Round 6, 2018: Monaco
Every year I am dismayed by how many Formula 1 "fans" call for Monaco to adopt an altered circuit, or even worse, want the race to be axed from the calendar. The logic goes that the track is now too narrow for cars to over-take and so isn't fit for purpose. Well, sorry to be frank but F1 is a world championship, where all the skills and faculties of the driver and teams are tested to the full. There is no circuit like Monaco. Not just for the epic history, but also for pushing limits of concentration in all members the paddock. The racers build their confidence over all sessions from FP1 to the race; any mistake knocks you down and costs you vital qualifying position. Then, during the race, the barriers edge ever closer as the man in the cockpit tires from the heat. The strategy calls are often on a knife-edge; to gain that little bit of time required for vital track position. Yes there aren't many over-takes. But not every race needs over-takes. If you take the time to learn about racing tactics, no race is boring. Under-cut and over-cut, types of tyres, fuel management. That is where half of racing happens. There was plenty of that today.
Race Result:Lewis Hamilton (3rd) & Valtteri Bottas (5th) Points Total (after this round): 178 Qualifying/Grid: HAM: 3rd (1:11.232) & BOT: 5th (1:11.411) Events & Analysis: Having qualified 3rd and 5th the Silver Arrows were always going to have to try some clever strategy to gain and punch for the lead. Whilst their attempts to put Bottas on the Super-Soft tyres on a 1-stop tactic did lead to pace increase; it was not enough for the Finn. Hamilton meanwhile tried to undercut Vettel in-front during the early stages of the race, but due to Ricciardo's slow pace at the front had major issues with graining on his Ultra-Soft tyres. That limited his pace hugely. The Mercedes' split strategy was a sneaky idea to try and unsettle those ahead and keep them guessing. But what was even sneakier was the way in which they breezed past the Force-India of Ocon with both their cars. Now, call me a conspiracy theorist, but it was quite suspicious how the young Frenchman, fighting for position, simply jumped out of the way of his engine supplier's team. Had he not, both Hamilton and Bottas might of seriously damaged their races. I have big problems with the ethics of this, but I will discuss that in the Force-India section below and the implications it has around the paddock for lower teams. In the end, the German side will be annoyed to lose ground to Ferrari.
Race Result: Sebastian Vettel (2nd) & Kimi Raikkonen (4th) Points Total (after this round): 156 Qualifying/Grid: VET: 2nd (1:11.039) & RAI: 3rd (1:11.266) Events & Analysis: Despite in a great position to threaten from the start, both Ferrari's reflected the mood of the entire grid with a very calm start. They, with the rest of the field had no incidents. Both Raikkonen and Vettel were told to stay out despite the early pit-stop from Hamilton. It was the correct decision as Vettel remained ahead and Raikkonen was given a chance to over-take the Brit, though was unsuccessful. But when Ricciardo ran into his power issues, Vettel curiously couldn't get close to pass for the lead. As the race progressed and Seb tried once again to pass, Ricciardo's slow pace out front caused tyre warm-up issues for the German. That was especially prevalent after the VSC at the end of the race. The leading Ferrari locked up hugely on lap 76 and fell to over 5 seconds behind. After Monaco, as the teams start to introduce the next rounds in the 3 allowed engines for the season, Ferrari need to make the most of development and reliability to re-take the lead of this championship. They are the ones needing to be asking the hard questions of Mercedes, despite Red-Bull's good shows of pace this weekend.
