Sebastian Vettel needs to rediscover his speed in qualifying if he is to protect his overall Formula One lead at the Monaco Grand Prix.
Monaco is the hardest track to overtake on in F1, with only two drivers winning from outside of pole position in the last 10 years, so starting from the front is crucial. But Vettel's Red Bull has not been its usual dominant self in qualifying over the last three races, and the German's lead over Lotus driver Kimi Raikkonen is just four points going into Sunday's showcase race. With Ferrari's Fernando Alonso also closing the gap after his victory at the Spanish GP two weeks ago, Vettel is under pressure to deliver his third pole of the season.
Red Bull has won the past three Monaco GPs - all from pole - with Mark Webber winning two, and Vettel triumphing in 2011. But Vettel's last pole was four races ago in Malaysia and he was below-par in Thursday's two practice runs, finishing 10th and ninth.
"I would say that it is hard for us to say where we are right now," Vettel said. "The good news is that we have a fast car when everything comes together. Now it is up to us to make everything come together."
Mercedes has taken pole position for the past three races.
Tire management has been a crucial factor, with the Pirelli tires shredding too easily in all five races so far. The Italian manufacturer was heavily criticised in Barcelona, where there were nearly 80 pit stops and most drivers had to shelve plans for a three-stop strategy, taking four instead.
Ferrari has managed its tires far better, as it showed in Barcelona where Felipe Massa finished third behind Raikkonen's Lotus. Both Ferraris beat the Red Bulls - with Vettel finishing fourth ahead of Webber.
Seb slams Pirelli
Sebastian Vettel expressed concern over Formula One’s tyre troubles and attacked tyre maker Pirelli for providing racers with unsafe tyres, which he warned might lead to accidents during the Monaco Grand Prix.
The German racer fears Monaco can become a ticking safety time-bomb if tyre problems are not adhered to, The Mirror reports.
According to the report, Pirelli had assured that they will use harder rubber from Canada to limit pit stops following four pit stops at the Spanish Grand Prix three weeks ago but the FIA told them they could only do so on safety grounds.
"When the majority of the drivers are struggling, it means that you cannot drive as you are used to," said Vettel, who has been one of the most outspoken drivers on this issue. "If your only focus is the tires, then that is not racing any longer in the way that we knew."