For all the criticism its receives as being out of keeping with modern Formula One safety standards, Monaco continues to provide a little extra sparkle in the sport's crown - and is now spawning another generation of imitators.

The glamorous surroundings of Monte Carlo, and the people who reside there, will keep the grand prix set coming back for more, despite the tight confines continuing to crowd the cars when circuits around the world are gradually moving their barriers further and further away from the action. But Formula One wouldn't be Formula One without Monaco - and, quite possibly, Monaco wouldn't be Monaco without F1.

The annual trip to the Principality rewards those with bravery and ability, and punishes the reckless, foolhardy and less talented in equal measure, with its list of winners generally reflecting the top dogs of each season. Dominated in equal measure by the likes of Graham Hill, Ayrton Senna and Michael Schumacher, the race underlines talent, but also has a cruel side, failing to take all those who shine on its streets to a meeting with the royal family.

At the same time, Monaco has thrown up its fair share of surprises over the years, making an accurate prediction harder to come by than at any other grand prix. The high attrition rate offers a rare chance for the lower end of the grid to make a mark and steal valuable points, giving everyone something to play for.

FIA F1 WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP NEWS

He may not have won last time out, but Lewis Hamilton continued to steal the limelight from his more experienced rivals, stretching his consecutive podium record to four straight races with second place in Spain and, with other results falling in his favour, becoming the youngest driver ever to head the world championship table, taking over from Bruce McLaren.

The Briton's success has cast a greater spotlight on the latest driver to be signed up by the McLaren team. Oliver Rowland is the first driver still competing in karts to be taken on by the Woking operation, and is already being tipped to follow in Hamilton's wheeltracks as he gets older. Still only 14, Rowland currently competes in the JICA class with the same Zip operation that launched Lewis' career. His tie-up with McLaren will provide not only technical and fitness advice, but will also come with a modicum of financial backing to help along.

McLaren continues to be linked to Prodrive's impending Formula One entry, despite both sides denying the rumours. Interestingly, however, team boss Ron Dennis was quoted by one leading publication as being in talks with more than one team regarding a possible chassis/engine supply for next season.

The whole 'customer car' debate received a nudge in Spain last time out, as Takuma Sato overcame Giancarlo Fisichella in the closing stages to claim a first point for Super Aguri F1.

The other team embroiled in the row, however, continues to struggle, as Toro Rosso recorded two more retirements with its STR2. Scott Speed suffered his second blow-out of the season, but Bridgestone claimed that the problem was due to a cut tyre after first lap accidents left debris on track. Toro Rosso, meanwhile, continues to attract stories regarding its possible sale - even though insiders insist that off-loading the operation is not on the agenda.

The Italian team ran Champ Car frontrunner Sebastien Bourdais in the latest group test at Paul Ricard - where Hamilton was among those to set the pace - while Super Aguri added Honda development driver James Rossiter to its testing strength, running two days at the French venue ahead of a prolonged relationship. Meanwhile, reigning World Series by Renault champion Alx Danielsson got his prize drive with the regie, albeit away from the group test as the team geared up for its latest 'roadshow' appearance with a 50-lap shakedown on Silverstone's Stowe layout.

Finally, and perhaps fittingly in light of this weekend's destination, Formula One has confirmed two further additions to future calendars, both of which are street circuits, and the extension of Barcelona's current deal. After much speculation, both Valencia and Singapore have been handed dates for 2008, with the latter definitely set to host F1's first night race. Both proposed circuits will have Monaco-esque waterfront settings, with Valencia making the most of its America's Cup harbour to tentatively stage next year's season finale.

But while the two new venues made positive headlines - Bernie Ecclestone's unplanned excursion in Spanish political debate aside - two others were receiving more negative press. The hot topic of night racing could yet account for Albert Park, which appears vulnerable unless it agrees to switch its start time to accommodate European television schedules, while Shanghai International is on the look-out for a new general manager after previous incumbent Yu Zhifei was fired amid accusations of financial malpractice.

NEWS FROM THE TEAMS:

McLaren - Fernando Alonso (#1), Lewis Hamilton (#2):

McLaren arrives in Monaco having extended its lead in the constructors' championship to nine points following a double podium finish in the Spanish Grand Prix, while second place on the road was good enough to confirm rookie Lewis Hamilton as outright leader of the drivers' standings, with team-mate Fernando Alonso in second spot.

