And so we come to the most glamorous, most exciting, most famous weekend, not only in motor racing, but perhaps in all of sport. A weekend that has captured hearts and minds, and even claimed lives, since 1929. A weekend where even Brad Pitt is rendered a mere mortal next to twenty men on whom the eyes of the world’s rich and famous will be impassably fixed. This weekend is the Monaco Grand Prix.
What is it that makes Monaco so special? It hardly ever produces a competitive race, and overtaking is nigh on impossible around its tight, twisting bends. It is rarely won by anyone save the pole-sitter. Yet it is magical. It is magical because it is, perhaps challenged only by Spa-Francorchamps, the ultimate test of any driver. In Monaco you have to have the perfect weekend. There will seldom be a chance to regain a lost place. You cannot afford to make any mistakes.
Nelson Piquet famously quipped that racing at Monaco was like “trying to cycle round your living room”, and its twisting, labyrinthine nature bears testament to the analogy. The circuit renders every car a go-kart for the day, slipping and sliding through the turns, shunting and nibbling at its competitors in the compacted early corners. This will suit Lewis Hamilton just fine.
There are several reasons for Lewis Hamilton to feel at home in Monaco this weekend. The fact that it’s a tax haven notwithstanding, he also has a pretty good record at the circuit. Having won there last year, and been essentially forced into second by team orders in 2007, he knows his way around the track. Hamilton is also an old-school racer. He, like Ayrton Senna and Graham Hill before him, knows the value of pushing a car to its limits in the quest to break it to the will of the circuit.
Lewis will push everything he can out of his Mclaren, and the slower nature of Monaco will, for the first time this season, suit the car and its struggle for downforce in high speed corners. Where it is likely to hit trouble is the exit to the tunnel, where Lewis will likely struggle for grip when slowing for the famous chicane. Leaving the murky gloom of that tunnel at 175mph for the dazzling sunshine on that hideously difficult part of the circuit is another task that renders Monaco so difficult a proposition. Twice in the past drivers have ended up in the harbour after making a hash of it.
Brawn GP and Jenson Button will have their work cut out for them this weekend. If Jenson does not grab pole in his home town then he will struggle, and I have a sneaking suspicion that Lewis has something up his sleeve for Saturday’s qualifying. If he and Jenson can park their cars on the front row come Saturday then we will see a fantastic race.
Ayrton Senna won Monaco an incredible six times, and he did it in cars that weren’t always up to the job. In 1992 he fought off Nigel Mansell’s vastly superior Williams in a final two laps where the cars were never more than 6 feet apart. How we should love to see such a tussle between Jenson and Lewis this Sunday.