Monaco Grand Prix: Pit Stop Woes

Nico Rosberg made it a hatrick of wins in the Principality at today’s Monaco Grand Prix after inheriting the lead during a disastrous pit stop strategy under the safety car. Following on, on worn soft compound tyres, Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel fought hard to keep his newly earned second place from Lewis Hamilton. The podium result soon saw a somewhat bewildered Nico Rosberg, from an ecstatic Sebastian Vettel, and a less-than-usually-sulky Lewis Hamilton. At lights out, Hamilton was quick off the line, keeping his team mate behind him. Vettel immediately had to defend his position from Red Bull’s Daniil Kvyat, who incidentally nearly ran into the back of the Ferrari for some very late braking. Daniel Ricciardo, in the other Red Bull tried to make a move around the outside of Vettel and Kvyat, though the move failed to come to pass. Ricciardo conceded a place to Kvyat through turn 1, relegating the RB11 to P4. Snaking their way through, Alonso in the McLaren and Hulkenberg in the Force India made contact through Mirabeau, resulting the the VJM08 losing it’s front wing in the barrier. Hulkenberg limped back to the pits for a new front wing, losing several positions.

Some undoubtably awkward conversations will be happening over in the Mercedes camp following a definite 1-2 Hamilton-Rosberg victory being thrown away by an unnecessary pit stop under the safety car. Hamilton had led the entirety of the race, managing to keep the brakes cool and pull a +9s lead on Rosberg at times, all before the appearance of the safety car on lap 65. Initially running both cars on a one-stop strategy, the pit wall decided to call Hamilton in for a second stop under the safety car to swap to fresh super soft tyres. A move that made no sense given that there were barely 10-laps left in the race, and almost no opportunity to over take. Without a large enough gap, Hamilton emerged from the pits behind seemingly Vettel, and after a brief investigation over position on track vs. crossing the safety car line, where he would stay. Overall it wasn’t the easiest race for the Mercedes camp.

At least one face on the podium looked pleased to be stood where he was. Sebastian Vettel clearly pushed hard from lights out, never letting the Mercedes ahead get out of reach. The Scuderia initially tried to take Rosberg with an undercut in the pit stops, but failed to pay off the move against the F1 W06. Moving up to P2 from Hamilton’s pit under the safety car, Vettel was concerned that his tyres would lose too much temperature due to the lapped cars unlapping themselves (a long an arduous process). As we went racing once more, Vettel had to defend from a Mercedes right on his gearbox. There wasn’t an opportunity for Vettel to challenge Rosberg for the top step, so the Ferrari focussed on getting his tyres back up to temperature and pulling a large enough gap to keep Hamilton at bay. A strategy that worked as the Mercedes was unable to pass. Further back in the field, Kimi Raikkonen was clearly annoyed* by the traffic through the streets. Monaco isn’t Kimi’s favourite track, though the Ferrari clearly pushed hard to fight for his position. Keeping on the tail of Ricciardo, Raikkonen closed the gap to the Red Bull. Following the safety car however, some contact between the two pushed Raikkonen back to P6.

Red Bull finished the race in a healthy P4 and P5 for their drivers, with Daniil Kvyat finishing ahead of Daniel Ricciardo. Both Dan’s drove a strong race, with Kvyat’s start off the line, and Ricciardo’s overtaking following the safety car being highlights for the two. Once the safety car had peeled in, Ricciardo was told he could attack the cars in front, and attack he did, making up two positions in the two laps following. Pulling off a rather bold move on Raikkonen, which after an investigation by the stewards saw no further action. Ricciardo had then the opportunity to challenge for a podium finish against Hamilton. However with the Mercedes remaining just out of reach, and Kvyat lapping quicker, the Aussie was told over radio if he couldn’t make the overtake to let Kvyat through. Ricciardo obliged and the team scored some solid points between them.

Force India got off to a bumpy start after contact between Alonso and Hulkenberg on the opening lap, costing the Hulk several positions. Sergio Perez however had a strong drive, showing what the Mercedes powered VJM08 is capable of around the tight streets of Monaco. Starting from P7, Checo put together a flawless race, managing a two stop strategy of softs in the middle stint, before switching back to the super softs under the safety car to build a strong challenge against Kimi Raikkonen. Unfortunately for the Mexican, the race ran out of laps, and he was unable to catch the Ferrari and settling for P7. Nico Hulkenberg  dropped to the back of the grid from lap one, though was able to claw his way back up to finish just outside of the points in P11.

