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F1 Preview: 2018 Monaco Grand Prix

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The Sunday of Memorial Day Weekend continues its traditional place on the motorsports calendar as perhaps the biggest weekend of the year, with three marquee events all happening on the same day.

The Coca Cola 600, the 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500, and the Monaco Grand Prix are all crown jewel events in their respective series, and things kickoff in the principality on Sunday morning.

Monaco, the “Grandest Grand Prix of all,” is exactly that…grand. Lined with multi-million-dollar yachts, over-the-top luxurious buildings, and a who’s who of the rich and famous, and it’s hard to imagine an event with more glitz and glamor.

But don’t be too distracted by the spectacle – there is a race to be run, and a pivotal one at that.

A Monaco victory is considered to be one third of the international racing “triple crown” – joined by the Indianapolis 500 and the 24 Hours of Le Mans. As such, winning this race carries the most weight of any Formula 1 Grand Prix, and a victory here can help make a driver’s career.

Key talking points are below.

Get Hyped…for Hypersofts

Pirelli’s newest compound, the hypersoft tires, make their race debut this weekend in Monaco.

Teams have already sampled the hypersoft tires at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, both during pre-season testing and during a two-day test there following the Spanish Grand Prix.

All F1 teams have loaded up on the pink-sidewall tires, meaning they will be the tire to have all weekend long. Expect lap records to be obliterated this weekend.

Ferrari Looks to Rebound from Spanish Grand Prix Drubbing

MONTMELO, SPAIN – MAY 13: Sebastian Vettel of Germany driving the (5) Scuderia Ferrari SF71H on track during the Spanish Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit de Catalunya on May 13, 2018 in Montmelo, Spain. (Photo by Charles Coates/Getty Images)

At the Spanish Grand Prix, for the first time all year, Ferrari was genuinely outpaced by Mercedes. In fact, Ferrari was thoroughly outpaced by Mercedes, with Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas qualifying 1-2 and then cruising to a 1-2 in the race.

Sebastian Vettel meanwhile, was left in fourth when a decision to pit for new tires under a Safety Car allowed Red Bull Racing’s Max Verstappen up into third, and Vettel was never able to get back around. Teammate Kimi Raikkonen, in the sister SF71H, retired after 25 laps with a turbo problem.

Last year, Ferrari swept the Monaco front row, with Raikkonen on pole, while Vettel emerged as the race winner, ahead of Raikkonen in what was a 1-2 for Ferrari.

The Monaco track will well be better suited to the Ferrari design, so expect them to bounce back with vigor this weekend.

Red Bull Racing a Genuine Threat for Victory?

MONTMELO, SPAIN – MAY 13: Max Verstappen of the Netherlands driving the (33) Aston Martin Red Bull Racing RB14 TAG Heuer leads Daniel Ricciardo of Australia driving the (3) Aston Martin Red Bull Racing RB14 TAG Heuer on track during the Spanish Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit de Catalunya on May 13, 2018 in Montmelo, Spain. (Photo by Charles Coates/Getty Images)

On pace, Red Bull is somewhat down to Ferrari and Mercedes. But, their strength is in slow-speed corners. And with slow-speed corners in abundance around the principality of Monaco, Red Bull could be a legitimate threat on pace.

“There are mainly a lot of slow speed corners in Monaco. This last sector has been really good for us (in Barcelona), so I expect a good weekend in Monaco if we can find the right set up,” said Max Verstappen in a story posted on Crash.net.

Verstappen added, “Looking at the last sector (in Barcelona) and then looking at Monaco with the type of corners there, I think we have a very good chance, yes.”

Red Bull has triumphed before at Monaco, taking three straight wins between 2010 and 2012 with Mark Webber (2010 and 2012) and Sebastian Vettel (2011). And, a 2016 victory with Daniel Ricciardo appeared to be for the taking before a pitstop error gave the advantage to Mercedes and Lewis Hamilton.

Don’t be surprised if either Verstappen or Ricciardo has the speed to fight for a victory.

Welcome Back Alonso!

MONTMELO, SPAIN – MAY 11: Fernando Alonso of Spain and McLaren F1 walks in the Paddock after practice for the Spanish Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit de Catalunya on May 11, 2018 in Montmelo, Spain. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

Fernando Alonso returns to Monaco after a year’s absence due to his appearance in the 2017 Indianapolis 500.

His Renault-powered 2018 McLaren MCL33 appears to be a much sharper tool than last year’s Honda-powered MCL32, but that doesn’t mean Alonso enters the weekend expecting big results.

Indeed, the McLaren package is still only good enough to be a mid-field contender, albeit at the sharp end of the mid-field as Alonso has three finishes of seventh, one finish of fifth, and one finish of eighth in five races so far, meaning he has scored points in every outing.

