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Monaco Preview – can Hamilton get back in the hunt?



With four different winners in the first five Grands Prix of 2010, and none of them him, McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton comes to Monaco determined to get a victory under his belt to push back into the world championship fight. And McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh is adamant that the team will be aiming as high as possible even though Red Bull have to start as favourite on the highest downforce circuit of them all.

After winning in Spain last weekend, the latter’s Mark Webber said: “Our car should be good there. We know it is a special venue. It is a one-off on the calendar, a sensational challenge for the drivers. We all like going there. You certainly couldn’t have a track like it now if you wanted to design and build one. It is a little bit on the edge. We know that but we will go there and give is our best shot. It is a different type of weekend with running on Thursday and a bit of a break on Friday. The whole atmosphere is good and it is a special Grand Prix. We all know that front row will be king there as well.”

Nevertheless, Hamilton and team mate Jenson Button, the winners here in the last two years, are optimistic. Hamilton, who will later on Wednesday unveil a specially painted helmet just for this event, says:

“I love Monaco – it’s the greatest track in Formula One. And my victory in 2008 is still probably my best win, and one of the greatest moments in my career. It was an incredible day. In 2008 it was wet and, looking at the week ahead, the weather also looks extremely unpredictable, with heavy rain forecast for much of the week. Even if it doesn’t rain on the Sunday, the possibility of heavily disrupted practice and qualifying sessions means that we’ll probably go into the race with a chance of one of the most exciting and unpredictable Monaco Grands Prix for many years. And that would be fantastic, because, with just a single stop in the race for tyres, there’s going to be less opportunity for strategy to play a role in deciding the outcome, unless it rains of course.”

The 2008 champion stressed that this will make qualifying even more important. “While we’re still working hard to improve our qualifying pace, I think that Monaco is a place where the input of the driver is more important than at any other track, so I’m pretty confident that we’ll be able to do a good job.”

Button also fancies his chances. “I won at Monaco last year – it was one of the highlights of my season, and also of my entire racing career. It’s a race that you grow up watching; you know the circuit, every corner, by heart, before you’ve ever driven there, so it’s an extremely special place. It’s a race every young driver dreams of winning.

“To get the best out of the weekend, you’ve really got to build your speed up gradually – there are no benefits from attacking from Lap One and risking a mistake. The track rubbers in incredibly quickly over the weekend, and it’s all about letting the car naturally find more speed through the corners as the conditions improve and your confidence increases.

“I love the place, and I’m really looking forward to getting back there. I think the result is extremely tough to call this year because there are a lot of very competitive drivers in the field, so I’d like to think there’s a good chance of a slightly unpredictable race this weekend.”

The Ferrari drivers are both bullish too, as is the re-energised Michael Schumacher, who would match the late Ayrton Senna’s record of six Monaco victories if he were to win this weekend.

“I have always liked to drive in Monaco and that’s why I am really looking forward to competing there this weekend,” the former champion, and Mercedes GP driver, says. “The Monaco Grand Prix certainly adds something very special to the Formula One calendar and driving through the streets of Monte Carlo is undoubtedly unique. We go there and hope that the characteristics of the street circuit suit our car better than in Spain last weekend.

“On the other hand, we should be careful to expect too much this time as we have seen in Barcelona that there is still a lot of work ahead of us. So, other than having achieved my best result so far this season, I have taken with me a lot of motivation to work even harder with our engineers to improve the car further.”

The other dark horse is Renault’s Robert Kubica. If the driver really can make a difference in the streets of the Principality, here is one who will play his part. “I always enjoy street circuits, especially Monaco, and I’ve always gone well there,” says the Pole. “There are aspects of Monaco that are both positive and negative for our car, so it’s difficult to know how competitive we will be until free practice begins on Thursday. Also, as we saw in Barcelona, qualifying is going to be the most important part of the weekend because overtaking is even more difficult in Monaco.”

After discussions in Spain about the possibility of splitting qualifying in order to reduce traffic congestion, it seems that Q1 will proceed as usual after all.

“I think Q1 in Monaco will be very, very difficult and it’s difficult for all of the cars,” Whitmarsh says. “At the moment we have to accept that there are six cars that are very difficult to avoid. They have been in the order of six/seven seconds slower and when you’re trying to open a gap you have cars behind you so you can’t back off, and it’s a circuit where you’re going to catch cars and a circuit at which it’s very difficult for those cars to get out of the way, even if they want to.”

Ahead of the event, circuit officials have revealed details of modifications they have made. New higher elements have been added behind the existing kerbs on the apex of Turns 11 and 16 to discourage drivers from straight-lining the chicanes, while more debris fencing has been has been installed at various locations around the track.

In addition, several parts of the circuit have been resurfaced. The pit-lane surface is all new, as is the stretch from Ste Devote corner to the junction of Avenue de Monte Carlo. Also re-surfaced are sections from Place du Casino to the Tunnel du Portier entry and from the tunnel exit to the chicane.

The Formula One action at the circuit will get underway on Thursday, with the weekend’s first practice session starting at 1000 hours local time, 0800 GMT.

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