Bonjour et bienvenue à Monaco! The Monaco Grand Prix epitomises the extravagance of Formula 1 racing. Known as the jewel in the crown of Formula 1, the Circuit de Monaco is also the most unforgiving track of the calendar. The 3.340km circuit is breathtakingly narrow, meaning teams with shorter gear ratios have an advantage to the streets. There is less focus on fuel saving and energy recovery, with teams focussing on high downforce and mechanical grip to avoid too much oversteer. It’s a tight squeeze to the first corner, St Devote, where many a first lap incident has occurred. Overtaking is easiest (and I say that lightly) at the Nouvelle Chicane, though I wouldn’t recommend for the faint hearted. There’s only one DRS zone in Monaco, located on the start-finish straight. It was perfect conditions for qualifying, with clear skies and a track temperature of 42 degrees. After three sessions, it was another Mercedes front row lock out, with Rosberg the only driver to crack the 1:15s ahead of Hamilton, leaving the Red Bull of Daniel Ricciardo to qualify P3.
Mercedes were unsurprisingly strong in qualifying. The Mercedes set up has traditionally been well suited to the Circuit de Monaco, so it was unsurprising to see both the F1 Wo5s qualify on the front row. Homeboy Nico Rosberg clinched pole position from Hamilton, setting a time of 1:15.989. An off for Rosberg at Mirabeau resulted in yellow flags, and saw Hamilton (who was two tenths up on his lap) back off on his final lap to challenge his teammate. Hamilton adhered to the flags, thus securing the top spot for Rosberg. The stewards are now investigating Rosberg for purposely causing yellow flags.
Red Bull are among the teams that gain an advantage from the Monaco streets. The BR10s short gear ratios, and high downforce set up is one that agreed for both drivers today. The session went largely without incident for Ricciardo, who consistently lapped at the top of the time sheets to put a little pressure on the Mercedes. Unfortunately, the RB10 didn’t make up the same time as the Mercedes in the few straights there are, so Ricciardo settles for P3. Sebastian Vettel is again looking more competitive in the RB10, despite being unable to out-qualify his teammate on this occasion. The reigning world champion suffered from a KERs issue throughout qualifying, influencing his lap times. It’s therefore rather impressive to see Vettel qualify just 0.163s behind Ricciardo for P4.
Continuing the theme of lining up the grid in team order, Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso qualified P5, ahead of Kimi Raikkonen in P6. The F14 T is looking more competitive since Spain, and more agreeable to both drivers. Alonso’s session went smoothly, with the Spaniard improving on his times through out qualifying to set a final flying lap of 1:16.686, just more than a tenth of a second behind the Red Bull. Keeping startlingly close to the barriers, Kimi was slightly more aggressive in his qualifying. The Finn, put in a good scrap against Alonso in Q1. Though Raikkonen was still slightly off the pace where it counts, with his final lap 0.7s slower than his teammate to qualify P6. In other news, Justin Bieber, who’s in Monaco for the weekend, tried to meet Alonso in the paddock. Bieber was however snubbed by the Spaniard*, and removed from the paddock. (Ok, I made that last bit up, but Alonso did ignore him).
Toro Rosso got their strategy right in qualifying, running on the super softs in Q1 to secure a spot comfortably for both Vergne and Kvyat in Q2, and then Q3. Vergne’s performance throughout all three sessions was rather impressive, topping the time sheets at the end of Q1, and putting pressure on the front running teams. The Frenchman eventually qualified a strong P7 with 1:17.540. Vergne’s Russian teammate had a far more eventful qualifying. In the early stages of Q1, Kvyat lost control of the back of his STR9 on the exit of the tunnel, flicking the front of his car into the barriers and completely removing his front wing. The contact with the barriers was enough to see the car run off at the Nouvelle Chicane, and get the car back to the garage for a new front wing and a check-up. Kvyat was lucky to escape serious damage (to himself and the car) going into the barriers at one of the fastest sections of the circuit, and even luckier to be able to continue for the remainder of the sessions. In the second session, Daniil Kvyat caught the attention of the stewards for impeding Lotus’ Pastor Maldonado, later complaining of cold tyres. In the final session, Kvyat, again on the super softs pulled himself forward slightly to qualify P9.
