Red Bull chase crucial win as F1 returns to Monaco
Its been almost two years since the last Monaco Grand Prix took place on the streets of Monte Carlo. The traditional Formula One race had to be removed from the 2020 calendar due to Covid-19 but makes its comeback on Sunday.
Not much has changed since the 2019 race, with Mercedes duo of Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas, and Red Bull's Max Verstappen leading the pack. But this season has seen a different take of the duel between Hamilton and Verstappen, who currently seem to be the strongest title contenders.
All four races up to now have had at least one moment when the two drivers came wheel-to-wheel with seven-time world champion Hamilton leading the fight with three wins against Verstappen's solo triumph at the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix in Imola, DPA reports.
But the Red Bull driver wants to strike back at Monaco and will aim to secure the pole position, which will be crucial if he is to leave the narrow street circuit with victory. In 2019, Hamilton took the pole and also the race win.
"It's been phenomenally close, and Monaco, we need to make sure we beat Mercedes in Monte Carlo," Red Bull team principal Christian Horner said about the qualifying sessions.
Verstappen added the team has to "be at our best on Saturday and Sunday, so that we can be on the highest place in the podium."
Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff also knows Red Bull are the team to beat and said they have a slight advantage.
"Monaco is a high downforce track and we know that's a key strength of Red Bull," he said.
"We head into the weekend knowing they are the team to beat, whilst also knowing we'll face strong competition from some of the other teams, too. But, just like the season so far, we're enjoying the hunt."
The return of the iconic race should have other storylines beyond the title fight between Mercedes and Red Bull.
Home kid Charles Leclerc will try to erase the memories of his 2019 race, when he qualified 16th and didn't finish the grand prix due to a tyre puncture.
After a fourth place in Spain, Leclerc and Ferrari look revitalised following a catastrophic 2020 season and the Monegasque seems ready to fight for a podium place.
"Sector 3 (at the Spanish Grand Prix) sometimes gives a good indicative view of how the car could be in Monaco. Monaco hopefully we should be competitive," Leclerc said.
He will have the chance to secure his first podium of the season in front of 7,500 spectators that will be admitted at the circuit per day, which should be the biggest crowd on site for some time amid the pandemic.
Williams will celebrate a historic milestone when they become only the third Formula One team (after Ferrari and McLaren) to run 750 races. A special livery will carry the name of 100 lucky winners of an online contest while McLaren will also run a special light blue and orange livery.
Hamilton leads the drivers' championships with a 14-point advantage over second-placed Verstappen, with team-mate Bottas in third. First and second practice, as usual in Monaco, is on Thursday rather than Friday.