Could Monaco be the first grand prix Red Bull do not win this season?
If a Red Bull driver ends up winning this weekend’s Monaco Grand Prix – they have dominated every other race so far this season – the victor will not be able to perform the team's now traditional celebratory leap into the pool on their floating Energy Station in the harbour.
The Monaco region is experiencing a severe drought, with a raft of measures taken to reduce the Principality’s water consumption by up to 20 per cent. Residents have been advised not to wash their cars or water their lawns. And on no account to fill their swimming pools.
Red Bull have instead filled theirs, which sits on the top deck of their gargantuan hospitality area, with white plastic balls similar to those found in a children’s soft-play area, completing the look with a mass of inflatable animals, flamingos and unicorns and rubber rings.
It is certainly a different look. The question is: Will it be a different outcome here to anywhere else we have been this season?
Max Verstappen topping the timesheets in second practice on Friday may have had a familiar feel to it. But there are reasons to suggest this might be a track at which Verstappen and team-mate Sergio Perez are vulnerable.
For a start, as everyone knows all too well, it is virtually impossible to overtake in Monaco. Particularly in the modern era. The cars are simply too big, and the street circuit is too tight and twisting. Even with a massive speed differential, it is a hopeless task.
That makes qualifying in Monaco by far the most important qualifying session of the year. Get yourself on pole here and you have an excellent chance of winning the race.
When you throw in the fact that this circuit does not particularly suit Red Bull’s challenger, which is at its best in medium- and high-speed corners, you have the potential for an upset. “I've got no doubts or illusions that the challenge is going to be much greater this weekend,” Red Bull team principal Christian Horner admitted on Friday.
Their rivals, in particular Ferrari and Aston Martin, who looked very close in pace to Red Bull on Friday, are definitely interested. In a world where unicorns are floating in Red Bull’s pool, pigs might fly.
Verstappen was only 0.065 seconds faster than Charles Leclerc in practice, with his Ferrari team mate Carlos Sainz third quickest before a late crash at the exit of the Swimming Pool section brought out a red flag. Aston Martin's Alonso was next and the Silverstone team have been openly confident about their chances here.
Even Mercedes, sporting their big new upgrade package, will go into qualifying with a spring in their step. They will not be challenging for pole but the first day of their revised W14 package appeared to go reasonably well, as far as you can tell anything around here.
Lewis Hamilton was third quickest in first practice and sixth quickest in second practice – separated from the top four only by an impressive performance from Lando Norris in the McLaren. Hamilton ended the day 0.498secs off the pace, and while he expressed frustration when told how far behind he was, he struck a noticeably upbeat figure afterwards.
“I’ve genuinely had an amazing day,” said the seven-time champion. “I really enjoyed driving today. I want to say a big big thank you to everyone back at the factory because to build and design and develop a car [in eight weeks] is not an easy thing.
“It’s not the place ultimately to test an upgrade. But the car was generally feeling good. It’s a shame we weren’t as close as I hoped at the end of the session. But we definitely felt an improvement. We’ve just got to squeeze a bit more juice out of the car.”
Team-mate George Russell had a tougher time of it, struggling with his set-up. “I’m not expecting an easy day tomorrow,” he said. “Qualifying is obviously the most important day of the weekend here.
“And that is a part of the weekend where we generally struggle compared to [race pace] if you look at the last 18 months. So we need to figure some stuff out overnight.”