The streets of Monte Carlo and Formula 1’s most iconic event play host to round seven of the 2022 season. Max Verstappen has won the last three races – but can Charles Leclerc break his home race curse to put Ferrari back ahead in the principality? Nicky Haldenby shares his thoughts on who to look out for at the Monaco Grand Prix.
Monaco: processional but unpredictable
The Monaco Grand Prix is a true spectacle to behold, with cars passing through the tight confines of the narrow streets at seemingly impossible speeds. Despite that, the race does have its detractors, claiming that the races here are processional and overtaking is impossible. For the most part, they have a point. Overtaking is at a premium at Circuit de Monaco – and the issue could be exacerbated with 2022’s heavier and bulkier cars. And yes, the races can be processional.
But is the polesitter guaranteed victory? Not by a long shot. In fact, only two of the last six Monaco Grands Prix have been won by the polesitter. Safety Car timing errors, strategical mistakes and slow pit stops have all prevented pole sitters from taking victory in recent years. Even the most processional of races can turn unpredictable in an instant on these streets. Pole is undoubtedly where you want to start from in Monaco – but it is by no means a guarantee of victory.
Qualifying itself is quite the challenge in Monaco. Not only will the drivers have to inch as close as they dare to the walls in order to set the fastest possible lap times, they’ll also need to deal with traffic and the potential of yellow flags ruining their laps. Expect Saturday’s qualifying session to be an action-packed affair.
Can Max do the double?
Max Verstappen is the man to beat at the moment. He’s won all of the last three races, putting him and Red Bull atop the championship standings for the first time this year. Verstappen is seeking a second consecutive Monaco victory, having taken his first win in the principality last year. If he’s successful, he’d become only the ninth driver to win at Monaco in consecutive seasons.
Verstappen’s early career in Monaco was scrappy – to say the least – with crashes in both qualifying and the Grand Prix, but the Dutchman proved last year that he has what it takes to win a race around the challenging circuit.
Will Leclerc lift his home race curse?
Charles Leclerc will be fired up for a good result at his home race following a disappointing retirement while in the lead of last week’s Spanish Grand Prix. He’ll also head home with caution, for he is yet to cross the finish line at the Monaco Grand Prix.
Leclerc’s home race curse dates back to his first races on the circuit, in Formula 2 in 2017. That weekend, he retired from both races with mechanical gremlins. He’s also yet to finish in any of his three Monaco Grand Prix appearances. Brake failure saw him crash out in 2018, another crash followed in 2019 and he failed to even start the race last year due to mechanical issues on his way to the grid.
In what is set to be a season-long title battle with Verstappen, Leclerc cannot afford to have more bad luck this weekend. He took pole position here last year, proving he has the speed that the circuit demands. Hopefully, that converts into a strong home result in 2022.
A surprise competitive package?
The unusual slow speed characteristics of the Monaco circuit mean that shake-ups of the order are not uncommon here. Ferrari were the surprise package last year, with Charles Leclerc setting the fastest Saturday lap time and Carlos Sainz bringing home a podium finish on Sunday. A strong result for Ferrari this year would come as no surprise – but there is a Ferrari-powered team that could be set for success: Alfa Romeo.
If you want a good indicator of which teams should be strong at Monaco, it’s helpful to look at the fastest sector times from Sector 3 at the last race. The characteristics of the final sector at the Catalunya circuit are reminiscent of those in Monaco. Alfa Romeo were the third-fastest team through there last weekend with Valtteri Bottas’ fastest time just over a tenth down on the fastest Ferrari time.
The team have scored just a single point in the last five Monaco races, but Bottas is encouraged by Alfa Romeo’s performance in Barcelona – where he finished sixth – and hopes a strong result will be on the cards this weekend.
Look to the skies
Nothing can spice up the Monaco Grand Prix like rain. If that’s what you’re looking for, you might be in luck. Current forecasts suggest it will rain on Sunday in the principality. If it does happen, we could be set for an epic afternoon.
Ayrton Senna made his name here in the rain-hit 1984 race, Olivier Panis took a surprise victory in a race in which only three cars finished in 1996 and Lewis Hamilton took a memorable win in damp conditions in 2008. Will anyone be written into the history books on a wet afternoon in Monaco this year?