Although Alonso broke his duck in the Principality with a comfortable win there last year, it is his team-mate who is expected to steal the limelight again this weekend, as he arrives in Monaco with an unblemished record, following wins in both F3 and GP2 in recent years.

"I am really looking forward to Monaco - it is one of the tracks I have always dreamed of racing at in F1," the Briton says, "For me, it is the best circuit of the year. There is nowhere like it for getting the adrenaline going. Because the track is so tight and there are no run-off areas, you have to be incredibly precise, there is no room for error and, as a driver, that makes it all the more exciting. I have always run well at Monaco, having won there on my previous two visits, so I am going to the race again this year with the intention of fighting for the win - even if we have to keep being realistic, as this will be my fifth race in F1 and I am still developing."

Hamilton's instant success is rumoured not to have gone down too well with Alonso, who no doubt expected to be top dog at McLaren at least while the rookie found his feet, but the Spaniard is keeping his dignity and focusing on maintaining the team's current points advantage - at least - over Ferrari.

"Monaco is another of those races that, at the start of the year, you mark as one that you really want to win," he admits, "I took the victory last year and, although it was an emotional weekend, it was an amazing feeling, one that I will race hard to try and repeat again this season. I have not had the results I have wanted at the previous two races, but I have kept scoring good points and we have continued to develop the performance of the car."

The test team completed a four-day session at Paul Ricard between races, with two of those days focused on a layout designed to mimic Monaco, and generated 'good feedback' according to CEO Martin Whitmarsh.

Renault - Giancarlo Fisichella (#3), Heikki Kovalainen (#4):

Renault may not have enjoyed the start of the season in quite the same way as it has in recent seasons, but was buoyed by the improvement shown by the revised R27 in Barcelona two weeks ago. Although only Heikki Kovalainen scored points, both drivers were hampered by a fuel rig problem, and the team remains confident that it can be a contender for points again this weekend.

"We certainly saw a small improvement during the weekend in Barcelona," technical director Bob Bell confirms, "Our new suspension and aerodynamic developments were clearly working well, and the drivers both felt more confident with the car than they had done at recent races. More than anything in Monaco, the drivers need to be able to trust the car and, at the moment, the R27 is not the easiest car to take to the limit with confidence, so that may make life more difficult. It is easy to underestimate how important a role the car plays and there is no magic wand in Monte Carlo - a bad car doesn't suddenly become a good one."

Giancarlo Fisichella has a reputation as something of a Monaco master, but admits that he is not expecting great things from this year's race.

"My race in Barcelona was a tough one, because of the refuelling problems, but I think our level of performance during the weekend was better," he says, "Hopefully, we can carry on moving in the same direction. We are not on the pace of the leaders yet, and we are honest about it, but we are moving forward, and that's important for the motivation and for the team. We are determined to bounce back, and everybody is working flat out to make sure that happens as soon as possible. Monaco is the next challenge for us, and we will be aiming to give our best."

Kovalainen, meanwhile, will be making his F1 debut in the Principality, but has shown that he could be a threat after dominating the 2005 GP2 race there before pit-stop problems intervened.

"I can't wait!" he enthuses, "This is one of the most interesting races of the whole year because the circuit is so unusual. I have good memories of my GP2 race, when I set pole, led most of the race and, in spite of the pit-stop problems, finished fifth. I am really looking forward to seeing what the circuit is like to drive in an F1 car! To be honest, I think it is tighter and even more narrow than what you see on television - the corners are tighter, the walls are always too close...You are so close to the buildings that the sound is bouncing off them, and that means you hear your engine much louder - and the engines of the cars around you... it's a really strange feeling in the opening laps!"

Ferrari - Felipe Massa (#5), Kimi Raikkonen (#6):

Ferrari encountered the best and worst of things at the Spanish Grand Prix, with Felipe Massa taking a second straight win but Kimi Raikkonen suffering a rare retirement that saw their championship fortunes reversed.

