Max Verstappen and Red Bull top both championships as Formula 1 returns to the famous streets of Monte Carlo, having won all of the last three races.
Verstappen has finished four of the six grand prix in 2022, winning each of them, leads Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc by six points in the drivers’ standings.
His Red Bull team, who have scored a pair of one-two finishes with Verstappen and Sergio Perez, now have a 26-point advantage over their Italian rivals, Ferrari.
Ferrari and Leclerc had won two of the opening three races, but a retirement in Spain cost Leclerc dearly.
Now Monegasque driver Leclerc heads to his home streets, searching for his first F1 finish around Monte Carlo, while Verstappen aims to join the list of drivers who have multiple F1 wins around F1’s “Jewel in the Crown.”
Three Way Tussle At The Top
Verstappen did claim his third win in a row in Spain, but it was not exactly straight-forward.
The Dutchman made an error on Lap 9, while in second place, which dropped him to fourth and left Leclerc, who was leading from pole position, with a comfortable lead.
24-year-old Leclerc’s world fell apart on Lap 27 though, as a turbo and MGU-H failure brought the Ferrari driver’s race to an abrupt end.
The result still wasn’t assured for Verstappen, as the 2021 world champion battled a DRS issue as he tried in vain to pass the much-improved Mercedes of George Russell on track.
A change of strategy and some assistance from a disgruntled Sergio Perez eased the 24-year-old to another victory.
Ferrari have appeared to have a car that is potent over a single lap, claiming pole position at four of the six rounds this season, but almost certainly having the capacity to deliver the pole at both rounds they missed out at.
And with the top spot in qualifying proving so valuable to a victory in Monaco, the pressure to deliver on Saturday will be as high as it has been all season.
Indeed, Leclerc did set the pole position time in 2021, albeit in extraordinary circumstances, as he piled his Ferrari into the barrier on the exit of the swimming pool chicane, which brought out the red flags.
With no time left in the session and no other drivers able to go any faster, Leclerc had claimed pole position for the race.
However, on Sunday, despite the mechanics having assessed and repair the damage, the car was found to have a driveshaft problem.
The mechanics had only checked the right-hand side, as that had been the side impacted, but there remained damage to the left-side of the driveshaft, meaning Leclerc could not even start the race.
Verstappen, who qualified second, now had an effective pole position, and duly won the race while his title rival Lewis Hamilton struggled in the Mercedes.
Leclerc will be highly motivated to put right what happened last year, but having failed to finish any of the three Monaco Grand Prix he has contested in F1, he will be very wary of misfortune striking him again.
Misfortune and Verstappen might not be Leclerc’s only problem, after Mercedes’ updates to the W13 had them challenging the top two teams.
Hamilton, who has also suffered misfortune at Monaco in 2015, should never be discounted, as he is the most successful driver in F1 history.
Russell, who replaced Valtteri Bottas for 2022, is enjoying his best ever run of results in the sport, having finished all six races this year in the top five positions, earning two podium appearances.
With potentially six cars in the hunt for pole position on Saturday, perfecting the 3.3km of Monaco street without finding the barrier, will be a massive challenge and make sensational viewing.
Alfa Romeo Best Placed to Strike Lucky?
Alfa Romeo’s Finnish driver Valtteri Bottas is confident of another strong result in Monaco.
Bottas, who joined from Mercedes over the winter, has scored points each time his Alfa Romeo has reached the chequered flag in 2022.
The winner of 11 grand prix said: “I am confident approaching the weekend: we have been fighting with the top guys for two races in a row and I don’t see any reason why we won’t be able to do it again this time around.”
The 32-year-old, who has finished a best of third in Monaco, retired from the 2021 race after a cross-threaded wheel nut was damaged so badly at his pit stop, his Mercedes team were unable to remove the tyre from the car for nearly three days.
