Monaco is one of Formula 1’s greatest challenges. The traffic is atrocious – and that’s when you have 20 cars fighting for position on a tight, twisty, barrier-lined street circuit.
Drivers have to watch out for slower cars on a hot lap – not easy when there are several blind corners and only a narrow path to avoid. Misjudgment and end of lap. There is also a bottleneck in the final segment during qualifying as the drivers pull back to get some clean air to push for a quick lap.
Communication is therefore crucial. Radio waves undulate and engineers give their drivers consistent information about where other cars are on the track to help them navigate the track without having to take the accelerator off and lose precious lap time. However, this is a balance as too much communication can distract a driver who is trying to concentrate.
At just 3.3 km, it is the shortest track on the calendar. There are 19 curves on this route, which winds up and down the hilly Principality. Drivers have little time to relax, even when speeding through the iconic tunnel. It’s stressful, there’s almost no time to take a break.
When the margins are so narrow, mistakes happen. It’s inevitable. Sometimes you’re right, sometimes wrong. This is why the skills of the drivers are more pronounced here. They can make a bigger difference.
Taking advantage of these skills requires confidence – and drivers gain it by building it in three hour-long training sessions. Training is never more important than Monaco.
And unlike other race weekends, all the focus is on qualifying. The last three dry Monaco Grands Prix led from start to finish – Ricciardo in 2018, Hamilton in 2019 and Verstappen in 2021. Overtaking isn’t impossible, it’s just very, very, very, very difficult. So, where you start will probably determine your race on Sunday.
That’s why Ferrari is optimistic that this could be a weekend where they can really shine if they get everything right. Their one-lap car was promising and Charles Leclerc was the only non-Red Bull driver to start from pole position this season. However, their racing pace drops like a stone – and they struggle to fend off the likes of Aston Martin and Mercedes – and occasionally Alpine and Haas cars.
This deficit won’t hurt them here – as long as they get pole position or, better yet, lock the front row and remain reliable. They also have the fastest pit stop of the year with Charles Leclerc getting his new boots in just 2.10s in Jeddah.
They were fast in the pit lane in 2023, with three of the four fastest pit stops. And that would allow them to stay in the race, even if they are not the fastest cars. But red cars aren’t the only ones eager to take their chances on the streets of Monaco.
Charles Leclerc: We can beat Red Bull in Monaco with ‘special lap’
Aston Martin which this week announced an impressive deal to bring Honda to the team in 2026 as a works engine, they are also very much looking forward to their best result this season.
Two-time world champion Fernando Alonso finished third in four of the five races and finished third in the Drivers’ Championship. But he will be eager to upgrade, preferably to a win that would be his first in 10 years, dating back to the 2013 Spanish Grand Prix.
These green cars – like their red Ferrari rivals – are very strong in slow corners. This is handy considering there are so many around Monte Carlo.
A small unknown is Mercedes, who brought theirs the long-awaited update of the Principality. The most visual change is to the side elements, but the more significant improvements will be less pronounced, namely around the front suspension and floor.
Boss Toto Wolff lowered expectations – “it won’t be a silver bullet”. However, they hope the change will give Lewis Hamilton and George Russell more confidence in the car. Do that and they could be in the mix this weekend.
However, Red Bull remains the favourite, as although it does not top the slow-corner performance rankings, it has the fastest car overall with plenty of downforce – something that is crucial in Monaco.
Sergio Perez was victorious last year, with teammate and championship leader Max Verstappen scooping up the spoils the year before.
And what season are they already on. The reigning world champions are just one season short of a record of five one-two finishes in a single season, with Verstappen finishing every race in 2023 in the top two.
It’s a dizzying run of form – and one that will be hard to end. But Monaco is where their rivals Ferrari, Aston Martin and Mercedes will feel they can be beaten.
Eight drivers in the fight for victory? Yes please.