Of course, Monaco’s infamous nature as a tough track to make passes on means qualifying will be at a premium, and that has been one of the McLaren’s pitfalls in 2018 – it was not until the last race in Spain that Alonso broke into Q3 for the first time all year.

However, McLaren brought a slew of updates to the MCL33 in Spain, and Alonso hopes the improved form will carry over into Monaco.

“Monaco is one of those tracks that tends to level the playing field a little and it’s a bit like throwing a dice,” he detailed in a piece on Crash.net. “As we saw in Spain, even if you qualify well it doesn’t mean you won’t fall victim to drama which can change things around.”

Alonso finished, “So, we need to maximize everything on Saturday, and then fight hard on Sunday to earn as many points as possible.”

The weekend schedule in Monaco is slightly different from a usual weekend. Practice opens on Thursday, not Friday – Friday is actually an off day for the team. But, Saturday and Sunday get back to the usual routine.

Qualifying rolls off 8:55 a.m. ET on Saturday 5/26, with Sunday’s race rolling off at 9:00 a.m. ET.

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Formula One: Haas fighting for ‘best of the rest’ in Year 3

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AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — The third season for Haas F1 has been its best, even if it’s been a bit bizarre.

Formula One’s only U.S.-based team has scored the most points in its young history and overcome some serious bumbles early to compete with – and beat – some of the legacy team names in F1.

Haas heads into this week’s U.S. Grand Prix in a tough season-ending fight with Renault for the “best of the rest” title among the teams outside of the Big Three of Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull.

“It’s the best battle of the field. It’s very tight. It’s going to go to the last lap of the race in Abu Dhabi, while I think the world championship is probably going to go this weekend,” said Haas’ French driver Romain Grosjean, who signed with the team before their first season.

“To rise as quickly as we’ve done hasn’t been seen in Formula One, I don’t think,” said his Danish teammate Kevin Magnussen.

Haas launched with a surprise in 2016 and has been rising ever since.

Haas scored points in its first race in 2016, and in 2017 had both cars finish in the top 10 for the first time at Monte Carlo, the biggest race on the annual calendar. A strong run over the last 10 races of this season has Haas just eight points behind Renault in the race for fourth place with four races left.

The 2018 season looks to finish better than it started.

After Haas scored the team’s best-ever qualifying at the season-opening Australian Grand Prix, neither car finished the race. Magnussen and Grosjean both left pit stops on consecutive laps with unsecured wheels and had to stop. The team was fined for sending the cars out in unsafe conditions.

“That was extremely, extremely disappointing” Magnussen said “We are still showing signs of immaturity at certain moments.”

Other problems followed. A month later in Azerbaijan, Grosjean fought his way from the back row into sixth before he drove straight into the wall while following a safety car. Grosjean felt horrible, but blamed one of the season’s most bizarre incidents on an errant flip of a steering wheel switch that he said upset the car’s brake balance and sent him spinning into the barrier.

More valuable points were lost in Italy when the floor of Grosjean’s car was deemed illegal and he was disqualified from sixth place. Haas appealed and is awaiting a decision on points that would close the gap with Renault with a stroke of a pen. Despite the gaffes, Grosjean has finished in the top 10 four times in the last seven races.

“I got eight points stolen in Monza,” Grosjean said. “The results are coming with the kind of performance Haas signed me for in the first place.”

After the problems, Grosjean admitted it was a relief to extend his contract with Haas for 2019. He and Magnussen will be teammates again.

“When I joined, I didn’t know what Haas was going to be. I think they gave me some credit for that when I had a tough time earlier this year and turned things around, Grosjean said.

Haas Team Principal Guenther Steiner said he and team owner Gene Haas saw value in staying with drivers who knew the Haas cars.

“Just to change a driver for the same level of skill, you go backward,” Steiner said. “There’s not a lot of better drivers out there, so why should we change them? Stay the same and mature quicker.”

The question now is how high can Haas go?

The Haas business model – which has drawn complaints from its middle-of-the-pack rivals – has it buying parts and engines, most notably from Ferrari. It keeps costs down but creates a performance ceiling that Haas is unlikely to break through.

“We are not developing parts for our car,” Grosjean said. “So far it hasn’t been a problem. If one day we start to beat Ferrari, it’s not going to work.”

Steiner said a top three finish isn’t realistic, not against teams with much bigger budgets, development and staff.

“The first year we didn’t finish last, the second year we didn’t finish last and now we are fighting for fourth. We must be doing something right,” Steiner said. “How do we get to that next step? Where do we go from here? Right now, there is no answer.”

That can be the frustrating part of an otherwise very good season.

A taste of success begs for more. For the 26-year-old Magnussen, he can be good with Haas, maybe even the “best of the rest.” But that’s a career definition no driver wants.

“It’s been six years since I won a race in motorsport,” Magnussen said. “I miss winning. Badly.”