A bittersweet result for McLaren-Mercedes, who managed to bring just one car to the chequered flag, that car however did manage to pick up 4 points! More than the Woking based team have collected all season. Starting from P10, and with the odds against him, Jenson Button managed the temperamental Honda power unit keeping a competitive one-stop strategy right up until the safety car. Covering their bases, he team pit Button under the safety car to finish the race on the quicker super-soft tyres as Perez and Nasr pit around him. The strategy paid off as Button finished in P8, his best result all season. Fernando Alonso was less lucky, being handed a 5-second stop-go penalty for causing the collision with Hulkenberg on the opening lap (which he unknowingly served on lap 33, and finally retiring due to a gearbox issue ten laps later.

Sauber had a somewhat anonymous race, with Felipe Nasr finishing just inside the points in P9, and Marcus Ericsson coming home in P13. Running on a one-stop, Nasr initially made up positions on Alonso and Grosjean, though was promoted to P9 through the retirements of Maldonado, Alonso, and Verstappen. Nasr came in to pit for a second time under the safety car, though failed to make up a position. Marcus Ericsson was running on a two-stop, though pitted under the safety as well. Overall, it was a bit of an underwhelming race for the team.

Bringing home a single point, the Toro Rosso garage were robbed of something to really celebrate for. Carlos Sainz, starting from the pit lane managed a one-stop strategy, pitting on lap 12 for the harder of the two compound tyres. Sainz made up several positions before the safety car, finishing a promising P9. Max Verstappen started the race with storming pace, however a slow stop for the STR10 cost the rookie some time. Verstappen quickly worked on closing the gap to get back into the points. The battle soon saw the Toro Rosso approach the back of Romain Grosjean in the E23. After a bold attempt at the hairpin, Verstappen remained behind the Lotus. Keeping on Grosjean’s gearbox, Verstappen made another attempt at the position, though failed to pull the dummy manoeuvre and misjudging the Lotus’ braking. The STR10 caught the right rear of the E23, snapping the front left wish-bone and sending Verstappen straight into the barriers at Mirabeau. Fortunately, Verstappen emerged unscathed from the hefty impact. Unfortunately, Verstappen has also been handed a grid penalty for Canada, and had points added to his super licence.

Romain Grosjean was the only Lotus to finish the race as Pastor’s E23 pulled a sicky earlier in the race. Maldonado, starting off strong, was called into retire after a brake by wire failure on lap 8. Though a short lived race, Maldonado did pick up some contact first with Massa into turn 1, and then Verstappen at Tabac. Keeping his head down, Grosjean maintained a competitive pace on a one-stop strategy, though was unable to make a points finish stick. The E23 finishing just outside in P12.

It too was an anonymous race for Williams, who, not hoping for much, finished in P14 and P15. It was all too clear that the FW37 is suited to long high speed straights, and as Monaco barely has one, the team struggled. Valtteri Bottas maintained a two-stop strategy, pitting just before the safety car to finish P14. Felipe Massa had a difficult start, having to pit on the opening lap following contact from Maldonado. The stop was a long one owing to a necessary front wing change. Massa then raced on a two-stop strategy, before pitting for a third time under the safety car to finish P15.

Roberto Merhi and Will Stevens for Manor F1 Team are undoubtably sick of the sight the blue flags, having spent the entirety of the race having them waved in their visors. That being said, both cars managed to finish the race, which in itself is an accomplishment in Monaco. Merhi finished ahead of his team mate in P16, to Stevens P17.

After a rather quiet start (or 60-odd laps), the Monaco Grand Prix did deliver it’s usual spectacle of nail biting attempts to overtake and safety car appearances. Though it wasn’t quite the victory that Rosberg would have been hoping for, the result has closed the championship points gap to just ten points. So, that’s something for Mercedes, or Vettel to think about. The championship now moves on to Montréal, for the Canadian Grand Prix. Not always the most exciting of races, though Daniel Ricciardo did take his first Formula 1 victory there last year, so personally I’m hoping for a repeat. Until then, à tout à l’heure.

– Alex

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