Monaco Grand Prix: Rosberg Vs Hamilton

The Monaco Grand Prix went a full sixty seconds before the first of two safety cars deployed throughout the race. Nico Rosberg got his clean getaway from pole to take home the win for the second consecutive year. Lewis Hamilton fought to keep the pressure on his teammate until “something in his eye” affected his vision and lap times. Hamilton finished a very sulky second, just ahead of Daniel Ricciardo. At lights out, Rosberg was quick off the line, though arguably the best start was from Kimi Raikkonen. Raikkonen, from P6, slipped passed his teammate (who’d swerved to avoid the Red Bulls), and passed Sebastian Vettel on the exit St Devote. Further back on the grid, Kevin Magnussen had made it passed both the Toro Rossos before the first corner. The race was brought back a notch when Perez’s and Button’s cars kissed at Mirabeau, bringing out the safety car.

Mercedes continue to collect both drivers and constructors points. Though while the constructors lead lengthens, the battle for the drivers championship is becoming somewhat tense… After Rosberg was cleared of any wrong doing by the stewards for causing yellow flags in qualifying, the German went on to take the chequered flag, though not without pressure. Rosberg spent most of the race with his teammate closely visible in his mirrors. Clearly pushing hard to guard his lead, Rosberg could be seen locking his front tyres throughout the circuit. As the race progressed, things calmed down a little, only having to contend with lapping the back markers (and then the rest of the field…). Lewis made it painfully clear that he wasn’t happy with his second place finish, the feedback from his engineers, the temperature in his rear tyres, or really anything in the race. Despite the seemingly endless complaints and concerns being voiced over team radio, the former world champion kept close of the tail of his teammate until the final stages of the race when something in his eye affected his vision, causing the Mercedes to back off. Possibly Hamilton was running with the logic of “If I can’t see Rosberg take the lead in the championship, it didn’t happen”, but who knows.

Daniel Ricciardo was somewhat modest in his explanation of his third place finish, claiming that he inherited the position after his teammate’s retirement and Raikkonen’s puncture. This is just modesty. Though the Australian didn’t have the quickest getaway off the line, Ricciardo more than earned his podium finish. Ricciardo kept close on the tail of Raikkonen before the second safety car, laying a rather bold attempt for position on the Finn at Casino Square. He did eventually gain his position when Raikkonen pit again, though the Red Bull driver patiently waited, conserving his tyres, to put himself in the best position to challenge to Mercedes. Once Hamilton started to back away from Rosberg, Ricciardo quickly closed in, under his own improving lap times rather than Hamilton’s easing off. Given another few corners, the Australian may have been able to squeeze up to P2. Though for today, he seemed quite happy with P3. When it comes down to it, Ricciardo was also one of only four Renault engines to even finish the race. Sebastian Vettel only made it as far as lap 8. Once the safety car peeled away, the German fell from P3 to P20 within a lap. The RB10 had no power, limping back to the pits. On his exit, he was stuck in first gear. When he eventually found the rest of his gearbox, it was only to coast back to the garage to retire.

Fernando Alonso drove almost anonymously throughout the race, spending most of the race a healthy seven seconds behind Ricciardo, and half a lap in front of Hulkenberg. Eventually Alonso cruised home to finish P4. Kimi Raikkonen’s race was far from anonymous. Following his sneaky move up to P3 at lights out, his race was looking strong. The Finn demonstrated his balance of offensive and defensive driving skills to keep Ricciardo in his mirrors before Sutil brought out the second safety car. It was during the second safety car period that Raikkonen’s race really livened up. The Ferrari, having already made one visit to the pits during the SC, darted in for a second time after being hit by Marussia’s Max Chilton. The second stop pushed Kimi to the back end of the grid behind Kobayashi. After a failed attempt to pass the Caterham at the Nouvelle Chicane, the Finn eventually made it passed the Japanese driver to close in on Gutierrez. Though he didn’t overtake the Sauber, it required some very quick braking on Kimi’s part not to get caught up in a tangle with Gutierrez. After what was an impressive opening stint, and fight back for position, it all went a bit pear shaped for the Ferrari in the final laps after making contact with Magnussen at the hairpin. The contact saw Kimi drop back and finish P12.

Nico Hulkenberg delivered a very strong performance following what was a rather challenging qualifying. On lap 33, Hulkenberg executed a startlingly skilful move on Kevin Magnussen at Portier to take P4 on the entry to the tunnel. The Force India driver kept the car competitive with a 1-stop strategy, and making up 6 places to eventually finish P5. It was Sergio Perez’s shortest race of the season after being involved in an incident with Jensen Button at Mirabeau on the opening lap. The Mexican is notorious for being a little too eager on the streets of Monaco (Kimi vs. Perez 2013), and possibly didn’t leave enough room for the two of them to take the corner safely. Button clipped Perez, sending the VJM07 into the barriers.

