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Monaco Grand Prix 2010: Preview

This Thursday – just a few short days after Mark Webber won in Barcelona – Formula 1 cars will be pounding around the streets of Monaco as the sport's showpiece event begins.

The streets of Monte Carlo may lack fast flowing corners and overtaking opportunities but the circuit does provide a tough challenge for the drivers, with unforgiving barriers looming at the edge of the track. Unwavering concentration is needed every second of every lap as they navigate through famous corners like Sainte Devote, Mirabeau, Tabac, and La Rascasse.

The F1 community visits Monaco for Round 6 of the 2010 season with the championship race nicely balanced. Despite Red Bull's obvious performance advantage they have taken only two out of five victories so far, even though the team have started every race with a car on pole position.

Jenson Button won in Australia and China, and sits atop of the standings, three points ahead of Fernando Alonso, and with Sebastian Vettel a further seven points down in third.

Mark Webber sits another seven points behind his teammate but will be buoyed by taking such a straightforward victory last weekend in Spain. The Aussie's pole lap was over a second faster than all in the field except his teammate, and he had the edge over Vettel throughout qualifying and the race.

Webber was also the first driver to win from pole position this season, and with overtaking options scarce around Monte Carlo, he has a good chance of back-to-back victories if he can get another pole position. With Red Bull's dominance of qualifying so far in 2010, it would seem he only has his teammate to beat to secure the top grid slot.

However, one thing that will be in the back of both Webber and Vettel's minds all weekend will be the issue of reliability. There were more issues for Vettel in Barcelona on Sunday – a brake problem gifted a place to Alonso and nearly ended the German's race – and even though they have the fastest car on the grid, there is still no guarantee of a Red Bull victory come Sunday.

There were no reliability problems for Jenson Button last year as he claimed pole and the victory during his early-season dominance in the Brawn. The third most memorable radio moment from last season was the “MONACO BABY YEAH” line after Button crossed the finish line (the second was Rob Smedley's “Felipe baby” in Malaysia and first was Button's rendition of a famous Queen song in Brazil).

The best moment of last year's event however is surely Button parking his car in the wrong place and having to run to the podium ceremony, footage which will no doubt be replayed more than once this weekend.

McLaren look like the most likely competitors to the Red Bull duo. Lewis Hamilton also has a Monaco victory under his belt, taking it in his championship winning year of 2008.

It is said that Monaco separates the men from the boys and the truly great drivers from those that merely great. The fact that Ayrton Senna holds the record for the most victories is testament to that. The great Brazilian won this race six times.

Michael Schumacher has a chance to match Senna's record this weekend, but has not won this race since 2001. Much more recent in the memory is how the German parked his car at La Rascasse in the dying seconds of qualifying while he was at the top of the timesheets and championship rival Fernando Alonso was on a very quick flying lap.

It was another controversial moment in Schumacher's chequered career, and one that the stewards took a dim view of. The punishment handed out to Schumacher was demotion to the back of the grid, and what followed was one of his greatest drives.

The seven-time world champion finished fifth after a sensational drive which went completely against the mantra that overtaking is impossible in Monaco. The sad thing was that Schumacher could have easily won that race without the qualifying misdemeanour and had started the race from second or third.

Spain suggested that Schumacher was in something resembling his pre-retirement form. Despite a car which was woefully off the pace of the leaders, he secured fourth place at the Circuit de Catalunya and consistently out-performed his teammate Nico Rosberg. With the probability of safety cars on Sunday quite high, and the possibility of rain, a Schumacher victory can't be completely ruled out.

Ferrari's new F-duct style device won't help them around the twisty corners of Monte Carlo, but Fernando Alonso, who has won here twice, will also have his eyes on the top step of the podium. Teammate Felipe Massa was completely anonymous in Barcelona and the Brazilian will be hoping to be at least in touch with his teammate over the weekend.

Qualifying in Monaco has been a big discussion point this week. In particular, McLaren are concerned about the congestion resulting from 24 cars on the 2.075 mile track especially when six of those will be either Lotus, Virgin or Hispania drivers, who will be significantly off the pace of the rest of the teams.

Lewis Hamilton had personal troubles with backmarkers in Barcelona, almost hitting a Virgin car when duelling with Sebastian Vettel. There had been speculation of a split qualifying session to ease traffic concerns, but Charlie Whiting has said that qualifying will proceed as usual.

As is traditional in Monaco, the first two free practice sessions are on Thursday, rather than on Friday, as in every other race of the season. Qualifying begins at 13:00 BST on Saturday, and the lights go out for the 78 lap race at the same time on Sunday. Reports and reaction can be found throughout the event on this website.