The Barcelona weekend was an odd one for the Scuderia as, having outshone everyone at the pre-race test, it initially found itself under threat, not only from McLaren, but also, briefly, from BMW Sauber. Things had turned around in time for qualifying, with Massa taking a third straight pole and Raikkonen third, and the Brazilian romped away with the race, having survived a brush with Fernando Alonso at turn one. Victory moved him back into title contention - just three points off the lead going to Monaco - while Raikkonen slipped eight points behind after his electrical-induced DNF.

On a high after success in Bahrain and Barcelona, Massa is aiming to complete a hat-trick this weekend, even though he knows his history in the Principality isn't the best.

"Of course, my personal target is to win here - and that would definitely be better than anything I have managed in Monaco before," he smiles, "My best result is only a fifth place, but the word 'only' is wrong because I was in a Sauber, when that team was still very new to F1. Last year, I did not have a good weekend, but I know that Monaco is a very unique race where there can be a lot of retirements, so the first thing is to try and finish the race."

Having tested various set-ups and the two tyre options at Paul Ricard last week, Massa is confident that Ferrari has a decent package for the Principality, but has one major concern heading into the weekend.

"I have seen the weather forecast for the weekend and, unbelievably, they say there is a chance of rain," he explains, "Believe it or not, if it does rain, it will be a completely new experience for me, as I have never driven this track in the wet. But when it rains, it rains on everyone! Of course, rain always increases the possibility of a mistake, so it could make things even more of a lottery than usual."

Raikkonen, meanwhile, will be looking to bounce back from his Spanish disappointment by reprising his 2005 victory in Monaco, but admits that he has some work to do earlier in the weekend.

"This is a very special place for me and I will never forget my success in 2005, in a race, which I think was one of my most beautiful ones," he admits, "It will be the seventh time I am going to race here and the first time with Ferrari. It would be wonderful to win with a red car, and it would be much easier if I could start from the front row. Until now, qualifying has not worked out as I wanted it to, but it is fundamental to have a good lap and I will give it my all."

Raikkonen admits that Monaco has a special place in his heart, and would have even if he wasn't racing there.

If I had to follow Formula One as a spectator and had to choose one race, I would have no doubt I would go to Monte Carlo," he confirms, "It is the most important amongst all the grands prix, with an extraordinary combination of the emotions - the particularity of the place and the prestige surrounding the event. It must be as wonderful to watch this race as it is to participate in it.

Honda - Jenson Button (#7), Rubens Barrichello (#8):

Like all of its rivals, Honda made the most of the time available between rounds two and three to make improvements to its RA107 but, unlike most of those around it on pit-lane, needed more time to get the car competitive. Nevertheless, a small step at least allowed Jenson Button and Rubens Barrrichello to feel more confident in the car's handling - even if they did contrive to run into one another during the race...

Another four days of development at Paul Ricard will have given the team chance to work on its Monaco settings, hoping that driver input on the year's most technical circuit may help carry it into the points for the first time.

"At the Paul Ricard test, we evaluated the latest aerodynamic components for the next three races, particularly Monaco and Canada," senior technical director Shuhei Nakamoto reveals, "For the street circuit, downforce is essential so we were running a high downforce set-up on the car. We have acquired a lot of useful data from the test and will use this for the continual development of the RA107. We expect to improve our performance in gradual steps over the next few races."

Despite having to swallow their pride when Takuma Sato scored Honda's first point of the year - for Super Aguri - both Barrichello and Button helped the works team qualify better than it had all season, and are determined to enjoy the challenge of Monaco, where the Brazilian has enjoyed some success over the years.

"Like most drivers, Monaco is one of my favourite races and I have some fantastic memories as I have finished on the podium four times there," Barrichello says, no doubt dreaming of adding to his trophy collection this year, "Monaco is unique in many ways and it certainly has a special place in F1 history. I particularly enjoy qualifying at Monaco - it's one of the biggest challenges of the year and so important to get right."

Ironically, Monaco resident for the rest of the year, Button will be looking to get out of town while the race is on, in order to give himself a chance to concentrate on the job in hand.

"Monaco is the most famous race of all, where all the glitz and glamour of Formula One is on display, and there is no question that it is a very special place over the race weekend," he explains, "Yet the qualities which make it so appealing also make it a frustrating weekend for the teams and drivers. It's unbelievably busy and getting around can be just impossible! When I'm not in the paddock, I'll be getting up into the hills behind the action to relax and give myself some space."

