Round six of the 2008 FIA Formula One World Championship takes the Honda Racing F1 Team to Monaco for the most prestigious motor race in the world. The annual dash through the Principality's tortuous streets is a unique test of man and machine performed in front of the glamorous backdrop of the Monaco harbour.
The 3.340km (2.075mile) street track requires the cars to run with maximum aerodynamic downforce and the proximity of the barriers makes the 78-lap race one of the most mentally demanding for the drivers, despite the average lap speed of 160kph (100mph) being the one of the slowest of the year.
Such is the Monaco Grand Prix's profile and history that it retains many of the traditions from the inaugural race staged in 1929. The most idiosyncratic of these customs is the expansion of the race weekend to four days, with the on-track action starting a day earlier than usual, on Thursday.
From a technical point of view, Monaco is not as much of an enigma as many people think. The track has been re-surfaced several times in recent years, which means the asphalt is not dissimilar to many permanent racetracks around the world, and from a set-up point of view, it is simply at one end of the aerodynamic and mechanical spectrum.
The cars run with maximum aerodynamic downforce throughout the weekend, which leaves the engineers and drivers to focus on maximising the mechanical grip generated by the cars. It is generally best not to change the car's set-up too much during first practice on Thursday as the circuit only becomes representative in session two, once the surface has started to collect rubber.
With overtaking almost impossible at Monaco, gaining a good grid position is vital. For the engineers, finding their drivers a clear piece of track during qualifying, especially during Q1 when all 20 cars will be out, is as important as improving the car's set-up.
How has the Honda Racing F1 Team prepared for the Monaco Grand Prix?
Ross Brawn, Team Principal: "The team took part in the three-day test at Paul Ricard in France this week to complete our preparations for Monaco. The first two days of the test programme took place on the short configuration of the Paul Ricard facility which resembles the high downforce and low speed characteristics of the Monaco street circuit. We used the test to evaluate our aerodynamic package for the Monaco weekend with some refinements to the developments that debuted in Spain. Driveability is very important around Monaco, with so many low speed corners where the driver has to have confidence in the set-up of the car to avoid losing time on exit, so we did a lot of work on this. We also ran the new Bridgestone super soft tyre compound and the indications from the test are that this tyre will perform well as the option tyre during the race weekend."
What's the key to a quick lap of Monaco?
Jenson Button: "Monaco is a truly special race weekend. It's completely different from any other venue on the calendar, although it will be interesting to see how the street circuits in Valencia and Singapore compare later this year. The whole lap at Monaco is just a non-stop challenge and you have to maintain absolute focus and concentration over every single one of the 78 laps of the race. The absolute key to a really quick lap is to not let the barriers intimidate you as this is a circuit that rewards precision. Having a good qualifying session and getting the best grid position possible is so important to a successful weekend. Passing is very difficult during the race, so you need to make a good start and do your overtaking off the line where possible."
Are there any on-track advantages to be had from living in Monaco?
JB: "The Monaco Grand Prix means a great deal to me as it is one of my three homes races of the year, along with Silverstone and Japan. However, being a resident of Monaco is of no benefit over the race weekend as the principality is completely transformed! It's unbelievably busy and getting around can be just impossible. My top tip would be to walk everywhere or use a scooter. What I love about Monaco is that it is a fantastic race for the fans who can get so close to the action and noise of Formula One."
How will you set-up the RA108 car for the Monaco Grand Prix weekend?
Rubens Barrichello: "The streets of Monaco are tight, twisty, bumpy and unforgiving. You can really feel the speed of the car when the barriersare so close to you, but despite this, Monaco is one of the lowest speed circuits that we will race on and presents a number of unique challenges. Good mechanical grip from the car is a fundamental requirement, coupled with as much downforce as possible. Low-speed handling is crucial as this is usually the slowest circuit on the calendar, although this year Singapore looks to be even slower. We will also be driving without the benefits of traction control for the first time in Monaco which I'm sure will be interesting. The new Bridgestone super soft tyre compound will be used for the first time over a race weekend, following its debut at the test."
You are now the most experienced driver in F1 history. How will this help you at Monaco?
RB: "This will be my 16th Monaco Grand Prix so I know the circuit very well by now! Like everyone, Monaco is one of my favourite races and I have been successful here in the past, finishing on the podium four times. I particularly enjoying qualifying at Monaco, it's one of the biggest challenges of the year to get it right and give yourself the best chance in the race. Experience does count around Monaco as the driver and your strategy can make the difference to the outcome of your race, it's not purely about car performance. And of course, on the day, you have to keep the car out of the barriers and bring it safely home."