F1 Preview: 2017 Monaco Grand Prix

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As racing weekends go, few come bigger than the one we are about to embark on.

Between the Coca-Cola 600 NASCAR race, the 101st running of the Indianapolis 500 and Formula 1’s annual crown jewel event, the Monaco Grand Prix, there is no shortage of motorsport action.

The debate regarding which of the three is the biggest and best could rage on endlessly, but there can be little doubt that Monaco is the most glamorous.

As the 20-strong grid dart their ways around the tight confines of the principality’s streets, the rich and famous will watch on. This weekend, if you live for the limelight, there is no better place to be seen than Monaco.

But it is F1’s biggest stars who will shine brightest on Sunday. Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton’s burgeoning rivalry was once again on display last time out in Spain as they went wheel-to-wheel for victory, with the latter emerging victorious.

Both drivers know what it takes to win in Monaco – but who will come out on top this weekend? Here are the key talking points ahead of Sunday’s grand prix.

2017 Monaco Grand Prix – Talking Points

Vettel, Hamilton ready to serve up a classic

The Monaco Grand Prix may be the most iconic race on the F1 calendar, yet it is hardly renowned for being conducive to wheel-to-wheel fights given the narrow nature of the city streets (more on that later).

However, racing isn’t all about overtaking. Many of the most iconic battles in Monaco have seen two drivers shoot clear of the pack and run nose-to-tail for much of the race, with last year’s thrilling fight between Hamilton and Daniel Ricciardo being the most recent.

Given the tiny margin separating Ferrari and Mercedes in the early part of the year, we could be poised for another classic between Vettel and Hamilton – one that could even be defining in their championship battle.

Vettel out to end Ferrari’s Monaco hoodoo

Ferrari may have been one of the most dominant teams in F1 since the turn of the millennium, yet Monaco has been among its weakest circuits.

Not since 2001 has the Prancing Horse trotted to the top step of the podium in Monaco with Michael Schumacher, with the likes of Rubens Barrichello, Felipe Massa, Fernando Alonso, Kimi Raikkonen and, since 2015, Vettel, all failing to win the race.

2017 presents Ferrari’s best chance of a Monaco win in a long time. With Mercedes running a longer wheelbase, the SF70H may be the car to beat. Vettel will be leading Maranello’s charge once again, and if 2005 Monaco winner Raikkonen can play a decent rear gunner, Ferrari may be able to hark back to its past success.

JB’s back!

While Fernando Alonso may be hogging the limelight over in Indianapolis ahead of this weekend’s ‘500, Jenson Button is currently getting used to life back in the F1 paddock as he prepares for a one-off appearance in Monaco.

Button seemed to have retired from F1 at the end of last year, and has been enjoying much of his free time in America with his girlfriend and preparing for triathlons, only for Alonso’s shock deal to put the wheels in motion for a return.

Monaco appears to be McLaren’s best chance of points in the early part of the season, with the deficiences stemming from the Honda power unit being masked somewhat. So while there is an opportunity for Button, his lack of testing – his first lap in the MCL32 will be tomorrow in practice – means we should not expect the world.

Nevertheless, much as Alonso’s Indy adventure has been a good news story for McLaren, so is bringing back the ever-popular JB.

How will 2017’s wider cars cope in Monaco?

This is the question that was on everyone’s mind when the dimensions of the new-for-2017 cars were announced. They certainly are quicker and look much meaner, but they’re also much bulkier – and on a track like Monaco where space is already hard to come by, it could make it a very tight squeeze indeed.

“It’s always tight around this track even now I think because it’s 20cm wider, the car. It doesn’t sound much but when you put all the cars together and on a tight circuit you see it and notice it more,” Daniel Ricciardo explained in Wednesday’s press conference.

“So qualify well! It’s going to help” – sage advice indeed, now more than ever…

Opportunity knocks for midfield runners

The battle through F1’s midfield has been one of the closest in recent memory so far this season, with the updates that Force India, Williams, Toro Rosso, Haas and Renault brought to Barcelona only acting to tighten things up further.

Monaco is a race where opportunities can present themselves. The likes of Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull have been out of reach thus far in 2017, yet a tiny error or a fortuitous strategy call that leads to track position could turn all of that on its head.

Force India currently leads the pecking order on points, although Sergio Perez insists the team still doesn’t have a faster car than Williams – the Mexican finished on the podium here last year, and a repeat is not unthinkable, regardless of his assertion.

