Monaco ready for clash of the racing stars

The star-studded Monaco paddock will be home to Darth Vader and the Star Wars cast for this weekend’s grand prix, but with the field wide open, there is no need for gimmicks to guarantee excitement in the sport’s flagship race.

Kimi Raikkonen helped McLaren’s empire strike back at the last race in Barcelona as he outgunned championship leader Fernando Alonso to end the four-race rule of championship leaders Renault.

And with world champions Ferrari desperate to fight back fast following a disastrous start to the year and Toyota also improving fast, there are plenty of contenders for one of the biggest prizes of the season.

Raikkonen, who has started the past two races from pole, is confident of continuing his run in engine partners Mercedes’ 200th race.

“It’s great to arrive in Monaco on the back of the positive result for the team in Spain,” said the Finn. “Monaco is a race that everyone really wants to win, but it is a completely different challenge.

“It is the shortest and slowest track we race on, but hopefully we will be able to carry the performance through.”

But while Monaco is guaranteed to attract the cream of celebrity stardom, with Star Wars creator George Lucas and his costumed cast guests of Red Bull Racing this year, the action on the twisty, barrier-lined track is less predictable.

Last year’s race saw the first career victory for Italian Jarno Trulli, who was then driving for Renault, and there have been an astonishing four different drivers claiming the winner’s trophy in the past four years.

Colombian Juan Pablo Montoya, who is now Raikkonen’s teammate at McLaren, took the spoils in 2003 when driving for Williams. Scot David Coulthard and world champion Michael Schumacher have also won in recent years.

Schumacher, who crashed out of last year’s race, is facing a difficult challenge to secure his first Monaco win since 2001 this time, however, having only finished once on the podium this season.

But he has already admitted Ferrari are on the back foot.

“I have so many fond memories of Monaco, I always enjoy coming here because it’s just a lot of fun to wind your way through the streets here,” he said.

“Even though it will be difficult for us this time, because the position on the starting grid at Monaco is somewhat decisive for the outcome of the race, that does not diminish my excitement.

“We are looking forward to taking on this challenge.
Giving up is not an option, but giving up before you try is completely out of the question. This is sports, and in sports anything is possible.”

Renault, however, are determined to improve after Alonso, who still has an 18-point lead over second-placed Trulli in the championship, was outclassed into second place by Raikkonen at the last race.

Alonso has finished on the podium in all five races this season and is confident of starting a tough and vital run of four sets of back-to-back races with another top-three finish this weekend.

“We knew McLaren were a bit quicker than us all weekend in Spain, they had a new package there and it did the job, but I don’t think the race gave a representative picture of the difference between our cars,” said Alonso.

“Kimi was able to pull away too easily in the first stint as I was struggling with the car, and I think we will be much more equal in Monaco, so I am feeling very confident for this weekend.”

Alonso will also be boosted by a major improvement in aerodynamics on his Renault.

“It will help in performance, no doubt, but also it shows that the team is fighting as well.

“I think we are doing a very competitive job so far. In Monaco, we will be aiming for the podium from the start of the weekend and then we need to see things unfold and work out how we can fight for more.”

Toyota, currently second in the title race, will eagerly chase their first-ever victory, while two-time winner Coulthard will ignore Red Bull Racing’s glamour to claim the glory with another points finish.

But Jenson Button, like many drivers a Monaco resident, will be one key man missing the action after his BAR-Honda team were banned from the race for running an illegal car in the San Marino Grand Prix.

Button, who also missed the Spanish race along with teammate Takuma Sato, said he was bitterly disappointed to miss the race.

“Spain would have been a great race for us, but for me Monaco is the one that I’m most disappointed about.

“This was a race where we could have again not just done well, but I think we could have shocked a lot of people. I think we would have been staggeringly quick, I really think so.

“It’s a circuit I love. We did well there last year, getting on the podium, and I really think we could have gone one step higher this year. And I don’t think it would have been too hard, either.”—Sapa-AFP

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