As he bids to make it back-to-back victories in the most glittering race on the annual F1 schedule, Red Bull Racing star Mark Webber contends that there are 'a lot of question marks' approaching this weekend's Monaco Grand Prix.
Webber celebrated the finest moment of his top flight career to-date around the narrow, tortuous streets of Monte Carlo last year, leading from lights-out to chequered flag in the glamorous Principality to seal a tremendously popular triumph and confirm his status as a genuine title contender.
Returning to the scene of his success twelve months on, the Australian is under pressure to deliver a good result and turn the tables on runaway Red Bull team-mate Sebastian Vettel – but he cautions that with so many changes this year, a race already renowned as one of the most unpredictable on the calendar could throw up even more surprises than usual.
“We know this is one of the most prestigious races of the year,” the 34-year-old acknowledged. “There are a lot of question marks going into this year's race in terms of how the tyres will be, and the strategy could be the most complicated of the year. It's a track that I've always seemed to do reasonably well at, though, and I have some of my best memories as a racing driver there.
“It's clearly a demanding street circuit, which requires incredible concentration and composure for the drivers throughout the weekend, starting with Thursday's practice sessions. The dramatic coastline and cliffs make an incredible backdrop to one of the most famous tracks in the world – it's clearly like no other circuit we race at.”
“It's remarkable to drive an F1 car around Monaco,” concurred Vettel, who will arrive there with a commanding 41-point margin over any of his pursuers in the chase for the drivers' crown, having won four of the five grands prix this season to-date. “It's a completely unique track and a unique challenge for the driver. You have to push as hard as on a normal racetrack, but the smallest mistake can bring a big penalty.
“Grid position is very important and can determine your race, as traditionally, overtaking in Monaco is very tricky. Managing the traffic during qualifying is also a big challenge. As an event, it's one of the highlights of the year. We did well there last year, and I hope we can be very strong again.”
Meanwhile, RBR team principal Christian Horner has argued that the reason Vettel was pushed so hard for victory by Lewis Hamilton in last weekend's Spanish Grand Prix – despite an advantage of the best part of a second in qualifying – was that McLaren-Mercedes had brought a substantial raft of upgrades to its MP4-26.
“We knew it would be a close battle,” the Englishman told Finnish newspaper Turun Sanomat
. “It would be very presumptuous to believe we have a car that is one second per lap better. We just had a phenomenal qualifying. I stress that McLaren brought an enormous update to Spain – it's almost a B-model.”