due to an engine issue when on course for victory, coupled with yet another mistake by Carlos Sainz costing him points, has backed Ferrari into a corner. But there were some positives to take away from Spain, most notably how much quicker the Italian manufacturer's car was through the slow and medium corners compared to their rivals.

That trait should serve them very well in Monte Carlo, which features the slowest corner of the whole year - Fairmont Hairpin - while the short straights should limit how effective the Red Bull, with its superior straight line speed, is.

The Scuderia showed in Spain that their package of upgrades has had the desired effect and Leclerc is 1.61 to secure the all-important pole position in Monaco having been on pole four times already this season.

Red Bull reliability hanging over Verstappen

Ferrari appears to have the edge over Red Bull heading into round seven but we should expect some kind of response from Red Bull, who have done a great job consistently upgrading their car to stay ahead of the pack.

Verstappen led home a one-two for the Milton Keynes-based outfit in Barcelona and has now won all four races in which he has finished. He's 5.50 to extend his current win streak to four races but reliability remains a concern.

The world champion admitted his team had been let off the hook by Leclerc's withdrawal with his car plagued by DRS issues both in qualifying and the race.

Red Bull also had issues with tyre management in Spain, and while that problem is unlikely to reoccur in Monaco, these are all technical flaws they'll need to get on top of if they are to stay ahead of the field.

Mercedes back in the fight

Any slips by Red Bull could open the door not only to Ferrari but also to Mercedes if the performance of the Silver Arrows in Spain was a true indication of where their 2022 car now finds itself.

A season-best qualifying performance by Georg Russell of fourth was converted into a podium by the Brit, while Lewis Hamilton drove brilliantly to take fifth given his early collision with Kevin Magnussen.

Hamilton had a spring in his step after the race, talking about winning races again in the near future, while Russell's excellent defensive display when holding up Verstappen raised his stock further, while also making him the only driver on the grid to score points in every race this season.

Although they still lack the pace of Ferrari and Red Bull, there can be few doubts that Mercedes are finally moving in the right direction after such a difficult start to this new era of Formula 1.

The question now is can they build on that Spain performance? It won't be easy given how vital qualifying is in Monaco to the result but with Hamilton and Russell giving reminders of just how talented they are in round six, the future looks bright for the reigning constructors' champions.

More overtakes?

Since the start of the century, the Monaco Grand Prix has averaged around 12 overtakes per race.

That's extremely low in Formula 1 but understandable given the dimensions of the track. However, last year, just one overtake took place during the race, leading to calls to alter the layout.

Any alterations to the track will be difficult to implement, but could the technical changes made to the cars in 2022 provide the answer?

It's now easier to follow the driver in front and get in a position to overtake but whether drivers are brave enough to pull the trigger in Monaco with barriers in close proximity, only time will tell.

Without the knowledge of how the new rules will affect racing around Monaco, those teams that have qualified consistently well this year - Haas and Alfa Romeo - could enjoy point-scoring outings.

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