Round Six of the 2017 Formula One season takes place on the streets of unmistakable Monaco. Steeped in history at every turn, the Monaco Grand Prix is always one of the highlights of the year. Even if it doesn’t always produce the best racing, it is a spectacle to behold. We take a look at the reasons to get excited for the 2017 Monaco Grand Prix.
While the 2017 cars are wider than they were last year, the twisting bends here remain the same width – which could lead to a very interesting first lap on Sunday afternoon. You can expect to see the drivers head out for more laps than usual during the First Practice session on Thursday morning as they get acquainted with running their wider machinery on the narrow track. It is already thought that the entry to Casino, as well as the Tabac and Swimming Pool corners will be much more physically demanding for the drivers this year and are far more likely to catch them out.
At the Swimming Pool complex, new kerbs have been added. One particular kerb’s height certainly looks aggressive, with some saying it looks more like a small wall. It is designed to deter drivers from cutting the corner, but some are already concerned. Romain Grosjean has been one of the drivers to speak out:
“I don’t really know why. But the bigger yellow thing – don’t touch it when you are in an F1 car! It looks like a taking off ramp […] it will fly you straight into the wall.”
Sergio Perez concurred, saying that while the old kerb there was enough to send a car into the barrier, the new layout will ‘probably send you to the grandstand’. The layout is likely to be a talking point over the weekend, and it will be a surprise if it isn’t changed to be made more safe before Sunday’s Grand Prix.
Fernando Alonso took part in Qualifying for the Indy 500 last weekend where he qualified in a very respectable fifth. His absence at Monaco means that 2009 World Champion Jenson Button makes a popular return to the McLaren cockpit. He hasn’t had any time in the MCL32, despite being offered half a day of running at the recent Bahrain test, but has had multiple simulator sessions at the team’s Woking base. Jenson insists he is here to have fun this weekend and has very little pressure upon his shoulders.
“It feels slightly surreal to be back in the cockpit for the Monaco Grand Prix. When the call came from Eric there was no hesitation – it’s a totally unique situation and a great opportunity. I’m looking forward to stepping back behind the wheel for one of the most crazy, unpredictable and exciting races of the year. Although I haven’t turned a wheel on track yet in the MCL32, I feel well prepared. I know the track well, of course, and I’ve done quite a bit of work in the McLaren simulator already. I’m still fit, and I’ve been training probably more than ever, because I’ve had the time to focus on my triathlon preparation and competitions. I’m looking forward to working with the team again, and, as I’ll be on the other side of the garage this time around, I’ll do my best to look after the car for Fernando!”
This could be McLaren’s best chance at scoring points all year, so despite Button’s lack of pressure, he and Stoffel Vandoorne will both be hoping for good results in Sunday’s race.
McLaren certainly need some points as they now sit last in the Constructors’ Championship due to Sauber scoring their first points of the season at the last race. Sauber bring the rest of their upgrade package to Monaco, which was originally planned to be fully on the car in time for the Spanish Grand Prix. Pascal Wehrlein, fresh from his career-best finish of eighth in Spain, has renewed motivation, and hopes the upgrades – which include a new floor for the C36 – will mean his team can fight for points more regularly.
“I think it was great for everyone. It gave us big motivation. Of course the start of the season was difficult for me and also for the team so in my third race, to already score a few points is great and everyone is happy and everyone is pushing really hard. As I said, it’s giving us big motivation. We have some new parts on the car this weekend so hopefully in the future we can see results like this more often.”
Despite Red Bull’s Barcelona upgrade package, they finished over a minute off the pace in the Spanish Grand Prix. Monaco could be their best shot at a victory on genuine pace this year, just as it was in 2016. For Daniel Ricciardo, there is a sense of unfinished business after he saw victory slip away from him here twelve months ago. The Australian admits it is difficult to predict whether his team will be on the pace of Mercedes and Ferrari around the streets of the Principality. Red Bull were over half a second off the pole time in Spain. The same was true in 2016, but it didn’t stop Ricciardo taking pole in Monaco. Can he do it again this season?
“We’ll wait and see. Certainly, yeah, looking back on last year, a bit of unfinished business but I will do what I can. I definitely come here with still good feelings, good vibes. The level of confidence is still high, I guess. We’ve got some new parts on the car. We had them in Barcelona, we saw it gave us bits and pieces but not as much as we obviously still desire. We’ve got more this weekend and probably more Monaco-specific as well, so hopefully that will give us more than it did a couple of weeks ago and give us a chance to start leaning on the front guys a bit more.”
