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

Monaco Grand Prix: Pre Race Thoughts

Bonjour mes amis! Et bienvenue à Monaco. The traveling circus has once again returned to the Principality for the crown jewel in the Formula 1 Calendar. The 3.340km circuit is narrow to say the least, translating to a slight advantage for a setup with shorter gear ratios. It’s a tight squeeze to the first corner, St Devote, where many a first lap incident has occurred. Turns 4 and 5 are bumpier on the street circuit, causing drivers to change their lines to avoid bottoming out down to Maribeau. Drivers must be careful not to lose the rear through Portier to be able to get the best line to go flat out through the tunnel. The chicane at the exit of the tunnel has been the scene of many an out-braking manoeuvre over the years, on occasion catching the car in front up the rear… Through to the final sector and La Rascasse. Marking the second slowest point on the track, braking and racing line are vital to run an inch away from the inside wall  Overtaking is “easiest” at the Nouvelle Chicane, and the start-finish straight where drivers can get a little extra from DRS. The unforgiving nature of Monaco translates into an all important qualifying. Focus on front wing aerodynamic grip and downforce through the corners will be vital over the weekend, giving the Renault powered teams a fighting chance. Concerns of  fuel saving and energy recovery take a backseat for this race. Some 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.

Under the threat of rain, qualifying got underway largely without incident. Track temperature was a balmy 29 C, falling to 27 C as the afternoon wore on. Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton denied Nico Rosberg a hatrick of pole positions in Monte Carlo. Hamilton took the top spot with a blistering 1:15.098, relinquishing Rosberg to start from P2 on the grid. Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel was best of the rest, dipping into the 1:15s to secure P3 on the grid.

Mercedes were unsurprisingly strong in qualifying, though didn’t run away with the session. Hamilton’s session was slow starting, being caught in traffic from the two Lotus’, before losing aero grip through turn 11. After a front wing adjustment, the Briton was back on track, playing cat and mouse for the fastest lap. Lewis Hamilton had the advantage of choice in going out first in the final session, and remained unchallenged for the pole lap. It was a 1:15.098 on his final run on the super soft compound that did it, though the threat from Rosberg never came. Rosberg struggled to keep his F1 W06 from locking up at St Devote. A near repeat of last year spoiled Jenson Button’s lap at the end of Q2. Though thankfully this year there was no debate that the front right lock up was an accident. Unfortunately for Rosberg, his final in Q3 lap was a scrappy one. Diving into the pits, Rosberg’s penultimate lap of 1:15.440 on the super softs will slot him in to P2.

Sebastian Vettel had looked promising in the Ferrari to challenge for dark horse pole position. Despite an aggressive qualifying, the top spot remained just out of reach. Missing the apex in turn 11 spoiled the SF15-T’s final lap, making a 1:15.849 in the super soft tyres a time for P3. Sebastian however did remain 0.8s clear of team mate Kimi Raikkonen overall. Suffering from a little too much oversteer in the earlier sessions, Raikkonen lost the rear again as the chequered flag fell, relinquishing the Finn to P6 with 1:16.041 on the super softs.

Red Bull Racing are traditionally strong on the streets of Monaco, and today was no different. The high downforce, low engine wear nature of the Monaco Street Circuit Daniel Ricciardo was an easy P4, though the Australian felt he could have easily pushed for P3. After being caught in traffic and not getting the perfect run, Ricciardo’s best time on the super softs of 1:16.041 slots the RB11 into P4. Separated by a mere 0.141s, Daniil Kvyat lines up P5 just behind his team mate with a time of 1:16.182.

It was a bittersweet session for Force India, with Sergio Perez qualifying in a solid P7. Heading out early in Q2, Perez worked to get his confidence up through the narrow circuit. Paying off in the final session, Perez pulled out a 1:16.999 on the super softs. Nico Hulkenberg however was an early victim to the barriers. In the final minutes of Q1, Hulkenberg in the VJM08 lost the rear into Portier, sending the left rear into the barrier. Hulkenberg was however able to make it through to the second session, though a mistake into the final corner cost him passage into Q3. Qualifying in P13* with 1:17.193, Hulkenberg will also start on the super softs.

