If this weekend's Grand Prix was taking place at any track other than the one that uses the streets of Monte Carlo, then Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro could approach this event with the degree of confidence commensurate with a team heading both Constructors' and Drivers' points tables, having won the last four rounds of the world championship. However, the cliché image of the Principality and its famous Casino is a fitting motto for the lottery that is the Monaco Grand Prix, where the only certainty is that the race result is often unpredictable and can go against any current trend established earlier in the season.
Ferrari travels down to the Riviera having last week completed a test session at the Paul Ricard circuit, during which the first two days were devoted to preparation for this special race and its demand for the highest downforce levels of the season. As usual, this involves using a new aerodynamic package, running big wings and many other winglets and aero devices, while the F2008 will also be fitted with the slotted nose first seen in Barcelona but not used in Istanbul. While these devices are the work of the team in Maranello, another new element is one that is common to all teams, in the shape of the super-soft Bridgestone tyre, having its first outing of the year. "First impressions of the Ricard test and data analysis back at Maranello are positive," believes Team Principal Stefano Domenicali. "However, as I mentioned after our win in Istanbul, we know we are now about to tackle a pair of races - this one and Canada a fortnight later - that presented us with several problems last year. We feel we have made a significant step forward from where we were twelve months ago. Will it be enough? We will have to wait at least until the end of Thursday free practice sessions to get a clearer picture of where we stand."
Monaco has a unique charm but with it come unique problems and while facilities have much improved in the past couple of years with something approximating a "real" pit lane, the garages are still rather small and the trucks are stationed a long way away. On track, a lap of this circuit is also different to any other and this year, drivers will be tackling it without the advantage of electronic driver aids. Much has been made of the difficulties this might pose but one should remember that for most of its history, this race has been contested without the benefits of traction control and other electronic aids! On a track with absolutely no run-off area for most of its length, one element that has often played a key role is the weather, because this is one track where rain can cause chaos and a wet track is part of the scenario predicted for at least part of this coming weekend.
Last year, even though other teams were in much better shape than the Scuderia, Felipe Massa was competitive in qualifying and went on to finish a fine third, while Kimi Raikkonen has a good record here with a win in 2005 and a second place in 2003, but last year, a mistake in Q2 on Saturday effectively ruined his Sunday: he started 16th and finished eighth, but the single point he picked up that day made a big difference to the Finn when it came time to allocate the Drivers' title!
Ferrari has won in the Principality a total of eight times, but not since Michael Schumacher's 2001 victory. It is fair to say Monte Carlo has not been a happy hunting ground for the team. "We have not won here for seven years, so it would be good to reverse that trend this year," reckons Stefano Domenicali.
"For the last six of those years, a Ferrari has been the fastest car on track, but this has still not been enough to win. In fact, even in the years when we really dominated the season, such as 2002 and '04, we have been unable to secure the top slot, in the case of the latter year, because of that unusual collision between Michael and Montoya in the tunnel during a Safety Car period. This is always such a difficult event, but nevertheless we go there with the intention of winning, although well aware that it might not be possible, because of so many random events that can happen in the streets of Monaco, such as the weather, the possible intervention of the Safety Car and naturally, the importance of getting everything right in qualifying the day before."