The excitement is back at the Monte Carlo circuit. On trains, on streets and sidewalks, people swarmed everywhere across the emirate on Friday. In 2020, the Grand Prix was canceled due to Corona, and in 2021, Formula 1 returned in a thinner frame. So now the program is complete again with full stands. Ferrari red, Red Bull blue, Mercedes silver, McLaren orange, Aston Martin green, touches of color splashed everywhere among the characteristic rows of homes on the Cote d’Azur. The path meanders through town along the harbor, where luxury yachts have become a party hot spot. Monaco symbolizes the magic and tradition of racing. As early as 1950 I drove Formula 1 here, with the curves bearing evocative names like Sainte-Devote, Mirabeau and Rascasse. Will the title fight be expanded by a lead actor here?
A week ago in Barcelona, Mercedes forced people to sit down and pay attention. A team that hasn’t been known to report at all in recent years. Mercedes has won the constructors’ championship eight times in a row, and from 2014 to 2020, the star driver has always won the world championship, until seven-times champion Lewis Hamilton was narrowly and controversially knocked out in the last race by Max Verstappen last season.
Contrary to what had been hoped, revenge is made more difficult by changes in regulations that will come into effect in 2022. Mercedes has been self-indulgent thus far and has been mediocre in the face of results. The W13, the new model, was sometimes described as “indestructible”, the car’s rebound causing problems for pilots, and even Verstappen at Imola Hamilton crashed it. Motorsports head Toto Wolff made comments like post-Grand Prix in Saudi Arabia when he said it was all about not being left behind.
Mercedes undoubtedly received an extra boost from Barcelona
But now Mercedes has clearly taken another step forward, the upgrades have had the desired effect. Cars jumped under control – and the speed is decreasing. Up front, George Russell had a thrilling duel with Verstappen for laps, between the 24-year-old who drove him to finally finish third, his second podium finish in 2022. After an early pit stop, Hamilton also worked his way up to a fifth place. Had there been no water leakage, he would have taken fourth place.
The Englishman later said the race to catch up was a win for him. Referring to Red Bull, he said, “It gives me great hope that we can fight with them again in the future.” This result is a sign that the team is developing in the right direction. In the constructors’ championship, Mercedes finished third with 120 points after six races, behind Ferrari (169) and Red Bull (195). Hamilton is sixth (46), Russell in third (74), and Verstappen is ahead despite failing twice with 110 points, directly ahead of Monaco Charles Leclerc (104). So there’s still a long way to go before we fight at eye level, but the Silver Arrows are getting close.
In Monte Carlo, Hamilton should continue to comment on Mercedes’ improved chances of success. Did the new speed surprise him? “Ah yes, we weren’t expecting that.” Does he feel that he now has a car in which he can fight for the world championship? “I don’t know, it’s too early to tell. We know the car has potential.” Could Mercedes be the surprise of the weekend? “I mean, I hope so!” Hamilton has climbed the podium seven times in Monaco, three times as a winner. Recently, the 37-year-old managed to establish himself on the shortest route with the lowest average speeds on the calendar in 2019. This makes him one of the most successful drivers on the street circuit, with Ayrton Senna topping the list with six races.
“I hope they can join the fight for victories,” says Ferrari’s Leclerc.
BUT: The slow curves weren’t the W13’s greatest strength. In general, the question arises of how heavier and larger cars with wider tires can be steered in the tight and demanding circuit. The changing design makes it more difficult to navigate. “My heart was beating faster in the simulator than on some tracks in the real car to show how brutal it is,” Russell said. “The Circuit de Monaco does not bring out the best in cars.” In addition, it may rain on Sunday. To be on the safe side, Wolff cautioned up front: “The expectations are lower than on any other track,” but he also said, “This year we’ve seen anything can happen and we’ll try to take every opportunity.”
His team undoubtedly received an extra boost from Barcelona. The competition has noticed, too. “It’s been a tough start to the season, but for me there is no doubt that they will be back very soon,” Leclerc said before kicking off at his home Grand Prix. “As they showed in Barcelona, they have taken a huge step forward and I hope they can join the fight for victories. The three-way fight should be exciting for Formula 1.”
Will the duo Red Bull and Ferrari soon become a trio? The rule changes were intended to achieve exactly that: a more exciting competition. Evidence in the form of victories is still pending. But Helmut Marko, head of motorsports at Red Bull, predicted in Spain: “The World Cup will still be very close, and the fight continues. And as we have seen, Mercedes is getting close, at some point they will be able to drive in the front on their own.” In any case, George Russell is sure: “Our season begins in Barcelona.”