Fri, May 25, 3:17pm by Staff Writer
Even championship leader Lewis Hamilton admits Daniel Ricciardo will be hard to beat when the Australian returns to his favourite circuit for this weekend’s Monaco Grand Prix.
Driving an improved Red Bull car, Ricciardo finished a respectable fifth and teammate Max Verstappen came third the last time out at the Spanish GP, and Hamilton is talking up the Australian’s chances on the winding Monaco street circuit on Sunday.
“If you look at Daniel Ricciardo (in Spain), he was much quicker in the last sector,” the Hamilton told Formula1.com.
Ricciardo, a Monaco resident, looked set to take the chequered flag at his home race in 2016 before a pit stop error pushed him into second place. Last year, driving in an uncompetitive car, he managed to claim a spot on the podium.
Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel took the win last year, making him Sportsbet’s $2.75 favourite this week, ahead of 2016 winner Hamilton at $3.75.
The improvements at Red Bull have not gone unnoticed by the bookies, with Ricciardo and Verstappen equal third favourites at $5. Ferrari driver Kimi Raikkonen is on $13, while Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas is paying $15.
While Ricciardo’s rivals have been quick to talk up his chances, the Aussie has been more cautious.
“I think it will be very close between us and particularly Ferrari, and we’ll see where Mercedes is,” he told reporters this week.
Ferrari dominated last year’s Monaco GP with a 1-2 finish for Vettel and Raikkonen.
Hamilton, meanwhile has won the last two of this season’s races to move 17 points ahead of Vettel in their title battle.
And while Mercedes took a 1-2 finish in Barcelona, Ferrari should still have the best pace, if not the composure.
Ricciardo is currently fifth on the driver standings after five races, with Red Bull sitting third in the constructor standings behind Mercedes and Ferrari.
A podium finish for at least one of the Red Bull drivers will go a long way toward keeping the team in touch with the leaders and car improvements make it more competitive as the season progresses.
Ricciardo is paying just $1.91 to claim a third straight Monaco podium and fourth in five years. Vettel is on $1.40, with Hamilton at $1.57, Verstappen at $2, Raikkonen on $2.37 and Bottas paying $2.88.
The Circuit de Monaco street track has hosted the Monaco GP since 1929 and is considered none of the most challenging, and prestigious races, on the F1 circuit.
The narrow circuit features frequent elevation changes and tight corners as well as a tunnel making it difficult for passing and dangerous for unwary drivers.
The contrast between the gloom of the tunnel and daylight drivers meet on its exit is challenge in itself.
The fastest-ever lap on the circuit was set by Raikkonen in qualifying for last year’s race.
Monaco is expecting good driving weather for qualifying and race day, with mostly sunny skies and temperatures sitting in the mid-20 C.
The Monaco GP gets underway at 11pm Sunday AEST.
Suggested Bet: Ricciardo to win: $5
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