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Monaco Grand Prix 2021

Monaco GP Preview: Time for Red Bull to take top step

The fifth round of this year’s F1 Championship sees the sport remain in Europe and on the driver’s doorsteps in the rich man’s playground that is Monaco.

Column
To news overview © Mercedes

Motor racing has taken place on the streets of Monte Carlo for over a century, with Formula 1 making an annual visit (aside from the obvious exception of 2020) since the series’ inception back in 1950.

Many of the drivers live in Monaco, due to the exemplary standards of living afforded to the citizens of the world’s most famous tax haven, and this means they are racing on streets that are part of their daily lives. For one brief weekend, they swap their idyllic croissants by the harbour for a frantic pummelling of that same tarmac; a frenetic workout that requires every single little bit of concentration, focus, mental fortitude and skill that they possess.

The Monte Carlo event is full of little idiosyncrasies that make it one of the most memorable Grands Prix of the year. There is no other race that sees practice take place on Thursday, rather than Friday, meaning that the entire sport takes an enjoyable 24 hour break mid-event.

It’s the shortest track in F1 at just 3.3 kilometres, with the shortest race in terms of distance travelled at just 260 kilometres, 45 less than the FIA-mandated 305. But, due to the interminable twists, turns, slow corners, and no discernible straights, it’s one of the most difficult races to complete.

Such is its challenge, there was a time when it was assumed that a rookie driver would fail to complete the 78 lap distance, due to the encroaching barriers seemingly closing in around them as the race wore on and fatigue set in.

Red Bull must halt Mercedes' momentum if they want the championship

This weekend marks a potentially crucial mark in the championship, as it's one where Red Bull simply must arrest the momentum that Mercedes have picked up in recent races.

Funnily enough, of the two Red Bull drivers, it's Sergio Perez who has the better record at Monte Carlo as he finished third in 2016 for Force India.

Verstappen is yet to officially score a podium at the venue, but there's no concerns that he can't handle the streets as he finished second on the road in 2019 before a post-race time penalty was applied.

Mercedes have looked the quicker car in Portugal and Spain, both of which are circuits similar in characteristics with medium to high speed corners. Red Bull were strong in the more fiddly third sector, and this stands them well for Monte Carlo.

Monaco is the circuit where aerodynamic grip makes the least impact, with the circuit rewarding good mechanical grip and a nimble chassis. The low rake vs. high rake angle will be largely irrelevant for this weekend, while the ongoing furore regarding bendy wings will also be an argument for another race. This circuit is one where you simply throw as much downforce on the car as you can muster, and pray you've got the mechanical grip to use as much of that downforce as possible.

Engine power, too, isn't as critical here, which is another area where Red Bull appear slightly weaker than Mercedes. Think back to 2018, when Daniel Ricciardo won for Red Bull despite an MGU-K failure that sapped his car of around 25% of his power. Astonishingly, he was able to circulate at the head of the field and bring his ailing car home to win.

It's with that knowledge that the teams will be going into this weekend. Track position, and Saturday's qualifying session, is critical to the final result, and Red Bull do appear to have a slightly better qualifying car than they do a race car.

It's also an opportunity for Perez to show what he can do, at a track where he's done well in the past and it being a venue where the driver can make more of a difference. If he can get in the mix, it can stop Mercedes from pulling the types of strategic gambles that won Hamilton the Spanish GP.

The cards are stacked in Red Bull's favour for this weekend, and they absolutely need to capitalise on that fact. If they can't do so, then it truly is advantage Mercedes for the World Championships once again.

McLaren running a one-off livery

McLaren have been the talk of the town in recent days, thanks for their updated livery for the Monaco weekend.

With Monte Carlo symbolising the sport's history, due to a circuit that remains largely unchanged for the best part of a century and since the first championship race in 1950, McLaren have opted to return a legendary livery for their sponsor Gulf.

While the Gulf livery is far more connected with sportscar racing than F1, it's a cool idea and a very fresh look for the MCL35M.

One cool idea that's been mooted elsewhere would be to nominate the Monaco GP weekend as a 'retro livery' throwback weekend, where teams could use a throwback livery if they so wished. Obviously it would be pretty difficult to figure out and work around with sponsors but, if the weekend was specifically picked out for such an occasion, it might make existing sponsors more willing to play ball to be associated with such a throwback.

Drivers have nowhere to hide

The Monaco GP is an intense pressure cooker of a weekend. It's claustrophobic, with everything crammed into a tiny area. The pit area and garages are temporary, and cramped.

While there won't be the same amount of people milling around as there usually is, it's still very difficult to escape the eye of the media or the rest of the paddock.

Drivers feeling frustrations will have nowhere to hide and the circuit doesn't allow for any relaxation. Let your guard down for a second, and you're in the wall.

After two bullying starts from Verstappen in the last three races, expect Hamilton to get his elbows out eventually. The pair collided (without damage) near the end of the race last time out in 2019, and it's entirely possible that a similar situation could arise this weekend. A literal clash of the titans will happen sooner or later, and Monaco is a prime location for the battle to take a twist.

All the ingredients for a memorable weekend are in place, now we just need to throw them all into the simmering pot that awaits at F1’s most spectacular venue.

RN365 News dossier F1 2021 Monaco Grand Prix

The latest news about the Monaco Grand Prix straight from the Circuit de Monaco.

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