WATCH: Will Max Verstappen be able to get the better of Lewis Hamilton in Monaco?
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JOHANNESBURG - The Crown Jewel of F1 is back, and it is already shaping up to be a fascinating Grand Prix on the streets of Monaco.
After being cancelled last year due to Covid-19, the Monaco GP returns to the race calendar on Sunday, and Red Bull will have it all to do if they are to keep apace with Sir Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes. Already there is an indication that it will be a tough ask, with Hamilton getting the better of Verstappen on Thursday in the second free practice by 0.392 seconds.
Track position is everything at Monaco, so the Tifosi will be pleased as punch with their early results - Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz of Ferrari topping the timesheet in that session ahead of both Mercedes and Red Bull. If they can emulate a similar result in qualifying, well, then it will go a long way in securing a rare podium for the Scuderia.
Overtaking is extremely difficult at the circuit - the slowest on the F1 calendar - so although the race will be intriguing, the qualifying session will have a massive impact on determining who finishes where. Teams that are slower in raceday conditions can take full advantage of their peak performance setups over one lap, and good starts on Sunday in the initial sparring on the first lap to seize track position and hold onto it. That gives the likes of Aston Martin, Alpine, AlphaTauri and Alfa Romeo the opportunity to fight for positions much higher than what they are accustomed to.
But the battle up-front remains the most exciting prospect. Red Bull are still considered the fastest car in qualifying and over a single lap, and could still claim pole, despite an underwhelming Thursday. 2019 dished up an exciting race between the two teams, with Hamilton nurshing his medium-compound tyres to victory, but not before being put under immense pressure from Verstapen in the closing laps of the race.
A similar battle between the two will be most welcomed on race day.