Race Result: Daniel Ricciardo (1st) & Max Verstappen (9th) Points Total (after this round): 107 Qualifying/Grid: RIC: 1st (1:10.810) & VER: 20th (NO TIME SET) Events & Analysis: What another stellar drive from Daniel Ricciardo! Whilst this was not the brave show of over-taking we saw in China, it was almost more impressive and showed more talents as a driver. On lap 27 a message came over the radio of a loss of power from his engine, later revealed to be over 25% BHP deficit as well as causing two of the gears at the upper end to be broken. But despite being limited to only 6 gears, the Danny still, amazingly, won the race. His levels of sheer concentration and expert ability to manage the race from the front (including strategical battery charging, short shifting, asking the team for the relevant data from the other car and defensive positioning) kept us on a knife-edge as Vettel loomed behind. All of this whilst in sweltering heat and the barriers jumping out. An excellent sporting feat today from the Australian to undo the awful heart-break he suffered here in 2016. Max Verstappen, meanwhile, also had an excellent race. A clumsy accident during FP3 meant he started last on the grid with a gear-box change. But, he provided the rare overtakes during the early race & ran long on Ultra-Soft tyres to pit on lap 48. The combination of aggression and strategic nouse got him all the way up to 9th which is pretty impressive. But he will know, that without that mistake on Saturday, he could have challenged Daniel for the win. Red-Bull, whilst capable of more, were excellent this weekend. Their 250th race start made the most of their chassis on the circuit which suited it best.
Race Result: Nico Hulkenberg (8th) & Carlos Sainz (10th) Points Total (after this round): 46 Qualifying/Grid: SAI: 8th (1.12:130) & HUL: 11th (1:12.221) Events & Analysis: Renault had a much calmer race than their technical partner Red-Bull. However, there were moments of concern early on as Hulkenberg complained that the slow-race pace from the front would soon cause tyre issues. That turned out to be prophetic for not only Renault but almost the entire grid. But, despite under pressure to pit on degrading tyres they couldn't take the chance. If they had lost track position to cars with harder compounds behind them, then they would have been stuck for the majority of the race. Instead, Hulkenberg did incredibly well to stretch his Ultra-Soft tyres out to lap 50. When he pitted he came out in 10th. Then, in a smart move Sainz, who himself had run a good race but was on a very different strategy, was asked to move aside as Verstappen closed in on the duo. He let Hulkenberg through and despite losing out to the Red-Bull in the end, enhanced the team's points haul. This is as high as Renault will get this year and they will be relieved that the closest challenger, McLaren, drew a blank. More on that below. They should keep an eye on Force India gaining momentum.
Race Result: Stoffel Vandoorne (14th) & Fernando Alonso (DNF) Points Total (after this round): 40 Qualifying/Grid: ALO: 7th (1:12.110) & VAN: 12th (1:12.440) Events & Analysis: Despite a very handy qualifying from Alonso, McLaren have come away from Monaco, an area where their brilliant chassis, should have come up trumps. It wasn't their fault, though. Fernando eked out his tyres for as long as possible, then emerge from the pits just ahead of Vandoorne on lap 19. It was a very clever move that shielded the Spaniard from Verstappen, who loomed large behind Stoffel. Alonso was now in 9th with still a few racers ahead needing to make a pit-stop. He was actually running consistently faster than the front-runners, even on Super-Soft tyres, due to the issues described above with Ricciardo. But then, under pressure from Pierre Gasly, the Renault engine in the back of Alonso's car let go. As Monaco is the 6th race, it is usual for these amount limited engines to break down. Not cause for much concern. Vandoorne, meanwhile, had dropped off the pace and only managed to finish 14th. It is in situations like this, when Alonso runs into bad luck, that Vandoorne has to offer more for McLaren; to reduce the deficit. With only 8 points to show, McLaren might be asking questions soon.
Race Result: Esteban Ocon (6th) & Sergio Perez (12th) Points Total (after this round): 26 Qualifying/Grid: OCO: 6th (1:12.061) & PER: 9th (1:12.154) Events & Analysis: Ocon went very long into this race, along with Hulkenberg, Gasly and Verstappen. He drove a very calm, collected and accomplished race. However, as I said above, I have huge issues with how he simply moved out of the way for Mercedes as their drivers came through. Now, perhaps he was simply picking his battles and knew that it would only hold him up if he tried to fight. But this is Monaco, the narrowest circuit, so I have no doubt he could have held his ground. What is more likely is that he was asked, by his parent team, to move aside. Regardless of this assumed motive, which I admittedly have no proof for, we the audience should be seeing Driver vs Driver to the end and not political tussles playing out with weak defending. That's my rant over on that subject, so moving on. On the other side of the garage, Perez had a poor pit-stop and lost a vital 3-5 seconds. Then he had a little tussle with Ericsson at the chicane when the Swede exceeding track limits to over-take him. At the time of writing I am not sure if that is being investigated and the two will swap positions. It matters little as no points were at stake. This was never going to be a great venue for Force-India so will be overjoyed with Ocon's performance.