BMW Sauber - Nick Heidfeld (#9), Robert Kubica (#10):

BMW Sauber drivers Nick Heidfeld and Robert Kubica head for the Principality with the aim of further bolstering the team's third place in the constructors' standings, and equipped with a raft of technical updates aimed at giving them a chance to edge closer to the front on the seafront circuit.

"It is crucial that the car responds with absolute precision and predictability, because the tiniest of errors will mean hitting the crash barriers and the end of the race," technical director Willy Rampf explains, "Thus the car will go to Monaco with aerodynamic modifications, and we are using a front axle specially developed just for this race to ensure there's enough steering angle in the tight turns.

"We will also be introducing totally new front brake ducts and modifications to the rear bodywork, and we have developed a new front wing generating maximum downforce, which we used for the first time - successfully - in Barcelona. We will modify this wing again for Monaco."

Heidfeld believes that he could have snatched at least a podium finish from the Spanish Grand Prix, leading during the pit-stops before falling foul of a botched stop that dropped him down the order. He eventually retired with gearbox problems, but is determined to bounce back in Monaco this weekend.

"Everything about this race is just spectacular," he notes, "You can't really put into words what it's like to drive a F1 race car through the streets. The ratio of narrowness to speed simply defies description, but it's something I really enjoy. Two years ago, I came second in Monaco and, last year, we had a fault during qualifying, which meant I started from 16th, but still managed to pick up two championship points. It goes to show that the key thing in Monaco is not to make any mistakes.

Motorsport director Mario Theissen promises that the problems that beset his fellow German last time out have been sorted, and insists that there can be no repeat this weekend.

"We managed to get to the bottom of the gearbox problem in Nick's F1.07 in Barcelona even before the race day was over, and corrective measures were already being applied during the test in Paul Ricard," he reveals, "We have also worked through Nick's botched-up pit stop and learnt the lessons for any future incidents. For us, Monte Carlo is a case of notching up a fault-free weekend and further cementing our third place in the constructors' standings."

Although he was present with the team at last year's race, 2007 will be Kubica's first race at Monaco since contesting the World Series by Renault there in 2005.

"In 2006, I drove on Friday at the GP, but not very much because of technical problems, so it will be an experience for me to appear there for the first time in a Formula One race," the Pole admits, "From a driver's point of view, the Monaco Grand Prix is something really special - there's very little room for error and you're driving at the limit virtually the whole time. You can't afford to slip up. For the first time since the start of the season in Melbourne, high downforce is required again, and that's another reason why I'm looking forward to Monaco. It's going to be a real challenge but I can't wait to see how well we do."

Toyota - Ralf Schumacher (#11), Jarno Trulli (#12):

After a disappointing weekend in Spain, Toyota heads to the most glamorous weekend of the season determined to return to the point-scoring form it showed in the first three rounds of the year.

The team's 100 per cent reliability record ended with retirement for both Ralf Schumacher and Jarno Trulli in Barcelona, but encouragement came from the Italian's impressive qualifying display. The tight Monaco streets are a unique test of a driver's resolve, but Trulli has made something of a name for himself in the Principality, taking pole and winning the race in 2004.

"I am really looking forward to Monaco because it is one of the best race weekends of the year and I have always performed well there," he admits, "Of course, my victory from pole position in Monaco in 2004 is one of my happiest memories in F1, but I have had many other good performances there as well. I am optimistic we can score a strong result this weekend and put what happened in Spain behind us. It was such a pity about the technical problem in Barcelona because I am certain I could have had a really good result. We were strong in qualifying and it was particularly encouraging to see we had the same fuel strategy as the leading cars, so performance-wise we have made a step forward. If we can get back to the reliability we showed at the start of the season, Monaco should be a positive weekend for us."

Not that Schumacher can be counted out of the reckoning either, having taken pole in the Principality in 2003...

"Spain was a disappointing weekend for me, so obviously I am going to Monaco looking for a big improvement," the German insists, "Our car has improved, but we will be pushing hard for a better result in Monaco. It's a tough race physically and mentally because you cannot afford even the smallest mistake, but I have good memories of taking pole position in Monaco in the past, so our first goal will be to qualify as high as possible to give me the best chance of a strong result."

