Five big Monaco GP questions: the biggest qualifying battle in years and risk of rain?

Sam Cooper
Toto Wolff, Charles Leclerc and James Vowles

Monaco is back on the calendar for its 70th edition in F1.

Formula 1 returns to the streets of Monte Carlo for the 70th edition of the Monaco Grand Prix, but what should you be on the look-out for?

Monaco is the marmite circuit of F1 with some hating it while some regarding it as the sport’s crown jewel. But while the on-track action is limited, here are a few things to monitor.

Can McLaren or Ferrari snatch advantage on Saturday?

Additional reporting by Pablo Hidalgo

After a race that went from dull to nail biting in the closing stages at Imola, we arrive at the Monaco circuit where, as usual in recent times, Saturday’s qualifying session will be key to determining the outcome of the race.

With McLaren in steady progression and, arguably, a better car than Red Bull at the moment, Monaco qualifying looks set to be a thriller. Will anyone finally be able to stop Max Verstappen after equalling the all-time record for most consecutive pole positions?

McLaren’s progress has been surprisingly positive. The work of the whole team on track and back at the Woking factory is outstanding. So much so that in just the last three rounds of the season, McLaren has cut more than four-tenths of a second off Red Bull.

Ferrari, on the other hand, is somewhat stagnant in this respect. The SF-24 has produced positive results, but in race pace. Qualifying is one area where the Italians are struggling this season and it is clear to see how this compares to their results before Monaco last season.

Ferrari has lost some distance to Red Bull in qualifying compared to last year, 69 thousandths of a second to be precise. But this is not due to a bad job from the Maranello based team, who would obviously prefer to have a better one-lap performance, but because the car’s philosophy this year is to be competitive in the race.

Meanwhile, McLaren has made a giant leap forward in one year. The British team has improved its qualifying performance by 0.909 seconds over Red Bull. The average gap to the Milton Keynes outfit has been reduced to +0.331s at this stage compared to +1.240s last year before arriving at Monaco.

And all this is taking into account that Red Bull has also made progress and has not stagnated.

But what can we expect in Monaco in terms of qualifying performance? Based on the data and what we saw just a few days ago in Imola, we have to be somewhat cautious when drawing conclusions.

At Imola the teams were able to play with different set-ups: Red Bull opted for a less wing loaded car than McLaren and Ferrari, McLaren chose the intermediate setting and Ferrari opted for a car with plenty of wing-loading to favour tyre management in the race but sacrificing top speed.

In Monaco, there will be no choice but to go with the maximum possible downforce. In equal conditions, Red Bull and McLaren should have a slight advantage over Ferrari. But the driver this time will be decisive in making the difference between one team and the other.

Monaco will therefore be the perfect setting for an exciting duel between six drivers with six machines of different behaviour, but with a very even overall performance. It will be a time to really see and evaluate how unstoppable Max Verstappen is, how brave Lando Norris is and how much Charles Leclerc is willing to risk to try and get a win at his home race.

As we saw in Imola, where overtaking was almost non-existent, in Monaco it will be almost impossible to overtake on track. Therefore, pole position will mean half the victory is assured.

Will the Charles Leclerc Monaco curse be broken?

Speaking of Ferrari, there is another element that comes into this weekend – Charles Leclerc’s Monaco curse.

The Monégasque would love nothing more than a win at his home track and not only has that eluded him but up until 2022, he had never managed to finish within the points.

He has on multiple occasions failed to complete the race, as well as failing to start in 2021, and while the existence of the curse is questionable, there is no doubt that winning at this circuit would mean more to him than anywhere else.

Leclerc has the talent to do it and maybe even the car – but will luck be on his side in 2024?

Is Monaco fit for purpose?

The arrival of Monaco every year also brings question marks over its inclusion. It is one of the sport’s oldest races, beaten only by Silvertone, and to many it is *the* F1 race.

But times have moved on and the kind of cars that first raced around the circuit in 1950 are a far cry from the ones that will race this weekend.

With the circuit around 10 metres wide and the cars at two metres, overtaking is harder here than at any circuit and the race can often be decided on the Saturday rather than the Sunday.

2023 showed promise with 22 passes, the most since 2011, but in general, drivers find it next to impossible to get round.

But it is still a supreme test of skills and while it may attract the glitz and the glamour, it is also one for the purists with an increased focus on driver skill.

 

Will Williams confirm their 2025 line-up?

Valtteri Bottas’ rather public departure from the Williams hospitality unit in Imola began a new wave of speculation in terms of who would be alongside Alex Albon come next year.

James Vowles’ less than encouraging words for under-fire Logan Sargeant suggests the American’s days are numbered and PlanetF1.com understands Bottas has already signed to move to Grove next year.

If the news is not confirmed before then, plenty of questions will be sent both Bottas’ and Vowles’ ways over the latest piece of the 2025 jigsaw falling into place.

Will Mercedes be bad or good?

Trying to predict how Mercedes will do in Monaco is a task that even team boss Toto Wolff does not have a good idea of.

Speaking to Sky during the Imola weekend, Wolff said they were not in the “sophistication” area of car development yet so making a set-up ready for the extremes of Monaco was not something they have had a load of time to do.

For that reason, he said they could be “good” or they could be “bad” in Monte Carlo but it is not a circuit that has always favoured them.

Even during their dominant run, they missed out in 2017 and 2018 and Bottas’ 24-hour pit stop in 2021 was another sign of the luck not always being on their side.

With 60 points to P3 McLaren, Mercedes need to get into their groove but saying if that will definitely happen has the same odds as going into the nearby casino and betting it all on black.

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