Tom Clarkson's 2008 Monaco Grand Prix preview

Published: 23 May 2008

At 2pm on Sunday, Monaco will become a ludicrous place to stage a grand prix. The race will be a 78-lap procession: no-one will be able to overtake and the Safety Car will be deployed following the most minor incident.

Until 2pm on Sunday, however, Monaco is the most fabulous grand prix in the world. The track is unbelievably demanding for the drivers and there is nowhere more glamorous to stage a race. 'It’s the only place in the world where we need it as much as it needs us,' says Formula 1 commercial tsar Bernie Ecclestone.

Without exception, the drivers love the 2.075-mile circuit. The proximity of the barriers forces them to be inch-perfect, yet all the corners are blind and they have to commit to the throttle without seeing the exit. Racing drivers get off on an element of the unknown.

Watching the cars trackside is exhilarating and noisy. I donned a tabard and walked from the exit of the tunnel to Rascasse during Thursday’s second practice session. Mega-yachts on my left, the fastest cars in the world on my right. Along the way I bumped into Jacques Villeneuve and Michael Schumacher, both taking a look at old adversaries at work.

The first thing that struck me about the cars was how much they were missing traction control. Lurid power slides were the norm, and Jenson Button’s throttle control stood out. He used his right foot to steer his Honda, whereas most others preferred to wait for the front end to bite before getting back on the gas.

The expected front-runners were all quick. Kimi Raikkonen clearly relished the driveability of his Ferrari engine, which allowed him to use less road than the McLaren drivers, while Lewis Hamilton oozed confidence, flinging his MP4-23 around like a go-kart. Felipe Massa was inconsistent and Nico Rosberg, whose father Keke won here 25 years ago, looked aggressive. He was using more kerb than most, but had everything under control.

However, everything learnt by the teams on Thursday could become irrelevant because rain is forecast for the weekend. If the race is wet, the only thing you can guarantee is that there won’t be many finishers.

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By Tom Clarkson

F1 correspondent, BBC pitlane man, accesser of all areas, head beans-spiller