Johannesburg - A possible momentum swing in the title race, a resurgent Red Bull, crashes, safety cars, the return of Jenson Button and the absence of Fernando Alonso – this Grand Prix is about more than just the glitz and glamour of Monte Carlo.
Monaco made its first appearance on the Formula 1 (F1) calendar back in 1950...the year of the first World Championship. Now, 75 years later, not much has changed.
The Grand Prix track layout still winds through the streets of Monte Carlo, except now they are lined with barriers to prevent drivers from taking a dip in the Mediterranean – something Alberto Ascari and Paul Hawkins did back in their days.
History on their side
Sainte Devote lost some of its pace, chicanes were put in place and the pits are a little bigger – although they could again be a tight squeeze in light of this year’s wider and longer cars.
One thing, though, that has not changed at all is the prestige of winning this race; the jewel in the F1 crown and one third of motor racing’s Triple Crown, along with 24 Hours of Le Mans and the Indianapolis 500.
The Triple Crown is an elusive feat, so far achieved only by Graham Hill in the 1960s.
Alonso will on Sunday evening be looking to bag part two of the triple-header as the hapless McLaren driver swaps his F1 car for a Honda-powered Andretti-backed McLaren IndyCar.
But, before the paddock’s focus moves to the US, all eyes will be on the streets of Monte Carlo.
Mercedes arrived at the circuit with momentum and history on their side.
The team has won the past four Monaco Grands Prix, taking over from Red Bull as the kings of Monaco, while one has to go as far back as Michael Schumacher’s 2001 victory to find the last time Ferrari triumphed in the principality.
Battle at the front
The Brackley squad of Mercedes has also been winning other grands prix of late, triumphing in Russia and again in Spain to take the lead from Ferrari in the Constructors’ Championship.
It is the Scuderia, though, who are still on top in the drivers’ race.
Sebastian Vettel, winner of the 2011 Monaco Grand Prix, holds a six-point advantage over Lewis Hamilton, who is one of only two active drivers with more than one Monaco win.
He took the chequered flag in 2008 and again last season.
While many will be tuning in to watch Vettel and Hamilton battle at the front, the nature of the Monte Carlo layout means Red Bull could come strongly into play.
Daniel Ricciardo last season missed out on the win when his team botched his pit stop.
This year, he wants revenge, with Monaco offering Red Bull’s best opportunity for a win, given that power isn’t everything and, in fact, counts for very little on this street circuit.
The likes of Force India, who reached the podium last season, and Williams will be out to capitalise on any mistakes from the big three.
Mistakes are all too common in Monaco – going as little as an inch in the wrong direction will put the driver into a wall.
Safety cars are the norm, so strategy calls could decide the race.
One driver to watch out for is Button. The 2009 F1 world champion is back in the cockpit, called up by McLaren to stand in for the absent Alonso.
It will be rather ironic if the Briton, like Stoffel Vandoorne did at last year’s Bahrain Grand Prix, scores McLaren’s first championship points in a race where he’s filling in for Alonso.
But, then again, Button drove his car into the swimming pool twice while preparing in McLaren’s racetrack simulator. – TEAMtalk Media