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Walter Buchignani: It's Time To Crown The Formula One Champion

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It’s time once more for the glamour event of the Formula One season — the Monaco Grand Prix — and not a moment too soon.

If we’re lucky, all that glitter will distract from the grey skies ahead.

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Well, more like silver than grey. As in Mercedes silver. You get the picture.

Of course, for a while there, the picture was not so clear. It was not so many weeks ago many pundits believed the 2018 campaign would be painted Ferrari red, after Sebastian Vettel rode to victory at the first two races.

There was also sporadic evidence of a possible Red Bull revival, highlighted by Daniel Ricciardo’s improbable win at the third stop, in China.

The sequence marked the first time since the introduction of turbo-hybrid engines in 2014 that Mercedes struck out at the first three races of the season, raising the tantalizing prospect of a three-way championship battle.

Then, in Azerbaijan, Lewis Hamilton finally broke the drought with his lucky win at the expense of teammate Valtteri Bottas, who suffered that cruel puncture while leading with three laps to go.

So, with the Silver Arrows back at the front in Baku, the question became: blip, or a return to reality?

It’s not hard to see why the Monaco Grand Prix is the glamour event of the Formula One season. Peter Fox / Getty Images

It’s too soon to know, of course. But for what it’s worth, the results of race No. 5 — the Spanish Grand Prix two weekends ago — make the second scenario seem more likely at this early juncture of the campaign.

One Grand Prix doesn’t make a season, but there is no better litmus test in F1 than the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, whose mix of long straights and variety of turns makes it the most representative of all tracks. It’s a big reason why the venue serves as F1’s main testing ground.

Sure enough, the results of the May 13 event could not have been more representative of what we’ve come to expect in these last few years: the two Mercedes followed by the two Ferraris followed by the two Red Bulls.

Talk about paint-by-numbers.

Similarly, the championship standings look all-too-familiar. Hamilton scored his second straight win in Barcelona and leads Vettel by 17 points atop the drivers’ table, while Mercedes is 27 points ahead of Ferrari in the chase for the constructors’ crown.

At the other end of the spectrum, the Spanish weekend confirmed Williams’ status as the slowest outfit on the grid, with Lance Stroll qualifying second-to-last, just in front of teammate Sergey Sirotkin. Eesh.

At least Stroll made up several places on race day as a half-dozen drivers were forced to retire because of collisions or other mishaps. The Montreal native finished 11th, one spot out of the points.

Clearly, Stroll must continue to count on the misfortune of others if he hopes to make an impression in Monte Carlo this weekend and — more important — at his home Grand Prix at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in two weeks.

Lance Stroll during practice for the Monaco Grand Prix. Team Williams sits last in the constructors’ standings. Mark Thompson / Getty Images

Even the likes of Ferrari and Red Bull will have to make the most of extenuating circumstances to keep Mercedes within reach, whether these take the form of retirements, driving errors, wonky weather, flawed strategies or a combination of all of the above.

In other words, as things stand — and no one says they can’t change — Mercedes appears to be as unbeatable as ever.

Of course, there is another factor that can disrupt the usual running order: the track itself. Which brings us to Monte Carlo.

Of all the venues, the tight and twisty circuit around the streets of the principality — famously described as trying to ride your bike in your living room — is the least favourable for the powerful Silver Arrows.

As McLaren-Honda’s Fernando Alonso aptly put it this week, “Monaco is one of those tracks that tends to level the playing field a little and it’s a bit like throwing dice.”

It should not come as a big surprise, then, that Red Bull topped the time sheets during Thursday’s two practice sessions, with Ricciardo ahead of teammate Max Verstappen both times.

Last year’s event was won by Vettel while Hamilton could manage only seventh after qualifying 14th. It was the only Grand Prix in 2017 where neither Mercedes driver finished on the podium.

As for the 2018 edition, “I do anticipate it will be a difficult weekend,” Hamilton told a news conference on Wednesday.

Heaven knows, F1 can use more of those.

AT A GLANCE: Live coverage of qualifying for the Monaco Grand Prix airs Saturday at 8 a.m. on TSN 5, 8:55 a.m. on TSN 1, 4 and 8:45 a.m. on RDS. Race coverage airs Sunday at 7:30 a.m. on TSN 4, 5 and 8:30 a.m. on RDS.


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Source : http://montrealgazette.com/sports/auto-racing/walter-buchignani-formula-one-rolls-the-dice-in-monaco

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