The McLarens MP4-29 doesn’t appear to be as suited to the Monaco streets, with Button still struggling to get out of Q2. In his best qualifying since Malaysia, Kevin Magnussen had a better handle on the setup, as he pushed the car to the limit throughout qualifying, paying off to make it to the final session. There was a small incident in Q1 with the rookie going off at St Devote, creating a flat spot on his front left tyre. Magnussen recovered, and had a smoother day thereafter, putting his MP4-29 through to Q3 to eventually split the Toro Rossos for P8. Jensen Button could only manage P12 after locking up on his final flying lap to make it out of Q2.
Force India were surprisingly less competitive during the sessions, appearing very bumpy over the chicanes costing both drivers time on their laps. Both drivers chose to run on the super softs in Q1 and Q2, with the effort enough to put Perez through to the final session. Though a lock up at the end of Q3 saw Perez unable to improve on his time, with the Mexican therefore round out to top ten with 1:18.327. Hulkenberg couldn’t match his teammate in either session for pace, just missing out on Q3 to line up P11.
Williams had an unfortunate qualifying following an incident with Ericsson that saw Massa’s session prematurely end, and Bottas struggling for grip due to cold tyres. The Finn’s best effort on the super softs was 1:18.082s, putting him P13. Though Massa didn’t run in Q2, he made it through with his lap of 1:18.209s in Q1 to start P16. The Brazilian’s day was cut short when Caterham’s Marcus Ericsson lost his CT05 at Mirabeau, sliding into the barriers taking the FW36 with him. It seems Massa doesn’t have much luck when it comes to qualifying at Monaco.
The Lotuses were somewhat off the pace during qualifying, with the set up appearing lack grip in the corners. Romain Grosjean was less competitive, with his E22 difficult to handle through qualifying. Maldonado was involved in an incident with the stewards, though in a slightly subtler manner than we’re used to. The Venezuelan driver was under investigation by the stewards for an incident with Kvyat in Q2 to determine if the Russian had impeded the Lotus. Neither driver made it through to Q3, with Grosjean qualifying P14 ahead of Maldonado’s P15.
Sauber joined the list of teams struggling to get heat in the tyres. Both drivers ventured out on the super softs in Q1. Adrian Sutil was forced to back off on a flying lap at the end of Q1 following double yellow flags from the Ericsson and Massa collision. The flags meant Sutil had no chance to improve on his time, resulting in the German failing to make it through to the next session. Esteban Gutierrez attracted the attention of the stewards for an impeding offence, demonstrating just how off the pace the C33 was. The Mexican’s final flying lap put him P17, where Sutil’s best lap was enough for P18.
Rounding off the back of the grid are the familiar faces of Marussia and Caterham. Jules Bianchi surprised the team in the final practice session, though was unable to have the performance carry through to qualifying. Max Chilton is beginning to make a habit of qualifying somewhere other than the back row. Good one Max. The Marussia’s lined up in their usual order with Bianchi ahead of Chilton in P19 and P20 respectively.
Caterham’s qualifying was short yet eventful. Kobayashi flew somewhat under the radar during the session, unable to put in a competitive lap time due to cold tyres and yellow flags qualifying P21. Ericsson however attracted attention for all the wrong reasons. After initially impeding Vettel early in the season, the rookie continued to struggle for pace and grip. Ericsson’s day ended at Mirabeau after braking late, resulting in oversteer and a meeting with the barriers.
The Monaco Grand Prix is breathtaking both on and off the track. Any attempt to overtake is thrilling, and when done right is truly astonishing. Just to make things a little more interesting, there’s also an 80% chance of a safety car at this circuit. A good qualifying position and clean getaway of the grid is essential. Though it’s usual to see a driver win from pole, Sunday’s race is Daniel Ricciardo’s best shot of taking the top step of the podium. Just have to hope for that safety car…
* Alonso didn’t snub me Justin… See
** The results after the stewards investigations are, Rosberg keeps pole, Ericsson will start from the pit lane, and Kvyat has been handed a reprimand.