This weekend provides the high point of the grand prix calendar, as the circus moves on to Monaco - sun, sea and the sound of V10s reverberating off the stonework.

Special is the only word for the Monaco weekend, with all its glitz and glamour, and a track that is incredible to drive with 750hp plus. I remember coming out the tunnel backwards at 180mph on oil from Stefano Modena's blown engine after fighting my way up through the field, and also taking a strong fifth place with a car which was not the best when I was at McLaren. On the track and off it, the whole four days is an experience in itself but, even for a driver, it is essential to be armed with the credit cards because the day off between practice sessions is a great excuse for the wives and girlfriends to go shopping - and Monaco is well known for being expensive!

This probably won't be of any concern to Michael Schumacher, who must come to Monaco as a firm favourite for the race and the championship. I don't think there is anyone in the field who can beat Michael head-to-head around Monaco. He is as strong as ever, and brimming with confidence after winning four races already this season. It shows when he is on track, and the track at Monaco is one which repays a confident driver and car package. Admittedly, there have been times where this confidence can backfire, as with Ayrton Senna in years gone by, but I really can't see anyone stopping Schumi.

Monaco is well known for its ability to throw up a surprise result, but I think it will only happen this year if the weather is adverse. The beauty of running a race on an untested track is that if someone gets in front - for what ever reason - it is a tough deal to pass, and rain around those streets can be tough to contend with at the best of times - without the extra pressure of overtaking.

McLaren, of course, will be trying to take the race to Michael, and he will certainly have to fight for whatever he gets out of his Sunday afternoon drive. Mika Hakkinen and David Coulthard are showing signs of getting back on terms with Ferrari, but Schumacher's win at the Nurburgring has taken the winds out of their sales somewhat.

Of the rest, I expect the usual suspects - Ralf, the Jordans and Rubens Barrichello - to be there or thereabouts, but almost anyone in the field who is still there at the end could have a chance to score points - particularly if one of those infamous Monaco rainstorms happens to pause overhead.

Rookies don't always fare too well on their first visit to the South of France, but this year's crop has a couple who may do well. Nick Heidfeld's fortunes will hang heavily on the performance of his Prost, but he will be out to prove a point after the 'Ring, while Jenson Button is still seemingly on a crest of a wave after his strong start to the year.

For me, the Button deal is comparable to being a pop star in modern times, especially now that the media machine is as big as I have ever seen it. To take the analogy further, Jenson has had a couple of minor hits, but I am not sure if this will be enough to keep him around as yet. I only hope he develops into a real star with staying power, and that his 'songs' are being talked about for many years ahead. One thing is for sure, there is an old saying 'never get high on your own supply!'. It's a big comedown when that supply runs low, and Jenson should be careful that he doesn't fall into the trap.

Another good bet for the weekend is the Arrows team. The point Pedro de la Rosa scored in Germany will give the team a huge boost, and could just be the thing to turn the whole season around. I remember scoring the first point for Brabham-Yamaha and seeing what a huge effect it had on the whole team, and it would be good to see a little team turn the tables and develop into a big force. It has an ambitious guy like Tom Walkinshaw in charge, someone who is determined to be a major player, so let's watch how it responds to the Nurburgring, and see the chins held high on a team that could be the surprise of the 2000 season

I'd like to think that Jacques Villeneuve could be a force this weekend, even though he doesn't rate the circuit among his favourites. His biggest problem will be the car, though, as BAR is on a bit of a slide at the moment, reliability-wise. I wouldn't say that the bubble has burst, but it looks as though it is leaking a bit. There is still time to get the repair kit out and fix the hole, but the issue of JV's future may not be creating the best of working environments. Thinking that the star driver may not be hanging around at the end of year is not good for the team in their current position, but they have the ingredients and need to start putting up some consistent showings.

Benetton, too, should be doing better than it is, but it seems to blow hot and cold with each passing weekend. There is an air of optimism hanging over the team now, but none of the elements behind that can be set in motion for a while. The season is long, and Benetton will have its moments but, while they have all the plans to get to the top, it won't happen this weekend in my eye.

Likewise, there are those who think that Mika Salo and Sauber could be dark horses for Monaco, as the Finn has turned in a couple of good performances there in the past. Personally, I have not seen anything yet which turns me on to this combination, but a place like Monaco can bring out the best in people, and this pair could still spring an attack and make a mark.

As you can tell, there is little that will sway me away from backing Michael Schumacher to equal Graham Hill's Monaco tally of five wins this Sunday.

In my opinion, Michael can only beat himself this weekend, so McLaren will be fighting for the minor places. I still take Mika to finish second, while third will be between the two respective team-mates. Rubens Barrichello has gone well here in the past, so perhaps he will get another chance to stand on the famous steps at the end of the race. Ralf will be there at the end as always, while sixth is anybody's guess. I have gone for Jaguar in the past - so why break the habit?

Enjoy it....


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