• Many teams and fans had hoped the return to Europe this month would change what has become a familiar narrative in Formula 1 this year – Red Bull dominates the weekend, Aston Martin, Ferrari, and Mercedes lock out the remaining top spots, and everyone else fights for the last one or two points available in the race.

    With the cancellation of the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix due to catastrophic flooding in Imola, teams now face the unenviable task of bringing upgrades to one of the most unique, and so least representative, tracks on the calendar – Monaco.

    On tap for this weekend is a major redesign of the W14 for Mercedes, the first significant update of the year for Aston Martin, and a second upgrade of the season for Alpine. Ferrari will wait until Barcelona to introduce its new take on the SF-23.

    The hope is that these developments will shake up the order near the top of the field and inject some much-needed excitement into a championship fight that up until this point has seemed like a foregone conclusion. For fantasy managers, there is an additional wish that the development wars create an opportunity to compete with a lineup beyond the one we are seeing dominate leagues throughout the world: Red Bull (x3), Aston Martin (x3), and the budget driver of one’s choice.

    Until these developments start to bear fruit, however, the biggest decision most managers will face is which driver under $5.0M to select for that last spot on one’s roster. There are five candidates:

    Logan Sargeant got off to a good start in Bahrain this year, delivering 11 points thanks in part to seven overtakes on track. Since then though, he has struggled mightily, scoring 5 or fewer points in the next four rounds, including a -20 in Baku after his crash in the Shootout meant he couldn’t take part in the Sprint. There are already rumblings of Williams replacing him next year (possibly with Mercedes reserve driver, Mick Schumacher), and with no major upgrades to the FW-45 scheduled for Monaco, Sargeant is to be avoided at all costs.

    Nyck de Vries is also under fire after his poor start. Rumors have circulated about de Vries being replaced by fan-favorite Daniel Ricciardo if de Vries’s form doesn’t improve. While that rumor has been shut down by Red Bull, there remains the possibility that de Vries could be usurped by one of the Red Bull Junior Team drivers if he doesn’t make meaningful strides soon. From a fantasy perspective, de Vries got out of the gates well, delivering 8 points in Bahrain and 7 in Saudi Arabia, but since then has scored 3 in Australia, -15 in Baku, and 0 in Miami. If you believe that de Vries has potential and just needed a fire lit under him, then you might consider him for this week. Otherwise, he should probably be passed over for one of the more seasoned drivers on the list.

    There is no more experienced hand at the back of the grid than Nico Hulkenberg. Hulkenberg broke into Formula 1 in 2010 and has started 186 races in his career. His experience could prove invaluable this weekend as not only is Monaco one of the most challenging circuits on the calendar, but there is also rain in the forecast for both qualifying on Saturday and the race on Sunday. In addition, Monaco is a notoriously difficult track on which to overtake, making qualifying  that much more important for a driver’s weekend. Hulkenberg has hands down been the best qualifier of any of the budget drivers this year. He has twice made an appearance in Q3, once in Bahrain and once in Australia. He has only missed out on Q2 once this season (in Baku), and qualified 11th in Saudi Arabia and 12th in Miami. Hulkenberg has the ability and experience to put his car in a position to take advantage of a misstep up ahead and deliver some valuable fantasy points in Monaco. He can certainly be considered for the last spot on your roster this weekend.

    Zhou Guanyu and Yuki Tsunoda have each scored 27 fantasy points this year, tied for most of any budget driver and 11th most of any driver on the grid. They each cost $4.7M and are both set to receive minor upgrades to their cars in Monaco. They each had a challenging race last year, with Zhou finishing 16th and Tsunoda 17th, the lowest of any drivers to complete the race and one lap down to first-time winner, Sergio Perez. That said, they’ve both taken a major step forward this year and are leading their teams on and off track. However, the vast majority of their points have come on overtakes and positions gained, and Monaco sees the fewest number of overtakes on track of any circuit on the calendar. With qualifying paramount in the Principality, you’d have to give the edge to Tsunoda, who not only out-qualified Zhou at Monaco in 2022, getting into Q2 and starting the race 11th, but is the only driver of the two to reach Q3 this year, qualifying 8th just a few weeks ago in Baku.

    As with any street track, and especially one with rain in the forecast, your No Negative chip could be considered for this week. But the chip to keep an eye out for is Final Fix, which allows you to make a single transfer between qualifying and the race. With so few passes on track in Monaco, if a top driver who is not currently in your lineup qualifies on the first row, you may want to take the opportunity to get him into your lineup before the start of the race. If he can keep it out of the wall, and avoid any strategy or pit stop errors, then he could easily convert a good qualifying into a great win.

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