Pascal Vasselon has confirmed that the TF107 will have a special aerodynamic package for the special requirements of Monaco, with changes to the front and rear wings. The team was encouraged by the performance of its last new aero package in Spain because it gave two or three extra tenths, culminating in Trulli's sixth on the grid, even if it was disappointed to have been able to exploit it in the race after the Italian retired early and Schumacher was delayed by a first lap incident with Alex Wurz.

Red Bull Racing - David Coulthard (#14), Mark Webber (#15):

Red Bull Racing heads to Monaco buoyed by its first points of the season, courtesy of David Coulthard in Spain, and the memory of its first Formula One podium, again secured by the Scot, a year ago.

Testing in Barcelona before the Spanish Grand Prix began to unlock some of the potential in Adrian Newey's RB3 design and, although Mark Webber's weekend was frustrated by a string of problems in both qualifying and the race, DC held on for fifth place, opening the team's account. Gearbox problems marked the Scot's closing laps, however, making reliability a key component of the team's Ricard test last week.

"We have consolidated on our good result in Spain, by improving both in terms of performance and reliability," chief test engineer Ian Morgan claims, "Even though a gearbox problem stopped David slightly early [on the final day], the component had exceeded its usual life and, generally, we managed more than our target mileage over the four days. So we have moved forward but, of course, so have the other teams, but the new race weekend timetable means we will be able to continue with some development work at the races."

Williams - Nico Rosberg (#16), Alex Wurz (#17):

Following a marked upturn in performance in Spain - underlined by Nico Rosberg's return to the points - Williams is looking to improve on its current share of fifth place in the constructors' championship in Monte Carlo.

The two-week gap since Barcelona saw the team join its peers at Paul Ricard, where both Rosberg and beleaguered team-mate Alex Wurz benefited from almost 500km of set-up work in preparation for their 'home' grand prix.

"We had a productive test, during which we worked through many different mechanical and aerodynamic set-ups," technical director Sam Michael confirms, "At the same time, we signed off the upgrade that we will use for the maximum downforce circuit of Monte Carlo. Bridgestone will be bringing the 'super soft' tyres to this race for the first time and they will make a significant contribution as to how much the circuit 'rubbers' in during the course of the weekend. The grip level increase is so large because, in addition to rubber being laid down, a lot of the contaminants on the road surface are lifted."

Buoyed by his battling sixth place in Spain, Rosberg is confident that he can repeat the feat in Monaco, where he took a podium finish in his GP2 championship campaign.

"Monaco is the race of the year," he insists, "The track is right in the middle of where I grew up, so it's also a very special race for me for that reason. All of my friends are there and the atmosphere is just great. All that has been missing from the mix is a good race result, but let's see if we can change that this weekend."

Wurz, meanwhile, is still looking for the result to get his season off the ground, but reckons that Monaco is just the place to start his fightback.

"This weekend is going to be very cool," the Austrian smiles, "In terms of off-track work, Monaco is always the busiest weekend for all the drivers, and that's a challenge in itself. Nevertheless, it is still one of my favourite race weekends of the season. It's as hard as ever to forecast the result for the race, but the only thing I can say for sure is that it's going to be a close fight - and that is cool."

Scuderia Toro Rosso - Vitantonio Liuzzi (#18), Scott Speed (#19):

Early promise in Spain was dashed by the time qualifying came around, with Scott Speed and Tonio Liuzzi being prevented from setting times in Q1 and Q2 respectively, and the race was little better.

Although Speed, in particular, made early ground, both he and his Italian team-mate were out early on. For the second time this season, Speed was the victim of tyre failure, although this time the finger of blame could be pointed at debris on track following a lap one collision involving Ralf Schumacher and Alex Wurz, and Liuzzi succumbed to hydraulic failure, adding to the team's checklist for Ricard.

Inevitably, after the Spanish Grand Prix, reliability was a key element of these past four days and the programme here in the South of France was not trouble free. However, all the data gathered means the team now has a better understanding of the problems it faces in this area and there is still a week to go before the Monaco GP, in which to make further progress on the reliability front.

"In terms of performance, we ran across the range of aero settings, from maximum downforce for Monaco on the first two days to minimum for Canada on the last two, and we hope to have a new aero package in time for the Canadian Grand Prix," chief engineer Laurent Mekies revealed, skirting around the fact that the test itself had not been entirely trouble-free, "Overall, it has been a productive four days, but we still have a lot of work to do to reach an acceptable level of reliability."

