Getty Images

What to watch for: Monaco Grand Prix (NBC from 7:30am ET; NBCSN, NBC Sports app from 7am)

Leave a comment

In Formula 1, races do not come any bigger than Monaco.

The sport’s ultimate sporting challenge combines with the glitz and glamor that F1 has become so famous for throughout its 67-year history, making the Monaco Grand Prix the ultimate event.

The race comes six rounds into what is shaping up to be one of the most intriguing title fights in recent history, with Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton going toe-to-toe for Ferrari and Mercedes.

Monaco always has an extra spice – but this year, we have new cars, a reinvigorated title fight, some surprises on the grid, and even an old face making a guest appearance.

Combined, we are poised to enjoy one of the most unpredictable and perhaps significant Monaco races in recent memory.

You can watch the Monaco Grand Prix live on NBC and the NBC Sports app from 7:30am ET. CLICK HERE for NBC live stream.

F1 Countdown begins at 7am ET on NBCSN and the NBC Sports app, and runs until the NBC coverage begins. CLICK HERE for NBCSN live stream.

Here’s what to watch for in today’s race.

2017 Monaco Grand Prix – What to watch for

Can the Iceman stay cool?

Kimi Raikkonen may have ended his pole drought of almost nine years on Saturday, but the popular Finn remained as non-plussed as ever, simply saying “ah good” when informed of his success.

Raikkonen’s charge to pole came as a surprise, going some way to responding to the critics who have questioned his lack of pace compared to teammate Sebastian Vettel so far this season – yet the real challenge is to come.

With Lewis Hamilton so far back, Ferrari knows that this is a golden chance for Vettel to extend his championship lead. If Raikkonen wants to win this race, he’s going to have to do it convincingly and rekindle some of the old Kimi that has arguably been missing for a few years now.

There was a flicker of that flame in qualifying. The Iceman now needs to turn that into a fire.

Damage limitation the focus for Hamilton

Lewis Hamilton’s had a pretty rotten weekend so far. From setup troubles on Thursday to tire temperature woes in qualifying, the three-time champion is resigned to starting 13th in Monaco – a track where overtaking is nigh on impossible.

So Hamilton’s focus must be on damage limitation. A good start should help, and on raw pace along, a top six finish should be possible – but it would take a bold strategy, a slice of luck and perhaps a safety car or two to bring him into the fray at the front.

Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas can do his bit and try to cause trouble for Vettel at the front of the pack, but most probably, Hamilton is going to be having a Sunday drive through the streets he calls home.

Will tire management decide this race?

Mercedes has struggled for much of this season to manage its tires, with Hamilton’s qualifying problems being the height of that. The fact neither the driver nor the team had an answer after qualifying shows there is still plenty to be worked out overnight.

The ultra-softs seem to be lasting well in Monaco, but the hotter things get, the more difficult it could be. Expect a fine balance between this being a one and two-stopper. Safety cars will certainly alter things as well.

If things do heat up, then Ferrari should run away with this at the front. It’ll then be up to the likes of Mercedes and Red Bull to work on the fly to rein in the Prancing Horse.

Button out to make more memories

Jenson Button’s one-off comeback to F1 has been a real good news story. Despite having not tested the 2017-spec McLaren, he was rapid throughout practice and even took the team through to Q3, taking P9 on the grid.

The bittersweet part of this story is that he will start last after another Honda power unit penalty following the emergence of an issue following FP2. So don’t go thinking JB will be taking any final points to add to his career haul, although with a finish and high attrition rate, it’s certainly possible.

But points aren’t what this comeback was about for Button. No, it was about making memories. That’s what he did in qualifying, taming the MCL32 en route to Q3. And it’s what he’ll be out to do in the race.

This will most probably be goodbye to Button in F1 – but it’s an opportunity we thought had passed us by in Abu Dhabi. It’d be great if he can make it to the checkered flag this time.

2017 Monaco Grand Prix – Starting Grid

1. Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari
2. Sebastian Vettel Ferrari
3. Valtteri Bottas Mercedes
4. Max Verstappen Red Bull
5. Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull
6. Carlos Sainz Jr. Toro Rosso
7. Sergio Perez Force India
8. Romain Grosjean Haas
9. Daniil Kvyat Toro Rosso
10. Nico Hulkenberg Renault
11. Kevin Magnussen Haas
12. Stoffel Vandoorne McLaren*
13. Lewis Hamilton Mercedes
14. Felipe Massa Williams
15. Esteban Ocon Force India
16. Jolyon Palmer Renault
17. Lance Stroll Williams
18. Pascal Wehrlein Sauber
19. Marcus Ericsson Sauber
20. Jenson Button McLaren**

* Stoffel Vandoorne takes a three-place grid penalty as punishment for a crash with Felipe Massa in the Spanish Grand Prix.
** Jenson Button takes a 15-place grid penalty following power unit element changes by McLaren ahead of FP3.

You can watch the Monaco Grand Prix live on NBC and the NBC Sports app from 7:30am ET. CLICK HERE for NBC live stream. To watch the race with Mosaic View, CLICK HERE.

F1 Countdown begins at 7am ET on NBCSN and the NBC Sports app, and runs until the NBC coverage begins. CLICK HERE for NBCSN live stream.

Ferrari teammates Vettel and Raikkonen fastest in rainy final practice at Australian GP

Getty Images
Leave a comment

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Ferrari drivers Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen went one-two in the final practice session ahead of qualifying at the water-logged Australian Grand Prix on Saturday.

Vettel set a best-lap time of 1 minute, 26.067 seconds, more than 2.4 seconds faster than his teammate in second.

Both Ferrari drivers switched from their intermediate tires to the super-fast, ultra-soft tires for the final few laps of the session, testing conditions on the track after a day-long downpour left it slick and filled with small puddles.

Mercedes drivers Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton did not opt to try out their soft tires, sticking to the intermediates for the entire session. They had the seventh- and eighth-fastest times, after topping the leaderboard in practice in dry conditions on Friday.

The heavy rains subsided by early afternoon, allowing the track to rapidly dry during the third practice session and making conditions safe for drivers to test their soft tires.

Still, only a few drivers completed a timed lap with the softer compounds, with Mercedes, Red Bull and most of the others staying with their intermediates.

Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson had the third-fastest time of the session on ultrasoft tires, followed by Red Bull’s Max Verstappen on intermediates.

Hamilton remains the favorite to capture his fifth straight pole position at the Australian Grand Prix in qualifying later Saturday. He had the fastest laps on ultrasoft tires in the two practice sessions on Friday, though Verstappen was right behind him.

Verstappen and Vettel both slid on the slick track early in the third practice session, but maintained control and completed their runs without incident.

Verstappen’s teammate, Daniel Ricciardo, had the sixth-fastest time of the session. The Australian’s chances of winning his fifth career Grand Prix on his home track in Melbourne took a hit late Friday when he was assessed a three-place grid penalty for Sunday’s race.

The Australian driver was penalized for driving too fast under red-flag conditions during Friday’s second practice session because of debris on the track.