The Finn also referenced how the final sector in Barcelona, long regarded as a strong performance indicator for Monaco, gave him confidence for this weekend, stating: “(It’s) quite suitable for our car. It’s mainly low speed corners, and out car is really good in slow speed corners.”
The sector times backed that up too, as Alfa Romeo’s fastest sector three time in Catalunya of a 27.443s was less than a tenth slower than that of Ferrari, who were fastest.
Alfa’s second driver, Chinese rookie Zhou Guanyu, is also optimistic of a positive result in Monte Carlo.
The 22-year-old, won one of the F2 Sprint Race’s in 2021, said: “I have some very good memories from Monaco, where I won last year, and I am keen to make more now that I am in F1.”
Zhou has retired from the last two races; is hopeful the team has put the reliability issues behind them.
The Shanghai-born driver said: “We have all been working very hard to make sure reliability issues don’t get in the way of our work anymore and I’m confident we can show again how competitive we can be.”
The Hinwill-based team have every reason to be positive about their chances in Monaco as they were the highest placed “midfield” team in Miami and Barcelona, and the team sit fifth in the constructors’ standings with 39-points, five ahead of Alpine and only eleven behind McLaren.
While Alfa have been topping the midfield battle this season, a team which more was expected of is Alpha Tauri.
The Italian team have scored just 17-points with drivers Pierre Gasly and Yuki Tsunoda, with the Japanese outscoring his more experienced team mate.
Tsunoda admitted that he found his first taste of Monaco last year “difficult” and is hoping to use his experiences in 2021 to improve in 2022.
The 22-year-old said: “This time, on my second visit, I will have a better idea of how to build up the speed over the sessions and keep concentration, with the goal of getting into Q3 and then scoring some points.”
Frenchman Gasly, who described the race in Spain last weekend as “one to forget”, can count on some local support in Monaco.
“The French Grand Prix is my real home race, but naturally there is a lot of support from the fans in Monaco.”
The one-time race winner added that Monaco “is one of my favourites, definitely in my top three best tracks.”
That favouritism, the 26-year-old will hope, can help produce a more fruitful weekend than he has had so far in 2022, where his best finish to date is eighth, achieved in Saudi Arabia.
Will Monaco Be a Procession Again?
Monaco, while arguably the most famous racing venue and always full of global superstars from various walks of life, does not always serve up an exciting race.
The 2021 edition was distinctly poor, as the cars are very wide and the circuit incredibly narrow.
2022 could see an extra challenge thrown at the drivers, with rain potentially forecast for Sunday.
Wet races in Monaco are generally very enjoyable, with Lewis Hamilton winning both of the last two races where significant rain fell on the circuit.
Hamilton triumphed in 2016 after Red Bull messed up pole sitter Daniel Ricciardo’s pit stop.
Perhaps though, Hamilton’s 2008 win was more impressive, having hit the barrier at Tabac, leaving him with a puncture.
His McLaren team changed his strategy and Hamilton, helped a bit by errors from rivals Felipe Massa and Robert Kubica, scored his first Monaco victory in spectacular fashion.
Famously, Olivier Panis, driving for Ligier in 1996, overcame mixed conditions to win his only grand prix on the streets of Monte Carlo.
With the barriers so close, the smallest of mistakes in the rain can prove even more costly than usual.
Monaco, already considered one of the greatest driving challenges, simply has no peer when it has the added jeopardy of inclement weather.
Monaco Grand Prix Session Times
|Session||Local (CEST)||UK (BST)|
|Free Practice 1 (Fri)||14:00-15:00||13:00-14:00|
|Free Practice 2 (Fri)||17:00-18:00||16:00-17:00|
|Free Practice 3 (Sat)||13:00-14:00||12:00-13:00|
|Monaco Grand Prix (Sun)||15:00-17:00||14:00-16:00|
For more build-up to the Monaco Grand Prix, check out the Formula 1 Grid Talk Podcast, Monaco Grand Prixview, hosted by George Howson.