Written by Olly Radley, Edited by April Thorne
There are 22 races on the Formula 1 calendar, but none have the prestige of the Monaco Grand Prix- the jewel in F1’s crown. Monaco plays host to the next race of the 2022 season. This season has been nothing short of thrilling, with Leclerc and Verstappen sharing the wins so far this season. The latter, Max Verstappen, leads the championship after six rounds by six points despite two engine failures at Bahrain and Australia. We now head to the seventh round of the season for the 68th Monaco Grand Prix.
The streets of the principality have been raced on in F1 since its inaugural season back in 1950, albeit with a five year hiatus until 1955, as well as the 2020 edition of the race facing cancellation due to the Covid pandemic. Despite its lengthy history, the Circuit de Monaco has seen little change in the track layout from the original Grand Prix layout first used in 1929!
Monaco is easily the most recognisable circuit on the calendar with its tight barriers, fast flowing corners, and iconic corners like Sainte Devote, Mirabeau, and Rascasse that have all been left untouched since the inaugural Monaco Grand Prix. 19 corners make up the 2.074 mile circuit that doubles as a regular city for 11 months of the year until racing fever comes to town as the principality hosts various series who want to race around the esteemed streets of Monte Carlo.
As we all know, while Monaco is steeped in prestige, it has failed in recent years to deliver much racing action. While the problem isn’t necessarily the Monaco circuit, with Formula E providing plenty of action in the slower, smaller cars, the previous generation of F1 cars were not necessarily fit to race around Monaco. If the issue was the dirty air’s major effect on following cars then we can maybe expect closer racing this weekend, but if the issue is the size of the cars, then we may not see much in the way of improvement in the racing.
Due to the difficulty of overtaking in Monaco in the modern F1 era, most of the recent races there have been decided mainly on strategy and tyre management. Last year, it wasn’t even a contest for Max Verstappen, who breezed home to win the Monaco Grand Prix while rival Lewis Hamilton struggled to progress from further back, finishing seventh. The 2019 and 2018 editions both ended with the winner putting on a stalwart defence against a faster opponent with Lewis Hamilton and Daniel Ricciardo winning those races respectively.
The home hero Charles Leclerc has the opportunity to race around the streets he grew up in every year but for whatever reason has had a horrible time of things whenever he’s driven on the Monaco circuit. The Monegasque national is a favourite to win the championship this season and yet, he’s never finished the Monaco Grand Prix in his first 3 attempts. His Monaco debut in F1 came in 2018 and Charles was running well in 12th, closing in on Hartley in 11th before a brake failure saw Leclerc steam through the back of the Kiwi, ending both of their races at the Nouvelle chicane. In 2019, now at Ferrari with a pole already to his name at Bahrain, you might have expected a good result for Leclerc, but a poor strategy call from Ferrari saw Leclerc exit qualifying in the first session in 16th! Despite this, Leclerc started to recover in the race, executing beautiful overtakes in risky corners until he made one move too many, getting spun around at Rascasse where a clart against the barrier would puncture his tyre on just the 9th lap of 78. Come lap 16, the damage Charles had picked up was too much and he was forced to retire from his second consecutive home race. Then not too long ago at the 2021 Monaco Grand Prix, Charles’ race was over before it started after taking an incredible pole position. Charles set the fastest lap at the start of Q3 ahead of championship protagonist Max Verstappen before crashing at the swimming pool chicane on his final lap which brought out the red flag and secured a home pole for Leclerc. This victory was short lived as a gearbox issue on the renaissance lap marked a DNS by Leclerc’s name. Now in a championship contest, it will be interesting to see if Charles finds any more fortune around his hometown.
The aforementioned Max Verstappen won last season’s Monaco race and the previous three 2022 races, albeit with a bit of luck last time out in Spain. The Dutchman cruised to a maiden Monaco win last year and is surely a favourite to win it again in 2022. So far this season, the Red Bull has easily looked like it has the upper hand on the Ferrari on race pace whereas it seems like it’s the opposite in qualifying. At Monaco, a track where qualifying is more vital than anywhere else, Ferrari may be able to exploit their incredible quali pace and defend any offence from cars behind. If the Scuderia are able to get both cars ahead of their rivals on Saturday, it could be a very tough day for the Red Bulls on Sunday.
Mercedes showed signs of improvement in Spain, finishing in a solid third and fifth, which could have been even better had Lewis Hamilton not encountered various unfortunate issues throughout his race. The German outfit looked like they’d lost all of their pace over the winter as they are still yet to take a win this season. Even more surprisingly, the seven-time champion on the team has struggled the most. Lewis Hamilton was out in Q1 at Jeddah and finished in thirteenth on merit in Imola while his hotshot new teammate George Russell has finished in the Top five every race so far this season (the only person to do it) which sees him currently 4th in the championship, 28 points ahead of Hamilton in sixth. Mercedes have won at Monaco five times in the past ten years and while they won’t be expected to win it this year they’ll hope to be toward the front fighting alongside Red Bull and Ferrari.