The Monaco Grand Prix Preview - Hamilton out to make amends
A year ago, after finishing second to McLaren team mate Fernando Alonso at the Monaco Grand Prix, Lewis Hamilton subtly let it be known that he was angry not to have won. It was the first manifestation of the underlying tensions that would later create problems within the team and result in Alonso going back to Renault.
Hamilton narrowly missed out on pole position to the Spaniard, but later it transpired that he had up to six laps’ more fuel onboard. He hounded Alonso throughout the race, and was staggered when he was called in to refuel three laps sooner than he had expected, thus nullifying the advantage he believed would win him the race. He made sure everybody at the post-race conference knew about it with a seemingly benign comment registering his surprise at McLaren’s tactics.
“Monaco is my favourite race,” Hamilton says this time around, and he is dead set on winning it. “You have the history all around, you can just feel it, and the atmosphere is fantastic. It is the Grand Prix that every driver wants to win. Being a street circuit it is very exciting to drive, there is no room for any error all weekend. To be quick you need to use every centimetre of the circuit, this even includes touching the barriers at some points.
“Unpredictable is the word that sums up Monaco from a performance perspective. It was a great race in Turkey, we know the performance is there, but at Monaco literally anything can happen. The set-up is quite a lot different, the primary requirement is fantastic traction, to ensure you can get out of the corners well. Because there are no straights, we put as much downforce as we can on the car as we don’t need to, and aren’t able, to reach the speeds of any other track.
“It is so tight, and very difficult to describe how it feels in the car because you are so low. You are hitting some corners at 180 mph, as you are braking down you know there is no run-off area, you can’t see the exit. All you can see is directly what is in front of you, probably about 50 metres. In some corners it is almost a guess, you are guessing where the car should be, hoping that you are in the right place, relying on your instinct and memory.”
Monaco is also about glitter and glamour, but he says he keeps himself as clear of that as possible: “It’s not a distraction in any way. As with any race I am just fully focused on getting the job done. Monaco weekend more than any other is about being 100 percent in the zone and so I just keep myself to myself.”
Hamilton wants to even the score to two wins apiece with the Ferrari teamsters Kimi Raikkonen and Felipe Massa. But it will be tough. All of the teams ran at Paul Ricard last week, on the shorter circuit made up to simulate the corners of Monaco, and the two top teams were only a tenth of a second apart. McLaren had an advantage last year, but Ferrari believe they will have the upper hand this time in the tight corners that abound in the Principality.
“For sure last year was okay,” says Turkish Grand Prix winner Massa. “I finished third but McLaren were very strong there. We have been working a lot on the set-up for Monte Carlo for this year, so hopefully we will have good chance to win there as well.
“Even being on the podium would be good as you always want to score as many points as possible. We know Monte Carlo is a track which can be very tricky, especially without traction control. But I am looking forward to being very strong there as well.”
Raikkonen says he has already moved on from a disappointing race in Istanbul. “Afterwards it's always easy to say what we could have done. But I never do that and this case is closed. We'll have two days of tests in France to test the solutions for the Monaco GP, and are very motivated to try to be strong on a track where we were not competitive last year.”
BMW Sauber chief Dr Mario Theissen strongly believes that his drivers Nick Heidfeld and Robert Kubica will be in the hunt in Monaco too, but McLaren CEO Martin Whitmarsh said Hamilton’s fighting second place in Turkey had boosted his team’s confidence at a time when they desperately need another win.
“Lewis had an extraordinary sprinting race in Turkey. He's going to Monaco now, where I think we'll have a competitive car...we've worked pretty hard on that and it's a circuit that both of our drivers like. Lewis has won in F3 and GP2 there and clearly feels he could have had a crack at winning last year, and will be very keen to do that this year.”
Other points of interest are Giancarlo Fisichella’s 200th race, and the arrival of Toro Rosso’s new STR3 chassis in the hands of Sebastian Vettel and crowd favourite Sebastien Bourdais.