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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Tom Blomqvist keeps eye on IndyCar during impressive rise: ‘ I would love to give it a go’

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – In between two of his latest superstar-driver-in-waiting performances, Tom Blomqvist walked through the Daytona International Speedway garage in anonymity.

“Nobody knows who the (expletive) I am,” he said to a team member with a laugh (and without a trace of being miffed), evincing the cheeky humor of someone born in England, raised in New Zealand and also of Swedish descent.

The lack of recognition in the garage might have been because he was clad in a relatively nondescript shirt, hat and sunglasses instead of a colorful firesuit covered by sponsor logos. But he also was on the way to a Friday race eve media availability where his entrance was greeted by only one reporter (after a few minutes).

During a news conference a day earlier, he sat patiently on the dais while his Indy 500-winning teammates and car owner fielded nearly all the questions – even though Blomqvist had turned maybe the most impressive lap of the month to win the Rolex 24 at Daytona pole position in the debut of the Grand Touring Prototype category.

The Meyer Shank Racing driver still might lack the attention commensurate with his already world-class CV (which expanded Sunday with his second consecutive Rolex 24  victory for MSR), but Blomqvist, 29, clearly isn’t bothered by it.

He carries the quiet confidence of knowing his immense talent will ensure results that will make him impossible to ignore.

“To a degree, I guess, it’s definitely ramped up a lot for me,” Blomqvist told NBC Sports. “In America, I’m starting to get a lot more (attention). In the last year, I’ve quite often got a lot of maybe what you’d call the glory moments. It’s been fun. And within the paddock, there’s a lot of respect for me anyway. It’s been good.”

There have been several moments of acclaim since he joined MSR barely a year ago in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship. In his first start for the team at last year’s Rolex 24, Blomqvist turned in a Herculean performance to position the No. 60 Acura for the victory (giving way to Helio Castroneves because he was too “cooked” to complete the last 74 minutes).

He was even better this year at Daytona.

He ripped off a monster “one and done” pole-winning lap to beat the clock in qualifying on the 12-turn, 3.56-mile road course. During the race, Blomqvist was as dominant in his first stint as his last in the ARX-06 while taking the checkered flag. He set the mark for the fastest time on Lap 6 that no one topped over the final 755 laps.

The 10 fastest laps in the race belonged to Blomqvist, carrying over his speed from the 2022 when he won the Petit Le Mans season finale to clinch the premier prototype championship at Michelin Road Atlanta.

A year earlier at the same track, he had burst onto the radar of car owner Mike Shank, who was intrigued by Blomqvist’s results as a BMW factory driver in the Formula E and DTM series. In 2014, Blomqvist also finished between second in F3, between champion Esteban Ocon (now with Alpine’s F1 team) and Max Verstappen (who has won the past two Formula One championships).

“He did a lot of high-level stuff, and then kind of fell out of favor, or I don’t know what happened, but he was a free agent,” Shank said. “I started looking at his numbers, and I’m like, ‘We should test this guy. So I take him to Road Atlanta in the fall of ’21, and he got in the car and just slayed it.”

Within minutes, he had called co-owner Jim Meyer.

“I’ve got our guy,” Shank said. “This is our guy. There’s no question about it.

Honda Performance Development president David Salters hugs Tom Blomqvist after the Rolex 24 at Daytona pole (Mike Levitt/LAT/IMSA).

“Now what’s happened, though, and I think if you look back at the Rolex here last year (and) what he did, he’s a gold nugget. He reminds me a little bit when (Robert) Wickens came into IndyCar out of DTM (as a rookie in 2018).

“He truly believes he’s the fastest guy out there, and he proved it (at the Rolex 24).”

Said David Salters, president for Honda Performance Development: “We love Tom. He’s the real deal, isn’t he? Immensely talented, super smart, and on it.

The great thing about our teams, the strength in depth is tremendous. But if you look through the sports car racing now, that’s the standard you have to have. Tom, brilliant, Filipe (Albuquerque), brilliant. Ricky (Taylor). You can go through that list. They’re all superstars. Tom is awesome. His lap in qualifying quite frankly was unbelievable.”


Having conquered one of the world’s greatest endurance races twice with Acura, Blomqvist could be ticketed for the world’s biggest race next – the Indy 500 — with HPD’s primary brand.

He tested a Dallara-Honda for MSR last October at Sebring International Raceway, and while he plans to focus solely on IMSA this season, he remains very intrigued by IndyCar.