Race Result: Pierre Gasly (7th) & Brendon Hartley (DNF) Points Total (after this round): 19 Qualifying/Grid: GAS: 10th (1:12.221) & HAR: 16th (1:13.179) Events & Analysis: Gasly was another who decided to go long into this 78 lap race to try and gain track position. He succeeded in spades, rising from 10th to 7th through strategy that saw him move onto the Super-Soft tyres which had been fast on Bottas' car. Hartley meanwhile had light damage to the front wing from a minor scrape on the first incident. It mildly effected lap-time. Alongside a 5 second penalty for speeding in the pits, it was shaping up as a forgettable afternoon. But what wasn't forgettable was the damage he suffered later, meaning he never even had to serve the penalty. Brendon was hit from behind by Charles LeClerc into the chicane after the sea-side tunnel. That was the end of the Kiwi's race. With some questions being asked about his future he needs to start delivering, for his own good and of course the good of the team chasing McLaren and Renault above.
Race Result: Kevin Magnussen (13th) & Romain Grosjean (15th) Points Total (after this round): 19 Qualifying/Grid: GRO: 15th (1:12.728) & MAG: 19th (1:13.393) Events & Analysis: Whilst Haas might not have expected to have a competitive car in Monaco, this is another poor weekend for the American team and it highlights a trend at the moment. Simply put, they are not making the most of the early season performance they had in Australia. Soon early advantage, depending on their upgrade abilities, could be wiped out. Most worryingly of all was Magnussen's slowest time in Qualifying, only good enough for 19th on virtue of Verstappen's car being out of action. Their race was more anonymous than bad, in truth, which I suppose can be seen as improvement. But, in all, they lost two places in the constructor's this weekend & with Sauber showing themselves to be very handy at times this year, the Haas guys need to buck their ideas. Grosjean sits on 0 points so must perform to best of ability, as we know he can do, for the future. Haas could still finish well, but current form is worrying.
Race Result: Marcus Ericsson (11th) & Charles LeClerc (DNF) Points Total (after this round): 11 Qualifying/Grid: LEC: 14th (1:12.714) & ERI: 17th (1:13.265) Events & Analysis: With the exact same starting positions of 14th and 17th of last race, Sauber at least showed consistency despite perhaps hoping for more at a circuit which tends to flatten pace advantage from the more financially capable teams. This was also Charles LeClerc's home race. When defending maturely against a strong Verstappen early on in the race, he showed why he is being rated so highly by many in the paddock and wider F1 world. It was also not his fault that his brakes failed during the final laps, leading to an unavoidable accident with STR-Honda's Brendon Hartley. Plenty more to come from Charles in this season. Ericsson, meanwhile, did very well to silently creep up from 17th to a finishing position of 11th; although there are questions about when he cut the chicane when fighting Perez. Canada will be a harder gig for Sauber-Romeo.
Race Result: Sergey Sirotkin (16th) & Lance Stroll (17th) Points Total (after this round): 4 Qualifying/Grid: SIR: 13th (1:12.521) & STR: 18th (1:13.323) Events & Analysis: What another shambles for Williams this weekend. Whilst Sirotkin's handy 13th places qualifying gave them hope at snatching at some small points, the team managed to undo all the good work before the race even began. As his tyres were not fitted to the car before the mandatory "3 minute to go" mark, the Russian had to serve a 10 second stop-go penalty in the pit-lane where no work would be done on the car. In reality this translates to needing another full-pitstops and thus a penalty of a minute and a half. Even then, Williams made a mess. They worked on the car illegally. Stroll meanwhile had multiple puncture problems on his car from scraping barriers and hitting debris. One on lap 10 and another on lap 36. Then, having miscalculated the tyre-life he had to pit again on lap 62. They, obviously, finished last and second last. This was, simply put, farcical. For both drivers. At one point Stroll asked "what's the point of racing right now?" & whilst his attitude is questionable, I agree with the query.