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F1 fight takes to Monaco streets

Red Bull has the speed, McLaren has the lead and Ferrari could have the package as Formula One's wide-open championship takes to the narrow streets of the iconic Monaco Grand Prix this weekend.

Mark Webber won last weekend's Spanish GP on the back of Red Bull's qualifying speed, which has seen the team clinch every pole position so far this season, but despite Red Bull's speed advantage, it's Jenson Button who leads the driver standings while his McLaren team tops the constructors' standings.

After five races, Button has 70 points, ahead of Ferrari's Fernando Alonso on 67, with Sebastian Vettel next on 60 and teammate Webber at 53. Nico Rosberg of Mercedes has 50 while McLaren's Lewis Hamilton and Ferrari driver Felipe Massa are on 49.

Red Bull is clearly above the field in terms of pure pace, with McLaren and Ferrari's prominent positions in the title fights owing much to Red Bull's reliability failures in the first quarter of the season.

"I don't think Red Bull has the same advantage they had in Barcelona," Button said on Thursday. "They're going to be quick but if they get a little thing wrong in qualifying another team might take advantage. Here I think it's going to be a little bit more mixed up."

Red Bull is keen to prove its car is consistent at every track.

"We should have a strong car here. We expect to have no trouble of bits falling off," said Vettel, who came third in Spain despite a brake failure. "Obviously we had a couple of issues this year with reliability but we have always reacted quickly and they never happened again."

But Monaco's winding street circuit is unlike any other and defending winner Button compared it to "driving a go-kart around your living room."

"Every lap throughout that race it gets more and more difficult because the barriers seem to get so much closer," Button said. "Mentally it's so, so draining."

McLaren has won the race five times since 2000 and has the past two world champions in Button and Hamilton, who was in line for a second-place finish in Barcelona before a wheel rim failure blew his tyre to send him crashing into a barrier with one lap to go.

"It's exciting enough if it's dry but if it's wet it's going to be crazy out there," Button said. "Especially with all of those cars."

Ferrari won't use its F-duct - an aerodynamic device copied from McLaren that affects the rear wing and will be banned from 2011. Still, Alonso expects Ferrari should be fighting for the podium in every race for the remainder of the season.

"Overall I don't think we have to say Red Bull is favourite," said Alonso. "If they do mistakes... we just need to make sure we don't do the same. I expect a strong performance from our side."

While Alonso inherited second place in Barcelona after Hamilton's crash and Vettel's brake problems, teammate Massa struggled again after a strong start, complaining of low downforce and tyre problems.

Mercedes driver Michael Schumacher - who could match Ayrton Senna's record of six Monaco triumphs - is coming off a fourth-place finish in Barcelona, his best result since his return to F1.

"Can we achieve a win here or not this weekend? That's what we have to see," said Schumacher, who will see his wheel base altered for this race. "After Barcelona there's probably no point to talk about winning because we were quite a margin behind. But who knows what this track and this combination will offer to us."

Schumacher's last appearance in Monte Carlo in 2006 saw the seven-time world champion controversially park his car in a spot on the track which affected Alonso's attempt to beat the German's qualifying time. Stewards ruled it deliberate and relegated Schumacher to the back of the grid.

Traffic in qualifying could be even more of a problem this time around, with 24 cars cramming the tight circuit, and three rookie teams being many seconds a lap off the pace of the others, but a proposal to split qualifying to reduce crowding was rejected.

"It's going to be a mess and it's just going to be a nightmare," HRT driver Karun Chandhok said. "Now we'll all go to qualifying and we'll all complain (afterward)."

In Monaco, practice sessions are run a day earlier - on Thursday - while Friday is a rest day before qualifying on Saturday.

Sunday's race, which is one of only four that has been on the calendar since 1950, will be 78 laps long.

Button provided one of the races most colourful moments of last season when he had to run nearly 300 meters to the podium to collect his trophy.

"It was such an emotional moment and a moment I will never forget," Button said "because one, it's on YouTube, and two, because it's going to stay in my mind forever running up to Prince Albert of Monaco and saying 'Sorry - I parked in the wrong place."'

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