Sebastien Bourdais returned to the cockpit of a Toro Rosso entry during the test, reviving rumours that the Frenchman may find himself a part of the team next season.

Spyker F1 - Christijan Albers (#20), Adrian Sutil (#21):

Following on from its second consecutive double finish in Spain, Spyker goes to the fifth race of the year looking to build on momentum if not with hopes of closing the gap to those immediately ahead.

Both Adrian Sutil and Christijan Albers know the tricky Monaco track well, with the German holding the current F3 lap record and Albers having raced in two grands prix there. Importantly, the Dutchman has finished both races, emphasising the importance of not making mistakes - something his young team-mate has been quick to take on board.

"I think it's the highlight of this year for me, so I'm really looking forward to it," Sutil says, "It will be very challenging for sure. Everything is very narrow, and the barriers are very close, so you need to find the middle and not push too hard at the beginning. You have to learn the circuit and not crash the car! That's very important, especially in the first and second practice sessions. You want to show what you can do, but you can't afford to crash. I think on the first day you just have to take it easy, and try to learn as much as you can. Then, on the second day, Saturday, you have to push. You can risk something later in qualifying."

Both drivers have been encouraged by recent reliability, which could be a key to a good finish this weekend.

"Monaco is known as a hard race and you can never predict what will happen," team boss Colin Kolles admits, "You could start on pole and then be knocked out at the first corner, or start at the back, it rains, you get the strategy right and suddenly you're in the top eight. If we keep out of trouble and are reliable, we could be in the top ten."

The team won't be introducing any new developments for the race, but chief technical officer Mike Gascoyne concurs with Kolles' assessment of its chances.

"There are no major updates, but there will be some minor aero parts that we will put on the car to help provide the high levels of downforce required for this circuit," he reveals, "Some of the parts are specifically for Monaco, but some will be carried forward as part of our ongoing process of development.

"We are pushing on with the test programme, aero development and, of course, the B-spec car. This should be a move forward, but we shouldn't pin our hopes too much on suddenly moving up the grid and being competitive, but we will continue evolving until the end of the year. I'm sure that by then we'll be in a more competitive position than we are now.

"I think Monaco is certainly our best chance in the first two-thirds of the season to achieve a good result. Obviously, aero efficiency isn't the key here as cars are running with max drag, so we believe we should be more competitive there than we have been at other circuits. It's also a race where safety cars come into play, it can rain and so on, so we have to make the most of it."

Super Aguri F1 - Takuma Sato (#22), Anthony Davidson (#23):

Of all eleven teams, Super Aguri F1 probably heads to Monaco with the biggest morale boost, having seen Takuma Sato claim its first point with eighth place in the Spanish GP.

The team was mixing it with the midfield regulars all weekend in Barcelona and Sato's ability to hang on to the Renaults in the race paid dividends when Giancarlo Fisichella was obliged to make an unscheduled third fuel stop. With Anthony Davidson bringing the second car home eleventh, reliability was also improved over Bahrain, providing encouragement for one of the toughest events on the calendar.

"I was extremely satisfied with the result [in Spain] because every second counted throughout the whole race and there was no margin for error," Sato says, perhaps presaging similar thoughts for Monaco, "I was thinking about how it had only been 15 months since the team started and to get into the top ten, to grab that point, well that was just fantastic. It means a lot to us."

Although his Monaco record hasn't been the best, Sato is looking forward to returning to the Principality with a more competitive SA07.

"The Monaco circuit is very challenging for the drivers and cars," he explains, "Last year, we had one of our best races in the SA05 there, but unfortunately we had an electric problem and could not finish. I'm looking forward to going back this year, not only because of the success we had in Spain, but because you need good mechanical grip and the new gearbox that we introduced at the last race, and the new aero package that we tested in Ricard, worked well. I think that we are developing at a good pace, as everyone else is, and that we have a good car."

TYRES:

Bridgestone returns to Monte Carlo ready to debut the 'super soft' specification of its Potenza rubber under the heightened gaze of the media attracted to the blue riband event.

