The Principality of Monaco is the heady and glamorous location for round six of the 2008 Formula 1 World Championship. The 20 cars and drivers will compete around the 3.34km street circuit, racing between the Princes's Palace and the Mediterranean sea covered in some of the World's most lavish yachts.
The focus for the Vodafone McLaren Mercedes drivers, Lewis Hamilton and Heikki Kovalainen, will be on adding to the illustrious history of the team at the Monaco Grand Prix.
Since the start of the McLaren and Mercedes-Benz era, the team has won the race on five occasions. Mika Hakkinen in 1998, David Coulthard in 2000 and 2002, Kimi Raikkonen took the spoils in 2005 with Fernando Alonso claiming victory just ahead of then team-mate Lewis last year.
The connection to the race stretches back to the 60s, with Bruce McLaren taking the M2B to the track to make the marque's Formula 1 debut. In that time, the team has won a record 14 out of the 65 of Grands Prix staged in the Principality. This began with Alain Prost in 1984, kicking off a winning streak that stretched until 1993, with the exception of 1987. Five of these were at the hands of Ayrton Senna.
As part of the team's ongoing relationship with Steinmetz, creators of the world's finest diamonds, Lewis and Heikki will wear special diamond encrusted Monaco helmets for the race. Each helmet has the signature of the driver pavéd with a line of hundreds of Steinmetz's handcrafted diamonds. This also marks the first time that the Steinmetz logo - or any other sponsor's logo in Formula 1 history - has been incorporated into the design of the helmets through the application of diamonds.
It was a fantastic performance in Turkey, do you think you will be able to go one better in Monaco?
Lewis Hamilton: "Unpredictable is the word that sums up Monaco from a performance perspective. It was a great race in Turkey, we know the performance is there, but at Monaco literally anything can happen."
Monaco has traditionally been a successful circuit for you across a range of formulae, what is it about the track that you enjoy so much and what do you need to be quick?
LH: "Monaco, my favourite race. You have the history all around, you can just feel it, and the atmosphere is fantastic. It is the Grand Prix that every driver wants to win. Being a street circuit it is very exciting to drive, there is no room for any error all weekend. You are on the limit the whole time, there are no long straights where you have a moment to think. It is so tight and narrow, and when you consider how quick you are driving it is unreal. To be quick you need to use every centimetre of the circuit, this even includes touching the barriers at some points."
With such a unique circuit layout, what is the priority with car set-up?
LH: "The set-up is quite a lot different, the primary requirement is fantastic traction, to ensure you can get out of the corners well. Because there are no straights, we put as much downforce as we can on the car as we don't need to, and aren't able, to reach the speeds of any other track."
The circuit looks incredibly tight in places on TV, how does it feel inside a Formula 1 car?
LH: "It is so tight, and very difficult to describe how it feels in the car because you are so low. You are hitting some corners at 180mph, as you are braking down you know there is no run-off area, you can't see the exit. All you can see is directly what is in front of you, probably about 50 metres. In some corners it is almost a guess, you are guessing where the car should be, hoping that you are in the right place, relying on your instinct and memory."
The race is associated with the glamorous side of the sport, as a driver do you get involved in this or is it a distraction?
LH: "It is not a distraction in any way, as with any race I am just fully focused on getting the job done. Monaco weekend more than any other is about being 100% in the zone and so I just keep myself to myself."
What is your aim for the Monaco Grand Prix?
Heikki Kovalainen: "I want to have a trouble free race and to be able to show the pace we have in the car. It felt really good all weekend in Turkey and we had a good test on the Monaco-simulation track at Paul Ricard. We have certainly improved and hopefully we can capitalise on that at Monaco. Of all the races, Monaco is the most unpredictable Grand Prix, as always I want to be challenging for the win, but with this race who can say!"
Can you outline why qualifying is so key at Monaco?
HK: "Overtaking on the street circuit at Monaco is virtually impossible even if the other car is much slower. That means qualifying is even more important than any of the other tracks, you have to be near the front of the grid, as otherwise you can't run your own pace. You end up stuck behind the slower cars and that costs you huge amounts of time. During the qualifying session, the priority is track position, to allow you to do you own lap and avoid other cars, but it is very difficult. Everybody tries to slow down at the last hairpin to get a gap to the next car, so when you are on your flying lap one lap later you arrive wanting to complete your fastest time and everyone is waiting there again to pull their gap out. So timing is what we are focused on, and luck! Set-up, balance and getting the most out of the car is of course very important but timing is crucial."