After dominating the season so far, can Mercedes finally be beaten in Monaco?
Silver Arrows' advantage could be cut on track like no other in F1
By Mike Wise. Last Updated: 20/05/14 10:22am
Heading to a track like no other on the calendar in a period of domination the like of which F1 has not seen for years does beg an obvious question: can Mercedes finally be beaten in Monaco?
Faced with the sort of advantage the Silver Arrows have so far enjoyed, the answer might be debated in much less time than it takes to lap the unique 2.094-mile Monte Carlo circuit.
In the W05, Mercedes clearly have the fastest car: a well-packaged, aerodynamically efficient chassis designed around - and vice versa - the most powerful hybrid engine of the lot.
Expertly conceived over several years and driven, arguably, by the most talented pairing on the grid, it's little wonder that Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg have enjoyed a 100 per cent record so far.
Lewis Hamilton: Looking for his second Monaco win
Opinion suggests that Mercedes are set to dominate for the next several races at least. But history also suggests that Monaco is a race that can buck trends and produce the most unexpected of surprises.
The Mercedes might be omnipotent but Red Bull have, perhaps, the best chassis of all. And with Renault gradually improving its power unit, the World Champions appear the team most likely to cause an upset this weekend.
Red Bull causing an upset? How times have changed. Yet according to Rosberg, "The opposition is going to be a bit closer there because one of our advantages is our engine power at the moment, which at Monaco is nearly removed.
"It's the least important track in terms of engine power, so it could be a more challenging weekend.
"I expect Red Bull to be a lot closer, so it's going to be tougher for us. But still, we have a strong package, engine and car. So we should go fine around Monaco and [I'm] going to try and make the most of it, repeat the win from last year."
Twelve months ago when Red Bull were dominating, it was Rosberg's win that seemed a surprise. In truth, there haven't been too many such in recent years, with factors like stronger reliability, good weather, the need to manage tyres - not to mention a perennial lack of overtaking opportunities - reducing the element of chance.
Red Bull: Reckoned to have a chassis at least as good as Mercedes'
Only once in the last decade (Hamilton's win in 2008) has a driver who hasn't started on pole position gone on to take the chequered flag.
The likes of Ayrton Senna (six wins) and Michael Schumacher (five) have made the place their own but Monaco has also seen one-off successes, with the likes of Jarno Trulli (2004) and Olivier Panis (1996) claiming their only wins in the most famous race of them all.
Times might have changed, although it's a bit of a stretch to compare Red Bull's current predicament with such heroics. Even so, team boss Christian Horner alluded to them after the Spanish GP.
"Monaco is Monaco," he said. "Mercedes have been strong there over the last couple of years and their drivers have excelled there as well so on paper they go there as very much the favourites.
"But Monaco being Monaco, anything can happen."
But will it? Fernando Alonso seemed realistic when assessing Ferrari's own prospects, merely stating that, "We need some good points in Monte Carlo".
The two-time winner added: "Monte Carlo will be one of the few opportunities to maybe challenge the Mercedes, especially for Red Bull. On performance they are very fast; on the straights they seem to lose a lot of lap time but in Monte Carlo there are no straights, so maybe Red Bull could challenge Mercedes there. We'll see."
Fernando Alonso: Opportunity to challenge
Jenson Button, meanwhile, reckoned that if either Sebastian Vettel or Daniel Ricciardo don't halt Mercedes this weekend, then F1 could remain under their spell until after the summer break at least.
"At Monaco, you might see Red Bull strong, they might give them a run for their money but apart from that, I think it's going to be tricky for anyone to challenge them for the next six races," the 2009 winner added.
Five races down, 14 to go, then, and already there's talk of a clean sweep for the Brackley team. Is it really a case of Monte Carlo or bust for the rest?