Max Verstappen comes to Monaco this year after crashing out in both Qualifying and the Grand Prix in 2016. Verstappen, who set an unofficial lap record at Zandvoort last week in an RB8, insists that last year’s incidents only motivate him to have a cleaner weekend this year.
“Last year’s crash was very unfortunate but it doesn’t affect my confidence heading back there. It just makes me want to do better this year and learn from my mistakes. We still have a lot to learn from the car in terms of setup as it is always developing and we haven’t driven it on a tight street circuit yet.”
Of course, it will be far from easy for Red Bull to mix with the leading two teams. Mercedes’ upgrades seemed to have given them a decent amount of performance gains at the Catalunya circuit, while Sebastian Vettel was able to challenge for most of the race. Ferrari haven’t won at Monaco since 2001 – a quite remarkable statistic. Vettel believes the team could have won all five races so far this season had things panned out differently. Will Ferrari end their sixteen year Monaco drought in 2017? It’s possible – if the team have a clean weekend.
“I think the most important thing is that we were there in all the five races. I think we could have won all five if things turned out differently, but they didn’t. Sometimes we were on the luckier side, and sometimes we were not, but we have a long season ahead of us, so I think stuff like that will equal out. As I said, the most important is that we were there. We had scruffy Fridays, rough Saturday’s, but we were always there in the race. It proves that we have a strong package, a strong car, and we’re doing the right things.”
In the midfield, Force India have been the stars so far this season. Force India have more points than Toro Rosso’s, Wiliams’ and Renault’s tallies combined. Sergio Perez, who scored a podium finish here last year, sits just three points behind Ricciardo in the Drivers’ Championship and only one behind Max Verstappen. His team-mate Esteban Ocon has also been impressing in his first year at the team, and scored a career-best fifth place at the Spanish Grand Prix. Ocon has never raced on the streets of Monaco before, but knows the track well thanks to playing video games when he was younger.
“The target was to be scoring points at every race, that’s what we are doing at the moment and the car is constantly improving as well. On my side we could have done a little bit better. For the first three races I was still learning and if we had put all the details together a bit more was possible. But I’m pleased with that, scoring points at every race, just keep improving all the time, keep getting closer to Sergio as well, and now we are having the same lap times and the same pace so we are fighting on the same step which is really good and that’s what I want to keep doing for the future […] Unfortunately I’ve never been racing here, I’ve just been here to watch the race in the previous years when I was a reserve driver. I’ve been spending a lot of time in the simulator. It’s like I know the track already, because I have been playing it on games since I was so young, I’ve been around as well. A lot of days in the simulator, a lot of research on the internet for me, watching just onboard laps.”
Force India are sporting a rather odd looking triple T-wing this weekend. Following the fine given to them after the Spanish Grand Prix, they have also made the numbers and TLA more visible on the fin of the pink VJM10. Haas also debut a heavily revised livery this weekend, which features more black, grey and white at the cost of the previous red parts of the paint job.
There has been baby news in the paddock this week. While reigning World Champion Nico Rosberg announced he and his wife are expecting their second child, Kimi Raikkonen’s wife Minttu gave birth to a baby girl – Rianna Angelia Milana. When asked if the birth has affected his preparation for the race weekend, he replied – “I get enough sleep cause I don’t have to feed her!”
The Monaco Grand Prix action kicks off on Thursday with Free Practice. The race begins at 1pm UK time on Sunday. The Indy 500 begins at 5:19pm UK time on Sunday. There will be live coverage throughout the weekend on the @LightsOutF1Blog Twitter account.
After graduating in 2015 with a First Class honours degree in English Language and Literature, Nicky Haldenby, a lifelong fan of Formula 1, founded the Lights Out F1 Blog in 2016. The blog has become a firm fan-favourite, delving deep into the sport’s history books and lifting the cover on unusual F1 statistics.
Nicky also writes at F1Destinations and Motorsport Guides and can be heard as the resident stats man on the 2 Soft Compounds Podcast. His work has appeared on WTF1, BadgerGP, motorsport.com, Sky Sports F1 and BBC Radio 5 Live. Nicky is also the host of the F1 Rewind Podcast.