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Before last year’s race, Vettel had opened up a commanding 41-point lead over Hamilton by winning four of the opening five races, and was a massive 67 points ahead of Alonso as Ferrari struggled.

This time, Hamilton sits only eight points behind the top two; Raikkonen is 12 points back; Webber is 13 points adrift and Button is only 16 points behind and could leapfrog his rivals if he powers his McLaren to victory.

Button, who finished third at Monaco last year, is in a confident mood.

“I go back to Monte Carlo with a little bit of unfinished business,” he said. “The team has a great history around Monaco and I’d love to add my name to McLaren’s Monaco winners’ list.”

He thinks the race conditions could suit him.

“We’ll be running Pirelli’s Supersoft compound (tires) for the first time _ which should be interesting,” he said. “I’m optimistic of getting on top of the balance issues that have affected me for the past two races. It’s going to be a fantastic weekend.”

Among the five race winners this season is Venezuela’s Pastor Maldonado, whose joy at leading Williams to its first F1 win since 2004 at the Spanish GP was tempered by a fire in the team garage that left several people hospitalized and seriously damaged material.

But the Williams team fully expects to be competing as usual.

“The impact of the fire has been mitigated by what can only be described as a Herculean effort by the factory and our suppliers to restock both the damaged equipment and car parts,” said Mark Gillan, the team’s chief operations engineer. “We would also like to thank the generous offers of help from the other teams, highlighting once more the excellent sportsmanship that exists in Formula One.”