AFP/ Monte Carlo, Principality of Monaco
Lewis Hamilton has warned that showers of rain forecast during Sunday’s Monaco Grand Prix could make the classic street circuit race ‘even more nerve-wracking’ than usual for him and his Mercedes team.
The seven-time world champion is one of a select group who have triumphed three times at Monte Carlo and his upgraded Mercedes has him on an upturn.
“The approach to a race always changes when it rains,” he explained.
“It’s more of a lottery, but there is also a lot more opportunity. The potential for failure is even greater - so it makes it even more nerve-wracking.”
After finishing fifth, two places behind Mercedes teammate George Russell in Spain last Sunday, Hamilton remains keen to confirm their progress and his own exceptional ability in street circuit, and wet, racing.
But he knows too that despite reduced ‘porpoising’ in his W13 car, the challenge of the narrow barrier-lined streets is greater than ever.
“Our cars are bigger than ever before, wider than ever before and the track is the same width that it has been forever,” said Hamilton. “And we’re faster than ever!”
“The percentage chance of overtaking is minuscule. The percentage chances of crashing are massive – so qualifying position is everything.”
All of which suggests that tomorrow’s high-speed scramble for grid positions will be dramatic and intense as drivers strive for glory in the sport’s ‘blue riband’ event.
“Winning there in 2008, I felt like I was at the top of the highest mountain of the world,” said Hamilton. “So many different things need to come together for that to happen, but it’s a track where you just can’t leave anything on the table.”
Loved for its glamour and spectacle, Monte Carlo is respected as a unique mental and technical challenge by the drivers.
“Usually after the race, you are mentally destroyed for a good couple of days,” said Hamilton, victorious in 2008, 2016 and 2019. “Other tracks require a mix of physical and mental strength, but in Monaco, the focus is much more on the mental side, due to the levels of concentration needed to lap the circuit.
“It’s a circuit that probably requires the highest in concentration and mental focus. The street circuit nature, the fact it is quite short and there are not very long straights. It’s not a massively physical circuit because we are not doing really high speeds, but your mind is having to work so much faster.”
Even the greatest drivers have allowed their concentration to lapse and paid for it, including Ayrton Senna, a six-time Monaco winner, who was leading McLaren teammate Alain Prost by almost a minute when he crashed at Portier in 1988.
Senna, arguably the greatest Monaco maestro, slouched straight home to his apartment in his racing suit and helmet.
“Mastering a lap in Monaco...” said Hamilton. “Well, you’ve got to have a light and nimble car, great downforce, the right power to weight ratio, the right track position, clean air in front of you and commitment and be willing to touch the barriers....”
Given the capricious nature of Monaco’s micro-climate, Sunday may deliver a surprise result as in 1996, in torrential rain, when Olivier Panis claimed his sole Grand Prix triumph in a Ligier, but if it does not rain it will be an unyielding test of skill and endurance.
That is why, alongside Hamilton on three and Senna on six, the other winners in the multiple winners’ club are all renown as among the greats – Stirling Moss (three wins), Jackie Stewart (3), Nico Rosberg (3), Prost (4), Graham Hill (5) and Michael Schumacher (5).
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