2017 Monaco Grand Prix – Facts and Figures

Track: Circuit de Monaco
Corners: 19
Lap Record: Lewis Hamilton 1:17.939 (2016)
Tire Compounds: Ultra-Soft/Super-Soft/Soft
2016 Winner: Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)
2016 Pole Position: Daniel Ricciardo (Red Bull) 1:13.622
2016 Fastest Lap: Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) 1:17.939
DRS Zone: T19 to T1

2017 Monaco Grand Prix – TV/Stream Times

Mario Andretti says Colton Herta could be next American star in F1

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Mario Andretti’s last Formula One victory is also the last by an American driver in more than 42 years on the international open-wheel road racing series.

If you had told Andretti that while he was celebrating on the Grand Prix of the Netherlands podium on Aug. 27, 1978 at the Vandzoort circuit, he wouldn’t have believed it.

“Absolutely not,” Andretti told Kyle Petty during the most recent “Coffee With Kyle” episode (video above). “It’s a shame. Somehow we have so much talent here, and either there’s no invitation or something there. But I think it’s time to give some of this young talent that, in my opinion, is absolutely capable.”

The Dutch GP was the last of Andretti’s 12 victories in F1 and came during his championship season. No one since has come close to matching his success in F1.

Mario Andretti drives his Lotus-Ford to victory in the 1978 Grand Prix of the Netherlands (Bernard Cahier/Getty Images).

Andretti’s son, Michael, took a full-time ride with McLaren in 1993 but left with three races remaining in a season marred by crashes and mechanical problems.

Scott Speed was the last American to run a full F1 season in 2006, and Alexander Rossi made the most recent F1 start by a U.S. driver in 2015. Rossi has said he has no desire to return to racing in Europe after winning the 2016 Indianapolis 500 and becoming an IndyCar championship contender.

But Mario Andretti believes Andretti Autosport has another rising star with F1-caliber ability.

“Colton Herta is one that comes to mind,” Mario Andretti said. “As a young lad, his dad sent him to Europe, he was doing Formula 3, and he knows most of the circuits there. He’s trained. He’s showed in his rookie season and won some premium races at COTA (and Laguna Seca), beat two of the very best Indy has to offer (in) Will Power and Scott Dixon.

“This is one kid I’d love to see him get a break over there to fly the U.S. colors again.”

Herta, 20, seems interested in exploring an F1 leap over the next few years. After winning Sept. 13 at Mid-Ohio from the pole position (his third career victory in the NTT IndyCar Series), the No. 88 Dallara-Honda driver is ranked fourth in the standings in his sophomore year and regarded as one of the series’ top prospects.

Herta recently told RACER.com “I’d love to give Formula 1 a crack” but said he also would be happy driving in IndyCar and IMSA.

A naturalized U.S. citizen who told Petty about spending several years with his family in an Italian refugee camp before coming to America, Mario Andretti said F1 brought an enormous sense of patriotic pride.

“Formula One is like the Olympics in a sense,” he said. “You’re in a different country, a different continent. When you earn that highest step of the podium, they play your national anthem. That’s when you take nothing for granted. You feel like I’m representing my country, and the proudest moments are those.

“I’d just like to see some other American drivers experience that. It’s time.”

Mario Andretti with four-time NASCAR champion Jeff Gordon and six-time Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton before the Nov. 22, 2015 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway (Jared C. Tilton/NASCAR via Getty Images).

During the “Coffee With Kyle” conversation, Andretti also discussed:

–His versatility as a winner in IndyCar, sports cars, NASCAR and Formula One;

–His 1967 Daytona 500 victory and how he enjoyed racing with crew chief Jake Elder at the famed Holman-Moody team;

Mario Andretti Colton Herta
Mario Andretti and Kyle Petty saluted “The King” by wearing their Richard Petty-style hats during the latest “Coffee With Kyle” (NBCSN).

–Why he delayed his entry to F1 for a few years because of his earnings power in IndyCar. “I always say I’d race for free, but at the same time, you’re thinking of family and the future,” he said. “It was in the back of your mind that you can’t give up the earning power of IndyCar. That kept me from going full time in Formula One, but I always said that sometime in my career, I’d have to devote a period to Formula One.”

–On what it was like racing in an era when driver deaths were more prevalent. “If you’re going to do this, you’re not going to dwell on those negatives,” Andretti said. “There’s no way. You knew it was present. Especially in the ‘60s at the beginning of the season at the drivers meetings, you couldn’t help but look around and say, ‘I wonder who is not going to be here at the end of the season.’ We’d lose four to five guys. In ’64, we lost six guys.

“It’s something if you dwell on that, you’re going to take on a different profession. It’s a desire and love to want to drive that overcame all that and then the confidence it’s not going to happen to me. And then you pray.”

Watch the full “Coffee With Kyle” episode in the video above or by clicking here.

Mario Andretti looks on before the 103rd Indianapolis 500 on May 26, 2019 (Chris Graythen/Getty Images).