Nelson Piquet once described racing around the streets of Monaco as being like riding a bicycle around your living room.
It’s an odd analogy, but it works. With the imposing walls just millimetres away, the ability to tame a Formula 1 car in the principality is deemed by most to separate the men from the boys.
And yet it is the driver closest to being considered a ‘boy’ that arrives in Monaco as the man to beat.
18-year-old Max Verstappen became the youngest winner in F1 history last time out in Spain on his Red Bull debut, fulfilling the prophecy he arrived in the sport with at the beginning of 2015.
Realistically, the Dutchman will know that without another turn of events such as those we saw in Barcelona, a repeat result is not on the cards. Mercedes remains the team to beat, meaning we’re geared up for another tete-a-tete between Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton.
Here are the key talking points ahead of the biggest weekend of the F1 season.
2016 Monaco Grand Prix – Talking Points
Whatever Mercedes says, it’s a big deal
Mercedes did a very good job of downplaying the clash between Rosberg and Hamilton in Spain. The team and the FIA both deemed it to be a racing incident, while both drivers were left disappointed and upset over the points lost for both their own title tilts and that of the team.
But it was clear from the post-race interviews that both Rosberg and Hamilton did that this wasn’t a small thing. It is a big deal, acting as the latest flashpoint in the frosty relationship between them.
It is perhaps fitting that we now head to Monaco, the site of Rosberg’s alleged cheat move in qualifying two years ago and where Mercedes blew the race for Hamilton in 2015.
Rosberg is chasing a fourth consecutive victory around the streets where he grew up, and Hamilton is looking to end his poor run in Monaco (just one F1 win in 2008). It’s set things up nicely for the battle between them.
Verstappen, Red Bull on a high
Max Verstappen’s victory in Spain was the stuff of F1 legend. Think Schumacher, Spain ’96. Think Hamilton, Canada ’07. Think Vettel, Italy ’08. It was the true arrival of one of the biggest talents in recent times.
A repeat result will be difficult given the advantage that Mercedes still has. Furthermore, Red Bull has opted to give its one updated power unit to the more experienced Daniel Ricciardo, making him the in-team favorite for the weekend.
For Red Bull, the target in Monaco will be to beat Ferrari once again. Spain was a shock as the Italian marque’s hopes of being ‘best of the rest’ in 2015 were dealt a serious blow. Quite whether Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen can strike back and end Ferrari’s barren Monaco run – no victory since 2001 – remains to be seen.
Rain on Sunday?
Just as Verstappen’s drive in Spain marked his arrival, conditions in Monaco this weekend look set to present an opportunity for the rest of the field – or maybe even Verstappen again – to etch their name into F1 folklore.
A wet race is on the cards according to F1’s official weather forecaster UBIMET: “Sunday will see more clouds than the days before along with an enhanced risk of showers during the afternoon. Moderate onshore winds and a maximum temperature around 20 degrees celsius are expected.”
The challenge of Monaco becomes all the greater in the rain. It could create a thrilling race.
Haas arrives on the big stage
This weekend’s race is a big one for Gene Haas. Not only will he see the NASCAR team he co-owns race in the Coca-Cola 600, but his new F1 team will make its very first appearance in Monaco.
Romain Grosjean and Esteban Gutierrez both struggled with the VF-16 car over the Spanish Grand Prix weekend, with the teething troubles typical of any new team beginning to bubble to the surface.
Just how Haas fares in its first Monaco weekend will be of keen interest to Haas, particularly from a marketing perspective. There’s nothing quite like Monaco – and if it’s a wet race, points could be on the cards once again.
Ultra-soft tire debuts
Pirelli’s new ultra-soft tire will make its long-awaited debut in Monaco this weekend after being tested over the winter and last week in Spain.
The purple-ringed compound is the newly-added softest tire that is made for street circuits such as Monaco, offering more grip and – under dry conditions – preventing the race from being a mundane one-stopper.
Naturally, rain will throw that out of the window, but it will nevertheless be of interest to the paddock how the new compound fares.
2016 Monaco Grand Prix – Facts and Figures
Lap Record: Daniel Ricciardo 1:18.063 (2015)
Tire Compounds: Soft/Super-Soft/Ultra-Soft
2015 Winner: Nico Rosberg (Mercedes)
2015 Pole Position: Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) 1:15.098
2015 Fastest Lap: Daniel Ricciardo (Red Bull) 1:18.063
DRS Zones: Main Straight (T19 to T1)
2016 Monaco Grand Prix – TV Times
Free Practice 1: NBC Sports Live Extra 4am ET 5/26
Free Practice 2: NBCSN 8am ET 5/26
Free Practice 3: NBC Sports Live Extra 5am ET 5/28
Qualifying: NBCSN 8am ET 5/28
Race: NBC 7:30am ET 5/29 (F1 Countdown on NBCSN 7am-7:30am)