And with Castroneves, 47, beginning a one-year deal with MSR’s IndyCar team, there could be an obvious opening in 2024.

“Obviously, it’s not in the cards this year,” Blomqvist told NBC Sports the day before the Rolex. “Yeah, I would love to give it a go. To be honest, I think that would be an amazing step for me in my career. I enjoy the sports car stuff so much. It’s been really good to me lately. I really enjoyed the style of racing.

“But I feel like IndyCar would be a step up for me and my career. It would be fantastic if I could get that opportunity. But yeah, I guess I have to keep pushing Mike or something to give me a shot. But obviously for now, the focus is here in the sports car stuff. It’s not really down to me at the end of the day. And I’ve got to do my job and then the people who pay the bills and make the decisions obviously have to decide if that’s something worth pursuing.

“But yeah, I’d love to give it a go, and I definitely would be up for it.”

Tom Blomqvist after winning the Rolex 24 at Daytona pole on the final qualifying lap (Mike Levitt/LAT/IMSA).

A transition from IMSA to IndyCar naturally would be easier than switching teams, but it also would be comfortable because Blomqvist already seems such a good fit at MSR.

It might have seemed an unusual pairing given his European-heavy background, but Blomqvist likes the Midwestern culture that’s been built at MSR. Based just outside Columbus, Ohio, the team’s shop has “no egos, and that just enables each and every one of to reach our potential.

“Obviously, with Honda, we obviously have some great resources, but we’re up against Porsche, BMW and some big heavy hitters in the motorsports world,” he said. “I wouldn’t say we’ve got a huge team compared to them, but we’ve obviously got a very capable team, and I think that’s what has been so impressive and really, really nice to see about the work that’s been done. No stone has been left unturned.”


Blomqvist still is living in Europe and planning to commute for the nine-race GTP schedule (which has a nearly two-month break after the Rolex 24 until the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring). But though he’s “got good friends in America, so I do have places to stay,” he seems open to being based more permanently near MSR in America.

“Let’s see what the future brings, and if that means me spending more time over here,” he said. “It’s a fantastic team. It’s a different environment to what I’m used to. It’s obviously now a hugely successful team, but it is a small team. It does feel like a very small family-operated team, which it is.

“I think Mike’s really just built this thing. It hasn’t happened overnight. Mike’s a great guy and put a lot of trust and faith in me, and I played a relatively good part in some of the success last year. I was able to reward him and give him my all every time I’m on track, and he respects that. But we are still a small team. In the grand scheme of things, we still are a really, really small team.”

Blomqvist said the BMW factory program would have two or three times the staffing of MSR – just on one of its two GTP cars.

“But it’s not the number of people that makes a difference, it’s the quality of people, and obviously Mike and HPD are a fantastic operation to go racing,” Blomqvist said. “We’re racers at heart.

“I’ve been part of some big outfits, and the European way of working is very, very different to how people go about racing in America. I’d say it’s more seat of your pants. A lot of emotion and kind of rides on that competitive spirt, competitive nature and on their personalities. It’s a lot more pure. It feels very pure. You want to win, so we go out and don’t cut corners on trying to win.”

Though it’s aligned with Liberty Media and has big-budget backing and support from Honda Performance Development, MSR also is much less corporate than most GTP teams.

A longtime and respected team owner who has built a sponsor portfolio, Shank also describes his maniacal dedication to success as “messed up,” and he’s known for dropping vulgarities into postrace interview with his blunt and self-deprecating sense of humor.

Meyer Shank Racing co-owner Mike Shank congratulates Tom Blomqvist on the Rolex 24 at Daytona pole position (Mike Levitt/LAT/IMSA).

With a more laid-back but sometimes just as biting demeanor, Blomqvist has become the team’s unquestioned leader behind the wheel

“I definitely feel a lot more immersed,” he said. “Within the team, I was a bit more of an unknown quantity the start of last year. Obviously after last season, the team trusts me a lot. And that gives me a lot of pleasure, pride and confidence. In this sport, confidence is a huge aspect of drivers’ psychology in a way. We’re in extremely high-pressure moments where my job is to perform under the pressure of these organizations and the brand as well.

“It’s just a good, healthy team to be a part of. It’s a high-pressure environment, but the team obviously have put a lot of faith in me, and I’ve been able to deliver for them on occasions.”

Rolex 24 starting lineup
Tom Blomqvist celebrates after winning the pole in the No. 60 Acura ARX-06 (Mike Levitt/LAT/IMSA).