Toro Rosso were another team to gain advantage from the high downforce track, with both Sainz and Verstappen having strong opening sessions. Unfortunately for the Scuderia, the results on track didn’t translate in the final grid line up. Carlos Sainz challenged Perez for P7, finishing just a tenth of a second slower than the Force India in P8 with 1:16.931. The rookie has however been handed a penalty for missing the compulsory weigh bridge. So, all the hard for Sainz is undone as the STR10 will start from the pit lane. After a stormer of practice sessions, Max Verstappen’s STR10 lost steam in the final session, failing to improve from his Q2 time of 1:16.546, Verstappen will start P10 with 1:16.957 on the super softs.

Almost happy days for Lotus, with both E23s running strong. While some may have watched in bated breath as Pastor lapped blisteringly fast and close to the barriers**, the Lotus driver managed to pull ahead of his team mate early on in the session. After being caught in traffic in the final session, Maldonado was unable to keep temperatures up in the E23, and was unable to improve on his final lap, making for a qualifying position of P9 with 1:16.946. Grosjean had less luck during qualifying, locking a wheel into turn 15 on his flying lap. The small error cost Romain a slot in Q3, settling the Lotus of P11 with 1:17.007. However, due to an early gear box change, Grosjean carriers a 5-place grid penalty to tomorrow’s race.

McLarens’ MP4-30 appears to be better suited to the Monaco streets, largely due to the low engine wear. Jenson Button would have made it through to the final session had it not been for waved yellow flags in the first sector, spoiling his final flying lap. Button had a strong handle on the set up and was able to push the McLaren for pace and grip. Unable to catch a break however, his fastest Q2 time put him P12 with 1:17.093. Alonso didn’t carry any luck through to qualifying either, despite a strong start. The Spaniard, going strong was threatening to make it through to Q3. This turned out to be empty threats however as Alonso’s Honda chose to pack up in Q2, relegating him to P15 and a 1:26.632.

Williams  were surprisingly less competitive in qualifying. There wasn’t a specific issue hindering the FW37’s performance, it appeared that Monaco just didn’t suit the Williams set up. Massa couldn’t get the pace he needed out of the car to make it to the top ten shoot out, only managing a 1:17.278 for P14.Throughout the session, Bottas was unable to keep the temperatures in the tyres, and lost time due to the subsequent lack of grip. In a galant act of mate-ship, Bottas backed off his final flying lap after making a mistake on his own. By backing off, Bottas allowed his team mate through into clear track ahead to have a run a his lap. Calling it a day, the Finn dove into the pits, settling himself for P17.

Sauber opted for a different strategy in qualifying, venturing out first on the super softs while the rest of the grid (with the exception of the Manors) started on the soft compound tyres. Unfortunately for Sauber, the strategy didn’t exactly pay off, as neither Nasr nor Ericsson made it out of the initial drop zone. Felipe Nasr did manage to out-qualify his team mate in P16 with 1:18.101 on 4-lap old super softs. Ericsson will start P18, after a lap 4-tenths slower with 1:18.513.

Rounding off the back of the grid is the Manor F1 Team. Both the Manor’s made it through the circuit with enough grip and speed to qualify inside the 107% rule (1:21.884), with Stevens again out qualifying Merhi for P19 and P20 with 1:20.655 and 1:20.994 respectively.

The atmosphere of the Monaco Grand Prix is rather extravagant. The Monte Carlo streets are phenonemal. Lined with yachts and champagne off track, the streets are so narrow that it’s hard to believe a race can physically be held here. Needless to say, there is very little margin for error. To top things off, an 80% chance of the safety car keeps things interesting (like we would be bored here?). Starting from pole, it’s Hamilton’s race to lose tomorrow. Now we wait to see who can catch him.

– Alex

* Expected to start P11 due to penalties on the grid

** I may or may not have been one of them.

 

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.