1. Monaco is back 

2020 marked the first time since 1954 that the Principality did not host F1’s blue riband event after last year’s grand prix fell victim to the coronavirus pandemic. 

The return of the iconic venue is a welcome one for the drivers, with the Monte Carlo circuit renowned for being one of the most challenging races on the calendar, as well as one of the most eagerly anticipated. 

Monaco’s unique, confined track layout makes overtaking almost impossible, and that subsequently places a huge importance on Saturday, with qualifying always delivering a thrilling spectacle. 

The race may not be the most exciting but watching the drivers brush the barriers at mind-boggling speeds as they tackle the famous circuit and battle it out for the glory of being crowned a Monaco GP winner is always a sight to behold. 

And as the world takes another step closer to normality, Monaco will welcome a limited number of fans (around 40% capacity) for this weekend’s race, with 7,500 spectators per day set to be admitted. 

2. Will Hamilton and Verstappen keep it clean? 

Fine margins have made the difference between Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen in all four races so far this season, and each of them have featured a wheel-to-wheel skirmish. 

Hamilton has come out on top on three occasions - in Bahrain, Portugal and Spain - while Verstappen muscled his way past Hamilton’s Mercedes en route to victory in Imola and led most of the Spanish GP after once again pulling off a forceful move into Turn 1. 

The result is that Hamilton heads to Monaco with a 14-point advantage over Verstappen in the championship. 

So far, both drivers have managed to keep the respect intact and have successfully avoided major contact, largely thanks to Hamilton backing out of their Turn 1 duels. 

But the law of averages would suggest that over the course of a 23-round season where Hamilton and Verstappen are separated by very little in terms of performance, there are bound to be one or two flashpoints along the way. 

With Verstappen desperately needing to hit back in the title race, could Monaco be where their battle spills over into a full-on collision for the first time? 

The pair clashed at the Nouvelle chicane during the last race to be held in Monaco in 2019 as they squabbled for the lead, and it was Hamilton who emerged victorious on that day. 

3. Pressure building on Perez

After Sergio Perez failed to feature in the lead battle for victory in Spain on his way to finishing fifth, Red Bull boss Christian Horner stressed the team are relying on the Mexican to put pressure on Mercedes in the championship fight. 

While he has shown glimpses of his potential, Perez has so far been unable to figure in the fight for the podium places this season, leaving teammate Verstappen vulnerable to a two-pronged Mercedes attack. 

This proved decisive in Bahrain and Spain with Mercedes able to pull off a bold strategy gamble that ultimately paved the way to winning both races. 

Horner said after the race in Barcelona that Red Bull “desperately need” Perez to get in the fight to avoid losing the strategic advantage to Mercedes. Horner’s admission marked the first time this year that Red Bull has publicly called on Perez to step up his performances as he continues to adapt to the RB16B. 

Perez will be looking to improve at Monaco, where strategy often decides the winner with overtaking opportunities limited and track position being king. 

And he is not afraid to set the bar high in his bullish assessment of Red Bull’s chances, saying it has a car that can contend for victory around the streets of Monte Carlo. 

4. Confidence high at Ferrari and Alpine 

Two teams heading to Monaco with high hopes are Ferrari and Alpine, with both expecting the circuit to play to the strengths of their respective cars. 

Ferrari in particular expects to head the midfield fight around the Principality, having been the third-fastest team in Barcelona and outscored chief rival McLaren for the first time this season. 

Charles Leclerc, who has been one of the stars of the season so far, will be looking to end his home hoodoo, with the Monegasque failing to register a single points finish from four previous races in Monaco. 

After making an initially slow start to the campaign, Alpine has come on leaps and bounds, enjoying an impressive rate of improvement that has been boosted by a successful upgrade that was introduced in Portimao. 

Esteban Ocon has led Alpine’s charge, with the French squad looking especially quick over one lap in recent races - highlighted by his stunning lap for P5 on the grid in Spain. 

Alpine’s pace has tended to drop off on race day, though that should be less of an issue around Monaco if it can maximise its qualifying result and once again mix it up with Ferrari and McLaren. 

5. Can Spain’s Sector 3 provide some clues? 

Barcelona’s mickey mouse final sector is made up of a combination of medium and low-speed corners and often provides an indication about how the competitive order will shape up in Monaco. 

Strong performance in that sector bodes well for Monaco’s unique tight and twisty layout, and the signs from last weekend’s Spanish GP showed that Red Bull, Ferrari, and Alpine all excelled in this area. 

Red Bull’s prospects look good and that will act as a welcome confidence boost for the team as it aims to hit back against Mercedes in the title race with a much-needed victory. 

"On paper, I would probably say it would suit Red Bull more than us,” Mercedes trackside engineering director Andrew Shovlin admitted. 

"We've been running our max downforce wing and we saw it on their car on Friday but they didn't race it there, so they can put a bit more downforce on. So on paper, it's probably for them.”

The battle at the front of the grid (and just behind) promises to be another intriguing storyline to follow in Monaco this weekend.  

 

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