The 3.3km course provides one of the greatest challenges to tyres, but Bridgestone is confident that its softest compound will be up to the task after two days of simulation work at Paul Ricard.

"You need as much grip as possible and teams will run their cars with a maximum downforce set-up," explains head of track engineering operations Kees van de Grint, "Rear traction is crucial with acceleration out of so many corners, but you have to be careful as understeer is not desirable with so much Armco about. There is a very high demand on the tyres as they are very soft, so we have also worked on minimising the wear rate as we want to allow the teams flexibility with their strategies."

Super Aguri's Takuma Sato was happy with the tyres tested in France last week, but admits that Monaco remains unpredictable.

"We tested both options in Paul Ricard last week but, as Monaco is the only street circuit on the calendar and you cannot test on it, it is difficult to reproduce its conditions during testing," he explains, "The Monaco streets have such low grip that we shall be using the very soft compound tyre to maximise the mechanical grip. But, if you put to great a force on these tyres, they will not survive. We collected valuable data at Ricard, so hopefully we can make them work on our car, but it will be challenging on the super soft option."

THE TRACK:

Race Distance: 78 laps - Circuit Length: 2.075 miles (3.340 kms)

Conceived by Antony Nogh?s, and always held on the weekend following Ascension Day, the Monaco Grand Prix remains the most famous race on the F1 calendar. First held in 1929, the street circuit is tight, twisty, bumpy, slow and totally unforgiving - an anachronism for today's Formula One cars that gasp and crawl around its 3.340km lap.

However, Monaco remains the race that every driver dreams of winning. In terms of chassis set-up, the one overriding concern at Monaco is downforce. Overall speeds are low - cars may reach a maximum of 290kph through the famous tunnel, but the average speed for a lap is less than half that.

The result is that engineers throw everything they can at their cars to generate downforce and optimise low-speed handling. Securing a good grid position is vital since overtaking is truly problematic, while fuel consumption and tyre wear are not significant issues. It's a weekend that requires maximum concentration and consistency from drivers and team members alike.

THE WINNER?

There is a train of thought that it will be Monte Carlo or bust for Lewis Hamilton. The Briton is currently riding the crest of a wave that has taken him to four podiums in as many races since his debut, and a first win cannot be far away. Hamilton has an unblemished record at Monaco, which he is keen to extend to F1, but that growing confidence could also be his downfall on a circuit where precision is key. Ready to pick up the pieces will be team-mate Fernando Alonso and Ferrari rival Kimi Raikkonen, both previous Monaco winners, and Felipe Massa, also on a roll after three successive poles and two straight race wins. Of course, Monaco is renowned as something of a lottery so, if you're looking for a surprise winner, try either BMW Sauber or track 'experts' Jarno Trulli and Giancarlo Fisichella, although it would take a cruel twist of fate to remove the entire top four.

LAST SEASON:

Fernando Alonso finally won the Monaco Grand Prix as he took advantage of pole position, and was spared race-long pressure as misfortune befell the chasing Kimi Raikkonen and Mark Webber, the Australian podium-bound in his best outing for Williams. Juan Pablo Montoya eventually completed the podium - his last for McLaren - while David Coulthard completed the top three for Red Bull - a result that saw the Scot don a cape for the regal celebrations and team boss Christian Horner jump - allegedly naked - into RBR's hospitality swimming pool! The one-stopping Rubens Barrichello took fourth for Honda, while Michael Schumacher, having been penalised for blocking the track in the closing moments of qualifying, claimed fifth from the very back of the grid. Giancarlo Fisichella, also penalised, pulled off two of the best passing moves of the race, but lost out under the safety car, and had to make do with sixth, ahead of German duo Nick Heidfeld and Ralf Schumacher.

1. Fernando Alonso Spain Renault-Renault 1:43.43.116 78 laps
2. Juan Pablo Montoya Colombia McLaren-Mercedes +14.5
3. David Coulthard Britain Red Bull-Ferrari +52.2
4. Rubens Barrichello Brazil Honda-Honda +53.3
5. Michael Schumacher Germany Ferrari-Ferrari +53.8
6. Giancarlo Fisichella Italy Renault-Renault +1:02.020
7. Nick Heidfeld Germany BMW Sauber-BMW +1 lap
8. Ralf Schumacher Germany Toyota-Toyota +1 lap

 

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