F1 drivers prepare for difficult task in Monaco GP

The Monaco Grand Prix is not only the most prestigious event on the Formula One calendar but its the toughest race of the season as well.

Monte Carlo has been one of the most difficult circuits, where overtaking is virtually impossible. Track position for the Monaco GP is key, since the pole sitter for this race has won it in eight of the last nine years, including the previous four. Lewis Hamilton won it from the third starting spot in 2008, the same year he captured his first F1 world championship when he was driving for McLaren. He is now in his first season with Mercedes.

"Monaco is spectacular," Hamilton said. "I don't feel it's like any other race. Winning here is unique and special, in its own way. When you do win here, when you finally get that, you have the most incredible feeling. Every time you come here that's what you're chasing for every year."

Hamilton's teammate, Nico Rosberg, topped the time charts in both practice sessions for the Monaco GP on Thursday. Hamilton placed fifth in the opening session and second in the final.

"A very productive day for us," Rosberg said. "We completed a lot of laps (77 laps combined in both sessions), and I feel comfortable with the car. It seems that we are quick again on one lap, but we have been working hard again to make improvements to our race pace. It will be interesting to see where we are compared to the others over the weekend, as it's not really representative today."

Rosberg has won the pole position for the last two grand prix -- Bahrain and Spain. Hamilton captured his first pole with Mercedes in the Chinese GP this past month. Neither Rosberg nor Hamilton has yet to win a race this season.

The 2.075-mile, 19-turn Monte Carlo circuit winds its way through the narrow streets, starting with the first corner from Ste-Devote, then moves uphill to the steep hill of Beau Rivage and plunges back down to the Mirabeau Hotel before heading into the tunnel and chicane, located along the illustrious harbor side. It wraps up at the tricky Loews hairpin.

Changes have been made to this circuit since last year's race. The track has been resurfaced on the pit straight and between turns 1 and 3. A number of improvements have been made to the left-side debris fencing on the approach to turn 3 and on the left between turns 8 and 10. A new 50-centimeter wide curb has been installed at the apex of turn 5, and the curb at the exit of turn 19 has been widened by 20 cm.

Monte Carlo features a slower average speed than any other circuit on the current F1 calendar. Teams bring their highest downforce aero configurations, and Pirelli supplies them with its soft and supersoft tires in order to maximize mechanical grip.

"You can't even make the smallest mistake, but if you do, you're lucky if it's just that your lap time is bad," Red Bull driver and three-time defending F1 world champion Sebastian Vettel said. "If you're not paying attention, you will end up in the barrier. Overtaking is possible, but only with risk. The best place for that is before the chicane. We come out of the narrow tunnel at more than 300 kph and race to the first gear-chicane. Whoever brakes later wins. Ideally, you have a good qualifying session and start from far forward."

Red Bull has won the last three Monaco GPs. Mark Webber scored the victory in this race in 2010 and last year, while Vettel took the checkered flag in 2011.

Fernando Alonso from Ferrari has an opportunity to make history in Monte Carlo. If Alonso were to cross the finish line in first in the Monaco GP, he would become the first driver to win it with three different teams. His first victory in this race came with Renault in 2006, and his second win came the following year when he drove for McLaren.

A Ferrari driver has not won the Monaco GP since Michael Schumacher last did it in 2001.

"It's been many years since Ferrari has not managed to win here, and for me personally, I could be the first man to win for three different teams, and for sure, that is a huge motivation to do it," Alonso said.

Alonso won the Spanish GP on May 12 in Barcelona. His teammate, Felipe Massa, joined him on the podium there with a third-place finish.

"The feeling is good, and the team is confident, as we saw we had a competitive package, getting both our cars onto the podium in Barcelona," Alonso said. "However, Monaco is a unique track where you need a special set- up and confidence in your driving. We have had two podiums here in the last couple of years, so we should be competitive again, and I hope to get a good result."

Series: Formula One. Date: Sunday, May 26. Race: Monaco Grand Prix. Site: Circuit de Monaco. Track: 2.075-mile (3.340-kilometer), 19-turn street circuit. Start Time: 8 a.m. ET. Laps: 78. Miles: 161.887 (260.520 km). 2012 Winner: Mark Webber. Television: NBC.