Lewis Hamilton has arrived in Monaco just six points behind championship rival Sebastian Vettel following his victory at last Sunday’s Spanish Grand Prix.
Here, we look at the key talking points as the southern French port plays host to the most famous race on the Formula One calendar.
BUTTON IS BACK
Jenson Button, the 2009 world champion, will take centre stage in Monte Carlo this weekend as he prepares for his Formula One comeback. The 37-year-old, who called time on his career in Abu Dhabi last November, will make a one-off appearance for McLaren with Fernando Alonso in America competing at the Indianapolis 500. Button, yet to test this year’s car, will be given his first taste of action in practice on Thursday. The low-powered nature of the Monte Carlo street circuit means there will not be as much emphasis on McLaren’s lacklustre Honda engine and, as such, could play into Button’s hands. So, could the veteran Englishman spring a fairytale result on Sunday?
HAMILTON TO MATCH SENNA
Hamilton is just six points adrift of Vettel following his win in Spain to leave the championship rivals on two victories apiece this season. And the Briton is now just one pole position shy of equalling the number achieved by his boyhood hero Ayrton Senna, too. Senna is widely considered as arguably the greatest one-lap specialist of all-time, and where better than Monaco for Hamilton to match his pole tally? Senna won more races in Monte Carlo (six) than any other driver – including five consecutive victories between 1989 and 1993 – while a statue will be unveiled at the Fairmont Hotel on Wednesday to celebrate 30 years since his first win here back in 1987.
MERCEDES READY TO “BRING DOWN THE GARAGE ROOF”
Mercedes boss Toto Wolff revealed that his team’s battle with Ferrari has helped him rediscover his love for the sport. Wolff’s Mercedes team are this season bidding for a fourth consecutive drivers’ and constructors’ championship following an unprecedented run of success. But this marks the first campaign in which another team has been on a level playing field. “I love the intense competition,” said Wolff. “This competition means that you won’t be winning easily, but that you’ll have a fierce fight on your hands. The feeling is even greater when you manage to come out on top, as we did in Spain. If we get the job done in Monaco, I’m pretty sure we’ll bring down the garage roof.”
ALL EYES ON ALONSO
The eyes of the motor racing world will turn to Alonso on Sunday evening as he takes to the famous brickyard for the 101st running of the Indy 500. Around 300,000 spectators are expected to watch the two-time F1 world champion bid to complete the second phase of the so-called ‘Triple Crown’ – that of winning the Monaco Grand Prix, the Indy 500 and the Le Mans 24 hours race. Unsurprisingly, Alonso has impressed during his time in America and will start from fifth on the grid. The F1 paddock will descend on his McLaren team’s motorhome in Monaco for a special screening of the race which gets under way at 5pm BST.
HAMILTON LEADS HAYDEN TRIBUTES
Motorsport bid a tragic farewell to former MotoGP champion Nicky Hayden who died on Monday. The American, nicknamed the Kentucky Kid, collided with a car while cycling in Italy last week and succumbed to his injuries. Hamilton posted a message to his Instagram followers as Britain’s triple world champion led the tributes. “Dear Nicky, you will be missed,” he wrote. “May God hold you high, you are forever in our hearts. My thoughts and prayers to you and your loved ones.”
Jenson Button believes he is ready for his return to Formula One as he prepares for the Monaco Grand Prix.
The 2009 world champion, who last competed in November 2016, will replace Fernando Alonso at McLaren for Sunday’s race, with the Spaniard absent due to his involvement in the Indianapolis 500.
Button admits it is strange to be driving again but he is eagerly anticipating being out on the street circuit in the principality.
The 37-year-old said: “It feels slightly surreal to be back in the cockpit.”
“When the call came there was no hesitation – it’s a totally unique situation and a great opportunity.”
“Although I haven’t turned a wheel on track yet in the MCL32, I feel well prepared.”
“I’m looking forward to working with the team again and, as I’ll be on the other side of the garage this time around, I’ll do my best to look after the car for Fernando.”
This weekend’s race will be Button’s 17th Monaco Grand Prix.
He took the chequered flag during his 2009 championship-winning season and also achieved podium finishes in 2004 and 2011.
The Northamptonshire circuit’s executive director Stuart Pringle has raised issues with the costs involved in hosting the race weekend and is unsure whether Silverstone can continue after the current contract expires.
Pringle told the Guardian: “I sincerely hope it won’t be the end of grand prix racing at Silverstone but we’ve made clear to the Formula One management we can’t live with the present contract beyond 2019.”
Triple world champion Lewis Hamilton’s success has attracted record crowds at Silverstone in recent years.
But the demands of the hosting fee, which goes up by five per cent every year – from £12million in 2010, to £17m this year and £26m in 2026 – has placed a heavy burden on the circuit’s owners.
New owners Liberty Media hope to put plans in place to attract more fans to the sport, but Pringle stressed this was not a current issue at Silverstone.
“We are pretty much a full house and we are charging pretty much a full price and we still can’t make the sums add up,” Pringle added.
“Liberty have got some great ideas and we support their plans for a better show and fan experience. But they will likely take years to produce a significant benefit to the circuits and we haven’t got the luxury of time. We need to deal in certainties and not possibilities.”
Earlier this year, former F1 world champion Damon Hill, who was president of the British Racing Drivers’ Club (BRDC) in 2009 when it signed a 17-year deal to keep the race at Silverstone, called on the UK Government to back the event financially or risk losing one of the country’s best ”shop windows”.
In January he told Press Association Sport: ”This is a much-loved national event but, for whatever reason, it has always been very difficult to get additional funding from government.
”Maybe now is the time to look at the British Grand Prix in the context of what is happening elsewhere and realise that it is an extremely good shop window for waving our banner and pointing to our brilliance in this field.
”When you think about post-Brexit Britain, you must wonder if this is exactly the type of thing we need to invest in to show off what we can do.”