Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes have all the momentum heading into the iconic Monaco Grand Prix this week.
Despite Red Bull starting the 2021 Formula One® season with the fastest car, Hamilton has produced a spectacular start and holds a 14-point lead over Max Verstappen in the drivers' standings.
The seven-time world champion has won three of the first four races and battled back to finish second at Imola in the only Grand Prix he did not win, making a fantastic recovery after crashing.
Verstappen has made him work hard for those successes, but more is needed from Valtteri Bottas as questions continue over his future with the team. He is yet to record a top-two finish and Hamilton already has double his points total.
Rivals to Hamilton will hope the unpredictability of Monaco will boost their hopes to challenge. Three different teams have won the last three races here, Ferrari in 2017, Red Bull in 2018 and Mercedes with Hamilton last time out in 2019.
Red Bull are expected to be strong here and the team are 18 points away from making this circuit the one where they have collected the most points in their F1® history.
Monaco is the shortest circuit (3.34km) on the calendar and therefore is the Grand Prix with the highest number of laps (78).
LAST TIME OUT
Hamilton continued his dominance of the Spanish Grand Prix with a record-equalling sixth victory at the Barcelona circuit as Mercedes' two-stop strategy worked a treat.
Verstappen passed Hamilton on Turn One in a dream start for Red Bull after the defending champion had been on pole for the 100th time.
But Hamilton was not to be denied a fifth consecutive win at the race, pitting first and later passing Verstappen on fresher tyres in lap 60 of 66 in another masterclass from the Briton.
Verstappen – who got the fastest lap - had been kept out at the front and was unable to hold out, having to settle for second place ahead of Bottas.
WHAT TO LOOK OUT FOR IN MONACO
Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff believes Red Bull are the team to beat this week, even though Hamilton held off Verstappen in a thrilling 2019 duel in Monte Carlo.
He feels the high-downforce track plays to Red Bull's strengths and thinks data from the last sector of the race in Spain – which showed their rivals were strong – will prove an accurate indicator of Monaco pace.
Wolff also defended Valtteri Bottas, insisting bad luck and slow starts were the only reason for his disappointing results.
Despite the season being four races old, he is regularly having to rebuff speculation about Mercedes moving on from the Finn.
Sergio Perez, meanwhile, is not under that level of scrutiny for Red Bull yet, but is still waiting for his first podium this season.
Charles Leclerc goes into his home race in impressive form. He has four consecutive top-six finishes and thinks Ferrari will be challenging for race wins again "very soon" after a strong start to 2021.
Lando Norris, who is fourth in the championship, goes into the race on a high after signing a new deal with McLaren.
So excited to tell you that I’m staying with McLaren. My goal is to win races and world championships and over the last three years McLaren have shown me that they’re able to build a car for me to do that in. Let’s continue what we started @McLarenF1 🤛 pic.twitter.com/SjGhrfzX73— Lando Norris (@LandoNorris) May 19, 2021
TOP FIVE OPTA STATS
Pole pivotal – The driver starting first has led after the opening lap for each of the last 17 Monaco GPs since 2002 when McLaren driver David Coulthard passed Williams star Juan Pablo Montoya. Since 2004, 12 of the last 16 who started on pole have won the race (75 per cent).
Mercedes momentum – The Mercs are looking to equal Ferrari as the team to have recorded the most one-twos in a F1® qualifying ever (80). They are the only team ever to have won more than half of their races (118 wins in 231 GPs).
Familiar faces - Hamilton, Verstappen and Bottas have reached the podium together in 16 races, more than any other trio in F1® ever. That has also been the top three for four of the last five GPs.
Racy Red Bull – Christian Horner's outfit have taken five pole positions in Monaco, more than at any other GP for them in F1® alongside Japan. Only in Brazil and Malaysia (five at each), they have won more races than in the Principality.
Fabulous Finns - Bottas could equal Kimi Raikkonen in a tie for second among Finnish drivers with the most pole positions in F1® (18), after Mika Hakkinen (26).
1. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) – 94
2. Max Verstappen (Red Bull) – 80
3. Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes) – 47
4. Lando Norris (McLaren) – 41
5. Charles Leclerc (Ferrari) – 40
1. Mercedes – 141
2. Red Bull – 112
3. McLaren – 65
4. Ferrari – 60
5. Alpine – 15