Jensen Button left it to the final laps to really start his race. Starting a rather uncompetitive P12, Button’s 1 stop strategy played well into the appearance of the safety cars and retirements from the race. Biding his time, the Brit moved in on his teammate from P7 until lap 74, overtaking Magnussen on the exit of St Devote. Kevin Magnussen got off to a strong start, initially gaining two places from the Toro Rossos, though his race became rather scrappy towards the end. During the second safety car, Magnussen prematurely overtook an unsuspecting Vergne before crossing the last safety car line. Magnussen was unable to give the position back because Hulkenberg soon passed him. After being passed by his teammate, Magnussen was involved in a collision with Raikkonen at the hairpin, holding up the rest of the field. Eventually the Dane made it home in one piece to finish P10.

Giving Williams something to celebrate for, Felipe Massa turned his luck around on the Monaco streets with one of his best drives of the season. Somehow the Brazilian maintained his super soft tyres through two-safety car, and 45 laps before eventually coming in to swap for the soft compound tyres. The strategy allowed Massa to move up to P4 before his stop, putting him back out in P11 when he re-entered the field. On fresher tyres, the Williams driver closed in quickly on Raikkonen’s Ferrari to challenge for position. Unfortunately, Felipe didn’t make it passed Raikkonen, though he did make up places to finish P7. Valtteri Bottas closed the gap for the second half of the field, as his FW36 became to lose pace. The Finn created a train behind him of Gutierrez, Raikkonen and Massa. On lap 57, Bottas’ engine had had enough, and he limped back to the pit to retire.

Romain Grosjean is becoming rather experienced at becoming the sole points scorer for the Lotus team. The Frenchman, starting from P14, put in a good drive, keeping the E22 on track until the chequered flag (as mentioned earlier, one of only four Renault cars to do so). Grosjean, on a two-stop strategy with the safety cars, maintained his competitive pace to finish inside the points in P8. Pastor Maldonado couldn’t get his E22 off the grid for the formation lap, and never made it out of the pit to start the race. Maldonado’s failure to start has been put down to a suspected fuel-system issue. Disappointment for the team, though given the Venezuelan’s history at the circuit, probably safer for the rest of the field.

Jules Bianchi scored Marussia’s first ever Formula 1 World Championship point, and he even collected two of them finishing P9. Besides staying out of trouble with the barriers and the rest of the field, Bianchi made a confident move on Kobayashi at La Rascasse to move up to P12. The Frenchman also served two penalties throughout the race, firstly for being out of position on the starting grid, and a second 5-second penalty for serving the first one under the safety car period. Following the retirements, Bianchi eventually moved in to the points. Max Chilton was more involved in the action than we’re used to seeing. Though he still finished last in P14.

Marcus Ericsson briefly looked as though he might too, finish inside the points, though Kimi and Magnussen’s traffic jam at the hairpin put Caterham’s hopes of a point to finish. Ericsson crossed the line P11. Kobayashi, like Alonso, raced quietly at Monaco. The Japanese driver found stability in his CT05, though lacked the pace to finish anywhere other than P13.

An impressive race for Esteban Gutierrez came to an end of lap 61. Throughout the race, Gutierrez in the Sauber had made up 8 places, running on a one stop. The safety car for Perez and Sutil certainly played well into his hands for tyre wear, though the issues to keep heat in the tyres that plagued the team in qualifying seemingly disappeared. In the final stages of the race, the Mexican clipped his right rear at La Rascasse while on the tail of Kimi Raikkonen. Gutierrez put his C33 in a spin, and became the final retirement of the race. One of the most debonair drivers at the Circuit de Monaco, Adrian Sutil executed some pretty ballsy overtakes* before meeting with the barriers on lap 25. Sutil, channelling his karting days, got up on the kerbs at the hairpin to take P16 from Grosjean. The move was a little messy, but extremely opportunistic (which as it happens is a prerequisite for any overtaking attempt in Monaco). A few laps later, Sutil out broke the Marussia of Max Chilton on the entry to the Nouvelle Chicane, moving up to P15. It came to an end for the Sauber driver on lap 25 when the C33 lost traction over the bumps on the exit of the tunnel, kissing the barrier and losing the front wing. Sutil’s retirement brought out the second and final safety car.

Jean-Eric Vergne’s race went from bad to worse following the second appearance of the safety car. The Frenchman was handed a drive through penalty for an unsafe release on Magnussen during the safety car period, which nearly saw the STR9 remove the McLaren’s front wing. Vergne held P7 upon the race resume, and until he served his penalty on lap 38. His race went a little sour from here, clipping the back of Bianchi’s MR03 losing from front wing, only to retire lap 53 with engine problems. Daniil Kvyat’s first visit to Monaco can only be described as brief, but impressive. After a difficult qualifying, the Russian rookie retired lap 13 with a loss of power and a very ill sounding STR9.

True to form, the Monaco Grand Prix was littered with excitement (and debris), with the action carrying through until the final moments. Though Ricciardo didn’t quite make it to the top step of the podium, he was still up there, which is always nice to see. The next round of the championship takes place at the Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve in Canada. A rather hard act to follow from Monaco, but who knows, maybe something will happen this year… Until then, bonne nuit.

