Formula 1 news story about [F1 2018 NEWS FEATURE] STEWART BELL: MONACO MISSION

Monaco may be a tiny Principality with an area of just 2 kilometres squared, but it’s got big implications for Ferrari this weekend with Formula 1’s blue-riband event a must-win for the Scuderia.

The last race in Spain was a Mercedes Silverwash, with Lewis Hamilton in a league of his own – the four-time F1 World Champion finishing more than 20-seconds ahead of teammate Valtteri Bottas for the squad’s first one-two result this year. And it looked to be a tide-turning race, given the supremacy of the performance.

Of course, Mercedes form was boosted in Barcelona via a combination of the new track surface, and thinner-tread Pirelli tyres, with form set to swing throughout the season as squads seek to get the rubber into the narrow temperature range for optimum performance. But it doesn’t mean it wasn’t a blow to the team in Rosso red.

“I think it’s fair to summarise that Barcelona was not a strong race for us,” said Sebastian Vettel, who came home in fourth after struggling on his medium tyres – a second pit stop dropping him out of contention.

“I think Saturday was actually pretty good, qualifying was very close, but in the race we fell a little bit behind. It was good that we had the opportunity [in-season test] on Tuesday and Wednesday to get into the race situation again and understand a little bit better with more time and more laps and I think that’s what we did.

"There are a couple of ideas that we have and there are things that we believe may have cause a weak race or weak pace during the race.”

And Ferrari will need all the ideas it can get, because it’s got to arrest its slide – with victory in Monaco, while not indicative of a trend given its unique layout, helping Vettel claw back the 17 point-gap to Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton in the drivers’ standings, and Ferrari in closing the 27-point deficit to the Silver Arrows in the constructors’.

More importantly, Monaco will also be crucial in building momentum ahead of a frenzied June and July starting with four races in five weekends, beginning with Canada on June 10 – which is one of Hamilton’s favourite tracks, the Brit now one win away from Michael Schumacher’s record of seven in Montreal.

Canada is followed by F1’s first-ever triple header including France, Austria and Great Britain, with that run of events crucial to setting the tone of any championship battle, so keeping motivation sky high will be key with time tight for updates and upgrades and staying on top of exhaustion with just one non-racing weekend in five.

It’s also a time to focus on the things that cost it serious points and momentum last year – mechanical gremlins and driver mistakes.

On the technical front, it’ll be a case of triple checking everything and ensuring procedures are followed to the letter, while for the drivers keeping a cool head at all times will be fundamental. Taking maximum points is the only way to go.

But Ferrari technical director Mattia Binotto is confident a lot of the squad’s shortcomings last year were addressed over the European winter, before the cars even turned a wheel in pre-season testing.

“I think we have improved in most of the areas and our spirit is really to try to improve first, what were the weaknesses of last year, try to focus, we knew that maybe on top speed we were not our best, in terms of overall efficiency we could have improved, especially on what were the fast circuits,” he said.

“So I think all our engineering focus was to improve the car in all the areas. I don’t think we can say there is a specific area that improved the most and I’m quite pleased to see that in all the areas we made progress.”

For the moment, Vettel is playing down the need to win but it’s an important round, no doubt.

"We are coming here because we want to win, not because we must win. That for me is a big difference," the four-time F1 World Champion said.

"We want to win. I think it will be incredibly close. I think Red Bull should be stronger here, especially on Saturday so we will see.

"It's good if you come here and know that you are in the mix. We will try to make the difference."