No other Formula One race offers quite the same blend of sport and spectacle as the Monaco Grand Prix. To the outside world, this 78-lap race through the streets of Monaco is the highlight of the Formula One calendar, and it commands a huge worldwide audience. Spectators thrill to the sight of drivers rocketing through the city streets and past the harbour at speeds of over 280 km/h. The more well-heeled onlookers even bring their own floating ringside seats, while others pack the trackside apartments that have been specially vacated and sublet for the occasion.
The excitement of seeing and being seen is surpassed only by the excitement of driving this circuit. Both the BMW Sauber F1 Team drivers, Nick Heidfeld and Robert Kubica, are avowed street circuit fans. And they know that in Monte Carlo far more hangs on the outcome of the Saturday qualifying than in other races of the season. Getting a good place on the grid is half the battle in Monaco, where overtaking opportunities are almost as few and far between as a reasonably priced meal in a local restaurant. The BMW Sauber F1.08 will be set up with a special downforce-maximising aerodynamics package to help it make the quickest possible progress through the unusually large number of tight twists and turns.
Robert Kubica will already be getting into an urban frame of mind the Sunday before the Monaco Grand Prix, on 18th May, when he drives a BMW Sauber F1 Team car the 11 kilometres from Faenza to Brisighella in Italy to pick up a special kind of Formula One award – the Lorenzo Bandini trophy.
Winning such a tradition-rich trophy means a lot to the 23-year-old Pole. "This is a big honour for me, and it comes as a surprise given the rather disappointing season I had in 2007. It's great that some people seem to believe in me and my abilities. I am particularly pleased that this award also has to do with my ‘performance' off the race track – and that attitudes and actions that I don't really stop to think about have earned me an award like this. I'm really looking forward to the drive, too. That will be the icing on the cake!"
Kubica isn't the only team member to be honoured at the event in Brisighella. Peter Sauber will be picking up a trophy too – for his lifetime achievements.
Nick Heidfeld: "I'm a real fan of narrow street circuits like this. Lots of people have tried to describe what it's like driving through these streets that are like canyons in a Formula One car. I've never been able to think of a comparison that really does it justice, so I won't even try. You simply have to experience it for yourself. This is a circuit that's totally unforgiving of even the smallest driving error. If you run out of road, there's nowhere to go except into a crash barrier.
"Monaco goes quite crazy during Grand Prix weekend. The town and the harbour are all packed to bursting point. Of all the GP races, this is definitely the one that has the most to offer spectators. For one thing, there's nowhere else you can get so close to the action. The engine noise is stupendous and the razzmatazz is simply unique. I always enjoy coming to Monaco. That said, I have to admit it's all a bit too frenzied for me in the long run, which is why a few years ago I decided to move to Switzerland."
Robert Kubica: "I am really looking forward to Monaco. I was very strong there in 2007 and I am a big fan of narrow street circuits with barriers right next to the track. Monaco is one of these tight and narrow circuits. There are three or four really nice corners like the swimming pool chicane or the Casino section. The track is quite tricky to understand and it is not easy to find the right set-up of the car in Monaco. Without traction control it will be an even bigger challenge to drive there. We will have to see how our car suits the track. I hope this works at least as well as last year and I expect a good result."
Mario Theissen, BMW Motorsport Director: "Monaco is one of the great institutions in Formula One. Like Spa, Monza and Silverstone, it's one of those circuits that have made Formula One what it is today. Monaco is Formula One up close and personal. Nowhere else do spectators get quite so close to the action as in the streets of the Principality. And no other Grand Prix is as famous or as glamorous as this one. The yachts, the parties, the show business – nowhere are they such an integral part of the Formula One experience as here.
"In sporting terms, the important thing in Monaco is driving precision, a good aerodynamics package to add as much downforce as possible, and an engine with good drivability at low revs. On reliability, I'm very satisfied with our record so far. With five races behind us, we've driven the maximum number of race laps possible at this stage in the season – apart from the 11 laps Robert lost in the first Grand Prix in Australia, after his accident with Kazuki Nakajima. We've finished well into the points in all our races so far, and we'll be aiming to repeat that in Monaco."
Willy Rampf, Technical Director: "In the absence of traction control, Monaco will be a very special challenge this year for both the drivers and the engineers. Traction is all-important at this venue, where accelerating out of so many slow corners puts a really heavy strain on the rear tyres. Only the softest tyre compounds will be used.
"Monaco is also the Formula One race with the lowest average speed, so everyone does all they can to maximise downforce and cooling. Downforce is more important on this circuit than aerodynamic efficiency. And since on this closed-in street circuit even the smallest mistake can catapult you out of the race at a moment's notice, the drivers have to find a set-up that allows them to steer a very precise line between the barriers. In my view, this circuit should suit us well."