Controlled explosions by security forces, train strikes, overbearing officials and unpredictable tires have created a tense atmosphere here ahead of tomorrow’s annual showpiece event, the Monaco Grand Prix.
Following the exploding of a small white plastic box outside the paddock entrance late on Thursday, when many paddock regulars and thousands of spectators were squashed underground waiting for a train to arrive, some Formula One fans could be excused if they chose to avoid the Mediterranean principality and watch proceedings on television.
However, inside the unreal bubble that is the F1 paddock, where the annual round of talks on contract renewals for sponsors and drivers traditionally begins in Monaco, the calm and the comfort signaled nothing less than business as usual.
Two weeks on from the fire that engulfed the Williams garage in Spain, where Pastor Maldonado became the first Venezuelan to win a Grand Prix, and a month after the controversial fiasco that was the Bahrain Grand Prix, the biggest challenge facing the future of the sport remains — its future.
As the commercial ring-master Briton Bernie Ecclestone attempts to put together a deal that will see a reconstruction of the business, amid fears that Mercedes are poised to drive away into the sunset, few dare hazard any forecasts of what lies ahead.
Indeed, guessing at the immediate, short and longer-term future for F1 is no easier than predicting who could win tomorrow’s race — or more pertinently, who will claim pole position in qualifying this afternoon.
Given that the 78-lap contest is normally a procession of cars with varying degrees of performance and rising levels of frustration because of the challenge of trying to overtake on such a narrow barrier-lined track, the man who secures the prime starting position will be a very hot favorite to win.
Thursday’s opening free practice sessions, run in variable conditions, saw Briton Jenson Button end up fastest in his McLaren ahead of the Lotus of the French driver Romain Grosjean. Yet, for many, it is their teammates who are favored to triumph — Lewis Hamilton and Kimi Raikkonen respectively.
Hamilton, the 2008 champion, has yet to win this year, but is the bookmakers choice to take the top step of the podium again for the first time this year — stretching the number of different winners if it happens to six in six races.
If the 2007 champion, Finn Raikkonen, wins, it will create the same extraordinary scenario, and see a French-designed Renault engine triumphant.
“This is just such a fantastic race to win, as we have the last couple of years,” Red Bull boss Christian Horner said on Thursday evening. “But this time it is so difficult to predict. Nobody knows. Even the weather is so variable so anything can happen.”