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Mercedes returns to the scene of the crime

ESPN looks ahead to this weekend's Monaco Grand Prix and the potential for fireworks between the Mercedes team-mates.

Focus on ... the Mercedes rivalry

Two weeks ago this section of the Spanish Grand Prix preview was focused on Nico Rosberg and the difficulties he had loosening Lewis Hamilton's grip on the front of the grid. He managed to do just that on a weekend when Hamilton found himself in a set-up cul-de-sac, unable to balance the needs of the rear of the car with those of the front. On a track like the Circuit de Catalunya it was a debilitating problem for Hamilton and as a result he failed to beat Rosberg for the first time this season. Monaco is a different beast entirely, where the confidence and ability of a driver is among the most important factors to a quick lap time. A combination of the tight streets and heightened expectations surrounding the event combine to up the pressure on the drivers, especially at the front of the grid where a locked brake or missed turn-in point can be the difference between pole position and the second row. Last year a missed turn in point gave Rosberg pole position, but while a carbon copy looks unlikely, the focus is still on Rosberg and Hamilton this weekend. Rosberg has won the last two Monaco Grands Prix whereas Hamilton has not won since 2008 and undoubtedly felt as though he should have won last year. Both drivers are a year older and wiser than they were in 2014, but Monaco has the potential to bring out the best and worst in drivers.

In need of points

Pastor Maldonado has yet to score a point from five races this year. He has had the speed to score on more than one occasion, but luck, mistakes and mechanical problems have resulted in zero from five. Meanwhile, team-mate Romain Grosjean has scored 16 points with his own share of bad luck and if Maldonado had matched him Lotus would be sitting two places higher in the constructors' championship ahead of Red Bull. Based on the pace of the Mercedes-powered Lotus in practice and qualifying and Red Bull's shaky start to the year that would be a fair reflection of the team's efforts, but instead it is currently sixth in the standings behind Sauber.

In need of a podium

By Red Bull's own high standards, the start to the 2015 season has been unacceptable. At no point has the team looked in the hunt for a podium as it has fallen a long way off the pace of the top three teams. Monaco can offer an upset from time to time, but it can also follow the form book and make it incredibly difficult for drivers to move up from their grid slots. Red Bull will be hoping the tight and twisty circuit will mask the Renault power deficit it still appears to have to its rivals, while the downforce of the RB11 gives Daniel Ricciardo and Daniil Kvyat something to play with. The Red Bull brand always goes to great lengths to mark the occasion of the Monaco Grand Prix with its giant floating motorhome moored in the harbour, and will be hoping it has something to celebrate this weekend on Sunday night.

ESPN prediction

Lewis Hamilton may have been outfoxed by Nico Rosberg in Spain, but in Monaco he should be able to regain the upper hand. A victory in the principality was the one thing missing from his 2014 season and he will be looking to rectify that this year.

Betting

The odds for victory are tighter than they have been all year, with Lewis Hamilton 5/6 to win in Monaco and Nico Rosberg 6/5. Sebastian Vettel is 9/1 and Kimi Raikkonen18/1, but on the evidence of Barcelona's twisty third sector it would be an upset if a Ferrari won the race. A smarter bet might be 13/2 for Felipe Massa to make the podium or 12/1 for Daniel Ricciardo to make the top three. A repeat of Jules Bianchi's impressive point scoring at Monaco last year stands at 40/1 for either Manor driver to make the points.

Weather

The weather could be one of the main talking points in Monaco as rain threatens to hit on all three of the on-track days this weekend. The forecast for Saturday is for thunderstorms at 14:00 just as qualifying starts and more of the same is expected on race day. In such circumstances, all strategies and plans are thrown out the window as the connection between each of the 20 drivers and the four wheels around them makes the difference between winners and losers.

Tyre talk

Prime: Soft (yellow)
Option: Supersoft (red)
Likely strategy: Two stops

Pirelli says: "Monaco is one of those races that everyone looks forward to: there are very few words that can adequately describe the spectacle. We're bringing our brand new supersoft tyre for the first time this year, together with the soft, as has been the case since we started our current Formula One era in 2011. Monaco has often been described as a circuit where overtaking is impossible, but we have seen in the past there how tyre strategy and degradation has often led to positions changing, including on-track overtaking. In particular, the way that drivers use the new supersoft tyre, with is notable performance advantage, will be crucial.

"There are a number of unusual aspects to Monaco, including the timing of the sessions themselves, which only add to the famed unpredictability of this race and inevitable comparisons with the roulette wheel. But as is always the case, the right preparation and collection of tyre data during practice will put any driver in a strong position to maximise their potential in the race as well as the crucial qualifying session."

Power play

Renault Sport details the stresses and strains on the main components of the power unit.

ICE: Engineers focus on slow speed balance rather than high or medium speed in Monte Carlo as the track has the lowest average speed on the calendar at just 150kph.Top speed peaks at only 290kph, compared to well over 315kph at the last event in Spain. Less than 30secs - roughly one third of the lap - is spent at full throttle, which places an emphasis on the overall package's driveability rather than outright performance.

The tunnel section is the only chance the cars get to hit top speed apart from the short pit straight. The engine needs to have good acceleration through the Tunnel so the driver can reach top speed quickly as the straight is only 670m from the exit of Portiers to the chicane. The cars reach 290kph just before the braking point for the chicane. The distance from pole position to the first corner, Sainte Devote, is just 140m, the shortest run to the first corner seen all season and the pole sitter will reach it in a touch over four seconds.

Turbocharger: Exploring the lower limits of the PU and managing the low torque levels into and out of the slow corners so the driver gets the correct response when he needs it is critical for overall lap time gain.Monaco is a very bumpy circuit with lots of camber change. This can induce drops in oil pressure as the oil pumps aren't able to properly scavenge the oil system, or the oil tank succumbs to an unexpected loading. A temporary lack of oil pressure can be harmful to the turbo as lubrication is vital at the speeds at which the turbo operates

MGU-K: Energy recovery is easy with the amount of braking points - the 19 corners are all taken at an average of less than 100kph and the MGU-K will have more than enough opportunity to recharge the ES. Since energy recovery under braking is relatively easy, Monaco is one of the few races of the year where fuel consumption won't be critical, particularly as the overall race distance is so short and there is so little time spent at full throttle.

The hardest braking point of the track is the Grand Hotel (or Loews) Hairpin. The track descends from the Mirabeau and turns almost 180° back on itself in front of the hotel. When the cars round the hairpin the engine is running at just 45kph and around 4,500rpm, the lowest speed and revs it reaches on track at any point in the year.The Rascasse corner is one of the hardest braking points and the cars drop to 55kph. Recovering energy here tops up the battery at the end of the lap, with the energy deployed almost immediately on the pit straight

MGU-H: With under 30 seconds of the lap spent at full throttle and a large amount of energy recovered under braking, the MGU-H may not be used to recover energy at all since its contribution will be so small and there are benefits to peak engine power if H-recovery isn't used.The climb through Beau Rivage to Casino Square, which lasts just 8secs, the 9 secs Tunnel section and the 7secs pit straight are the only parts of the track where the drivers reach top gear and are really the only opportunities where the H can recover energy. It is one of the few tracks where the top gear used may not be used due to the short straights.

The Swimming Pool complex is another chance, but recovery depends on track position. If the driver is in clear air he will take the corner at 200kph and be able to achieve full throttle between the turns. If he is in traffic then he will be balancing brake and throttle pedal usage and the amount of energy recovered will be less.