– Alex

* Yes, that is the technical term.

Qualifying Pole Nico Rosberg (Mercedes)
Podium Nico Rosberg (Mercedes)
Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)
Daniel Ricciardo (Red Bull Racing)
Fastest Lap 1:18.479 Kimi Raikkonen (Scuderia Ferrari)

Monaco Grand Prix: Pre Race Thoughts

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…

– Alex

 

* 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.

Monaco Grand Prix: A Two Act Show

ACT ONE: SCENE ONE

I admit I had high expectations for last night’s Monaco Grand Prix, and what can I say, the race delivered. Monte Carlo had everything I love about Formula 1 racing. There was competitive driving, contact between cars, complete crashes, and a few “what the f***” moments thrown in for good measure.

Rosberg had a perfect qualifying and earned himself pole position, with Hamilton managing second for a Mercedes front-row lock out. Red Bull took out third and fourth with Vettel and Webber, and Kimi and Alonso fifth and sixth on the grid.

Despite Rosberg’s success in yesterday’s race, Mercedes are facing criticism for a Pirelli tyre testing after the Spanish Grand Prix. Now, according to FIA, Pirelli are allowed to run 1000km testing on the current years tyres as long as all teams are offered the chance to take part in the test. Given Red Bull and Ferrari’s protest to the ‘secret’ test, I’m guessing that maybe they didn’t get their invitation. That matter is still being investigated however.

Both the Mercedes and Red Bull’s had a good start (I actually think Webber had one of this best starts for the season) and the first 28 laps of the race were fairly uneventful, apart from  Perez driving like an idiot from the first lap turning in on Button (and Bianchi starting the race from the pitlane). The first taste of the race to come happened on lap 7 when Pic’s car turned in to a BBQ from a gearbox failure, becoming the first retirement for the race.

The first five cars on the grid maintained their positions within 11 seconds of each other for the first twenty odd laps. Freakishly, Massa suffered the same accident (due to suspension failure) he had in FP3 on lap 28 resulting the first safety car of the season.  This shook things up a little for the teams as they had to rethink their tyre strategies for the race. Immediately following the safety car, both the Red Bulls managed to sneak passed Hamilton and the next 16 laps went past largely without incident.

END SCENE.

ACT TWO: SCENE ONE

LAP 44 AND MALDONADO CRASHES IN TO THE BARRIER! WOAH! No but really, despite this not being the most improbable race accident, I was not expecting him to crash when he did. The race was red-flagged for for a short period, in which Kimi wandered off to god knows where (seriously not a single f*** was given). Once Kimi was found, and all the other drivers back in their cars, the race resumed.

The final intervention by the safety car came after Grosjean ran up the back of Ricciardo on lap 61. It had to be one of the most reckless pieces of driving for the weekend on Grosjean’s behalf. The accident forced Ricciardo to retire immediately while Grosjean limped on for one more lap.

Grosjean’s erratic driving could only be seconded to that of Sergio Perez. I mentioned before that he was turning in on his team mate Jenson Button, well on lap 70 he tried to do the same to Kimi. To put it frankly, Kimi isn’t as polite on track as Button so he basically forced him in to the wall… I’m actually still not sure who had the correct racing line here, but the incident caused the Lotus a puncture forcing him to pit late in the race.

Kimi’s late pit put him in last place with only 8 laps to go and for a moment it seemed as if he was going to finish out of the points for the first time in 22 races. This didn’t seem to worry Kimi in the slightest as he casually swept passed the likes of Perez, van der Garde, Chilton, Gutierrez, Bottas, and (in the dying moments of the race) Hulkenberg to finish in 10th place. I’ve never been so happy to see one driver get one point.

For what was an incident stricken race, the front three drivers seemed relatively unfazed. The race wrapped up with Rosberg (who maintained the lead) finishing first, followed closely by Vettel and Webber. I do love to see some Red Bull on the podium.

All in all, a pretty exciting race.

END SCENE.

– Alex

Monaco Grand Prix: Preview

“Driving in Monte Carlo is like riding a bike in your house” – Nélson Piquet

That pretty much sums up my expectations for this weekend’s Monaco, Monte Carlo Grand Prix. This track is considered one of the toughest and most exhilarating on the calender (and for good reason), the Monte Carlo streets are ridiculously tight so there is very little margin for error and can be quite unforgiving in this sense. Over-taking on this track, when it can be done, is startlingly skillful. The challenges of the track translate in to teams having to optimise their qualifying sessions and focusing on the mechanical grip and downforce through the corners. Most drivers will try and aim for a little bit of oversteer in the corners to make the most of being able to accelerate out from the corner sooner.

I have to be honest, it’s one of my favourite races on the calender. It is the first race I remember watching when I was young, and the atmosphere of the weekend epitomizes the sport, absolutely ridiculous.

– Alex