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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Lessons learned in three rounds of Extreme E pay huge dividends in the Copper X Prix for Tanner Foust

Foust Copper X Prix
McLaren Racing
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To paraphrase the Grateful Dead, what a long, unique trip it’s been for Tanner Foust in his first season with the Extreme E series as he took his early season lessons to Chile to compete in the Copper X Prix. And he’s learned his lessons well.

In February, McLaren announced they would expand their motorsports program with an Extreme E entry. They signed two talented rally drivers in Foust and Emma Gilmour – and paired them for the opening round in Neom, Saudi Arabia with just a few days of testing under their belts. Baked by the Arabian desert sun, it was trial by fire.

The duo performed well in their debut, advancing into the final round and finishing fifth. As Extreme E headed to another desert halfway across the globe for Round 4, it was a good time to catch up with Foust and ask about McLaren’s progress. The Copper X Prix was held this past weekend in one of the most extreme regions in the world: the Atacama Desert.

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“The shock going into the first race was the speed,” Foust told NBC Sports. “It was much higher than we had tested. We spent a lot of time around 100 miles per hour [in race trim] and our testing speeds were more in the 60 to 70-mile range. Then, once we sort of got around that, the car got updated so you can drive it even faster.”

In rally racing, some incidents are out of a driver’s control. Even peeking around another car can be dangerous because of potholes that have recently been gouged in the ground or large bushes that seem to sprout up between laps. A couple of rollovers brought Foust back to earth – but the pace was there and that was important.

“We had some challenges this season,” Foust said prior to the Copper X Prix. “We had a good start; made the final, which is a difficult thing to do in this series. I had two rolls in the first three events, but I have improved each time. Now we come into Round 4 in Chile in a pretty strong position. We have competitive times as a team. We are communicating really well and have our heads around this Odyssey vehicle.”

Foust’s words proved to be prophetic.

He won the Crazy Race – Extreme E’s version of a Last Chance Qualifier – and did so after passing the field. It was the same manner in which he qualified for Saudi Arabia’s finale, but this time things would be better. There were those hard-earned lessons on which to lean – and Foust had reps under his belt. He was not going to be caught off guard by any random obstacles.

Tanner Foust passed Sebastien Loeb heading to the Switch Zone in the Copper X Prix. (Photo by Sam Bagnall / LAT Images)

In the Copper X Prix finale, he pressured one of the best rally drivers in the history of the sport.

Pitching sideways through a tight left-hander late in his stint, Foust put his McLaren Extreme E Odyssey at the head of the pack in front of Sebastien Loeb as they headed to the Switch Zone. There, he would turn the car over to his co-driver Gilmour.

The Extreme E series pairs male and female drivers with both taking a turn behind the wheel.

After the driver change, Gilmour lost the lead momentarily to Loeb’s teammate Cristina Gutierrez, but as they charged toward the finish line, she surged ahead and crossed under the checkers first.

“What an improvement for the team over this year,” Foust said after the race. “We have struggled through some of the events, being in our first year in competition. We showed true pace this weekend; overtaking Sebastien Loeb was a highlight.

“Emma put in a great run in the Final. I was fortunate to go from last to first in the Crazy Race and then first in the Final but with some flag penalties, we had 20 seconds added to our time, which put us into fifth. It was a great feeling crossing the line first, I love this wide style track and the NEOM McLaren Odyssey was fantastic here.

“Hopefully we can continue that momentum into Uruguay.”

Loeb and Gutierrez were elevated to the top of the podium, but no one can take away the feeling of crossing under the checkers first.


Racing Responsibly

Since cars were first invented, racing has played a socially responsible role by improving safety. As Earth reaches a tipping point with climate change, racing needs to adapt to these new needs and requirements, which is where Extreme E’s unique strategy becomes increasingly important.

The Extreme E experience is more than simple racing. Each race is accompanied by a legacy program designed to offset damage done by climate change and to erase the footprint caused by the events.

Foust, a biology major from the University of Colorado, was given the chance to rekindle his interest and give back to the environment ahead of the Copper X Prix.

The Atacama is the oldest desert in the world at 150 million years. It is the driest place on earth and has the highest degree of ultraviolet light. And yet somehow life perseveres through underground rivers with oases dating back to Incan times. Foust participated in preparing a local habitat for the reintroduction of a critically endangered water frog to Chile’s longest river, the Loa, which snakes its way through the desert.

“I’m loving the experience,” Foust said. “I’m putting on a lot of Chapstick, a lot of sunscreen. What a fascinating part of the world. I never would have come here otherwise.

“I honestly am very honored to be a part of this sport. I am a huge believer in the fact that motorsports has done us good in the last 100 years. I think we benefit every single time we put our seatbelts on and drive down the road to the lessons learned in racing since the turn of the century. And I really hope motorsports continues that tradition.

“I think that motorsports like [Extreme E] does it in a responsible way, a gender-neutral way and a carbon-neutral way.”