Formula One desperately needs a different winner at the Monaco Grand Prix this weekend to maintain any semblance of suspense.
Championship leader Lewis Hamilton goes for his fifth straight win, with the F1 season taking on an air of inevitability, just like last season when Sebastian Vettel’s Red Bull dominated with crushing ease by winning the last nine races, and 13 from 19 overall.
With Mercedes unmatchable for speed, Hamilton looks like he could beat even those incredible numbers, with four-time defending champion Vettel rapidly drifting away from contention.
“The last few races have been just incredible. I honestly never expected I’d win four consecutive grands prix in my career, and I’d love to continue that run here,” Hamilton said. “The car has been strong at every race so far, and I’m sure it’ll be the same in Monaco, so we should be set for an entertaining weekend.”
Although Hamilton leads teammate Nico Robserg by only three points, that is because Hamilton retired from the season-opening Australian GP with engine trouble. Rosberg won in Melbourne, meaning Mercedes have won every race so far, and it looks like being a straight contest within Mercedes as to who wins the title.
“The championship battle is very close, and to regain the advantage at my home race would be fantastic,” said Rosberg, who grew up in Monaco and won his maiden F1 race here last year. “So I’ll be pushing harder than ever to make that happen.”
Vettel is down in fourth spot overall, and already 55 points behind Hamilton, the 2008 champ. His more realistic contest is getting the better of his new teammate, Daniel Ricciardo, who is just six points behind him.
Rule changes have blighted Red Bull Racing, who are unable to generate the same speed as before, and beset by technical glitches.
Besides switching to a 1.6-litre V6 turbo engine instead of last year’s 2.4-litre V8 engine, the rule changes focus on boosting cars’ energy recovery systems, which generate energy from braking and through waste heat from the engine. F1 has also lowered fuel to 100 kilograms per race, down from 160 kilograms, increased the car’s weight, and forced alterations to gearboxes, exhaust, wings and nose height.
Mercedes have made a far smoother transition, and are a mammoth 113 points clear of Red Bull and 131 ahead of Ferrari in the constructors’ championship.
“More than any other 2014 race, I think this event will show us the most pronounced difference between ‘old F1’ and the new formula we have,” said McLaren driver Jenson Button, the 2009 F1 champ. “There’s far less of an aerodynamic influence here; it’s just about bolting as much to the car as possible in a bid to find grip - so I think the engine’s influence will be greater.”
Over the past 12 months, only three drivers have won a race: Hamilton, Rosberg and Vettel. Some contrast to two years ago, when there was a different winner in the first seven races.
The last time F1 was so predictable was when Alain Prost, Gerhard Berger and Ayrton Senna won all the races during an 18-race period in 1987-88.
A season with just two winners, however, would be a first.
“If you look at the performance now, you wonder if it (winning all the races) could happen, but then you know there are 14 races to go,” Mercedes boss Toto Wolff told Autosport. “We haven’t had conditions in the race like safety cars at the wrong time or thunderstorms. Also they (the drivers) didn’t touch yet. So it’s much too early.”
Whoever gets pole position in Monaco usually wins, given how hard it is to overtake on the narrow, sinewy circuit, so Mercedes, who have also grabbed every pole, are odds-on to make it six consecutive wins.
“You cannot afford to make one single mistake, because you would easily crash into the railings. Overtaking is only possible with taking an extreme risk,” said Vettel, who won from pole position here in 2011. “The best place to overtake is before the harbor chicane when we exit the narrow tunnel at 300kph and race towards the first gear chicane. Other than that, it’s all about patience in Monaco.”
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