Saturday, May 24, 2008

Monaco Grand Prix - The ONE to Win

As the 55th Monaco Grand Prix gets under way, Rosberg is primed to snatch the crown jewel

Set on the narrow, twisting streets of Monte Carlo, on the coast of the French Riviera, the Monaco Grand Prix is the most recognised motor race in the world.
No wonder, then, that it's often referred to as "the jewel of the Formula 1 crown". And with outsiders standing a good chance, don't be surprised if we see a new prince of Monaco crowned here on Sunday, at the race's 55th edition.
The Monaco Grand Prix is the oldest street circuit in Formula 1 and one of the traditional races on the calendar. Save a four-year break from 1951 to 1954, it has played host each year since the start of the world championship in 1950.
There have been street circuits in the United States, France, Switzerland, Spain and Adelaide, but none have endured as Monaco's has.
Up until this season, which sees the addition of the Valencia and Singapore races to the calendar, Monaco was Formula 1's only street circuit for 12 years.
The 3.3km Monte Carlo track is one of the most challenging stops on the calendar.
Since the first Grand Prix in 1950, the street circuit has not changed much to accommodate the bigger and faster modern Formula 1 car.
With overtaking virtually impossible there, getting pole position is of paramount importance. He who starts the 78-lap race in front almost always takes the chequered flag.
All drivers look forward to the race in the glamourous principality as the formbook usually goes out the window there.
In 1996, Olivier Panis took the chequered flag in a lowly Ligier, in a race interrupted by intermittent rain.
The big boys didn't finish, only four cars crossed the finishing line.
Rain is always a factor at Monte Carlo at this time of the year and predictions are for a rainy weekend.
So while championship leaders Ferrari, BMW-Sauber and McLaren-Mercedes are tagged as favourites on current form to take top billing this Sunday, I'm not going to count out the rest of the field. Qualifying on Saturday for a front row place on race day is everything and my bet is that Williams' Nico Rosberg is good for a big surprise.
It will be the British team's 600th Grand Prix and Rosberg will be pumped up to add more meaning to that milestone with a win for one of the oldest sides in Formula 1.
At Thursday's practice the 22-year-old was the only outsider to feature in the top five, ending the session behind McLaren's Lewis Hamilton, but ahead of Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen and Felipe Massa, and Heikki Kovalainen in the other McLaren.
Rosberg, whose father is 1983 world champion Keke of Finland, made his Formula 1 debut in 2006 after winning the GP2 series the year before.
He quickly showed his pedigree with Williams at the opening round in Bahrain by becoming the youngest driver in history to record the fastest lap in a race. That achievement was all the more remarkable as his Williams ride was lagging far behind championship contenders Ferrari, McLaren and 2005 champions Renault.
Last year, Rosberg was the centre of attention when he became the top contender to replace two-time world champion Fernando Alonso at McLaren after the Spaniard left the team in the wake of an acrimonious relationship.
Only the influence of the legendary team principal Frank Williams persuaded Rosberg to continue honing his talents with the Williams team.
Rosberg, who was born in Germany, started the 2008 season well enough with a third-place finish at the Australian Grand Prix behind winner Hamilton and BMW's Nick Heidfeld, and then came in eighth at the Bahrain and Turkish races.
To be sure, the Williams car is still nowhere near fighting for the world championship like its predecessors did in the 1980s and '90s.
But if Rosberg's performance on Thursday is anything to go by, and if his good form continues in qualifying this Saturday, then anything is possible.
Clinching pole will be the first step and then it will be left to his engineers to map out a competitive tyre and pitstop strategy to keep him in front.
A win at Monaco would also put Rosberg in an elite class of drivers who've conquered the mean streets of Monte Carlo, a group that includes the legendary Juan Manuel Fangio, Ayrton Senna, Jackie Stewart, Stirling Moss and Michael Schumacher.
That should be an even bigger incentive for Rosberg.

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