Lewis Hamilton continues to play waiting game and other talking points ahead of Monaco Grand Prix

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Sebastian Vettel led a Ferrari one-two in Monaco last year.

The Formula One circus this week heads to the south of France for the blue-riband Monaco Grand Prix.

Defending champion Lewis Hamilton will be bidding to consolidate his 17-point lead over rival Sebastian Vettel.

Here, Press Association Sport takes a look at the key talking points ahead of the sixth round of this season’s championship.

Mercedes fear rivals will be streets ahead

Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes returned to their dominant best at the last round in Barcelona, but the world champions fear this week’s grand prix in Monaco could be a case of damage limitation. The slow-speed nature of the Monte Carlo street track is one, alongside the Hungaroring and Singapore’s Marina Bay circuit, which does not suit their car, and Mercedes boss Toto Wolff reckons his team will be playing catch-up to both Ferrari and Red Bull.

Wolff’s gloomy prediction, which he revealed in Mercedes’ pre-race press release, is deliberate in the sense that it lowers expectations and makes any result higher than fifth appear a reasonable weekend.

But after two wins on the bounce, both Hamilton and Mercedes will not want to give up the momentum which could prove pivotal in this year’s championship race.

Could Red Bull be the dark horse?

Sebastian Vettel has been installed as favourite to end his three-race winning drought (the German has not featured on the podium since he won in Bahrain at the start of April), but the smart money could be on Red Bull. Both Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo (4/1 to win) are certainly worth a punt given that the Monte Carlo layout is one not reliant on engine power.

The Red Bulls also looked superior in the slow-speed final section of Barcelona’s Circuit de Catalunya, while their only pole position of the post-2013 hybrid era was secured by Ricciardo at Monaco back two years ago. The Australian should have gone on to win before Red Bull messed up his pit stop.

Vettel may have led Kimi Raikkonen home in a Ferrari one-two last year, but do not be surprised if the Red Bulls are the team to beat at the principality this weekend.

Red Bull are strong candidates to pick up the win at Monaco.

Red Bull are strong candidates to pick up the win at Monaco.

A fresh face at McLaren

Following a series of recent changes to the management structure at McLaren, it was revealed on Monday that Canadian businessman Michael Latifi has parted with an estimated £203.8million to become a 10 per cent shareholder in the under-performing British group. Latifi is the first new shareholder at McLaren since long-standing Ron Dennis parted company at the end of 2016.

Latifi’s son Nicholas races in F1’s feeder series Formula Two, and is also a reserve driver at Force India, but it is understood the deal will not pave the way for him to race for the Woking constructor.

Nicholas Latifi has been on the fringes of the F1 since 2016.

Nicholas Latifi has been on the fringes of the F1 since 2016.

Hamilton continues to play waiting game

Hamilton’s future beyond this season continues to simmer away in the background with the 33-year-old British driver yet to commit to a new contract. Both parties had suggested the deal would be concluded before the season opener in Australia, but two months later, and we still await news.

Publicly, Hamilton and Mercedes insist there are no problems, while it seems improbable that the Brit will be racing anywhere else in 2019, so why the delay?

Image rights, money and length of the contract are all potential sticking points, but the longer the wait goes on, the bigger a distraction it will become for both Hamilton and his team.

What's keeping Hamilton's contract?

What’s keeping Hamilton’s contract?

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Watch: Felipe Massa unveiled as new Formula E star with Team Venturi

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Felipe Massa has announced he will join the Formula E championship next season.

Massa, the Brazilian who competed in 269 grands prix and was pipped to the 2008 Formula One world title by Lewis Hamilton, is to race for the Venturi team.

The 37-year-old retired from F1 at the end of last year and is the most established name to make the move to the all-electric series.

Massa, who was in Barcelona’s Circuit de Catalunya paddock last week during the Spanish Grand Prix, will begin testing later this month.

The new Formula E season gets under way later this year.

“For some years now, I’ve been clear about my interest in this innovative, forward-looking discipline that’s developing exponentially,” said Massa, who has signed a three-year deal.

“I especially like the format of race meetings, the city-centre circuits and the contact with the fans.

“I’m very happy to be joining the Venturi Formula E Team and the Formula E championship, which has become a magnificent competition in such a short space of time. I can’t wait to take part in testing at the end of the month.

“The team is in a phase of growth and development. I’ll do everything I can to contribute to the project and hopefully I’ll be among the front-runners.”

Hamilton’s former rival Nico Rosberg will showcase the next generation of Formula E car ahead of this week’s race in Berlin.

Rosberg, who retired five days after beating Hamilton to the 2016 championship, is a shareholder in the FIA-accredited series but has no plans to compete.

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Ferrari can offer no further excuses if we want to win world title, says Sebastian Vettel

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Sebastian Vettel has said Ferrari can offer no further excuses if they want to wrestle the championship momentum back from Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes.

Hamilton claimed his second victory in as many races in Spain, while Vettel finished only fourth to fall 17 points behind the Briton in this year’s title race.

Ferrari had arrived in Barcelona as the class of the 2018 field, but Hamilton has led the Mercedes fightback this weekend after winning from pole on Sunday.

Vettel’s Ferrari team have struggled to adapt to Pirelli’s new thinner tyre this weekend, and the German was the only driver of the front-runners who had to stop for fresh rubber twice.

He was running in second but lost two places to Valtteri Bottas and then Max Verstappen during a sluggish stop to cross the line in fourth position.

Ferrari’s strategy appeared curious, given that Vettel conceded track position at a circuit where it is difficult to overtake, but the German claimed he was left with little alternative.

And to add insult to injury for Ferrari, Kimi Raikkonen failed to score any points after he was forced to retire following his second engine failure of the weekend.

“Our tyres didn’t last as long as the others, so we couldn’t follow the same strategy as them,” Vettel said.

“We had to stop again and we obviously lost two positions, and also a bit of time during the pit-stop itself, but staying out was not an option.

“There were three things this weekend. One, we were not quick enough and if we are not able to see then we are more than blind.

“Secondly, we struggled with the tyres. Thirdly, it was a poor weekend in terms of reliability. If we don’t see those issues then there are no excuses.

“But the bottom line is that we are not quick enough today to win, and that is what needs to be addressed.”

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