Ambient 19° Track 29° Humidity 58% Wind Gusty 4-7 kmh
It was Ferrari fastest in FP3 having set the stage for qualifying in Fairytale land. Talk inevitably referenced the politely put, ahem somewhat controversial events of the previous year, allowing for clickbait headlines to be written. A gearbox Penalty for Grosjean and a bit of a crash for Verstappen were the other stories to come out of the last free practice.
The weather was iffy as the track went green, with the Principality overcast and the cooler conditions promised issues a plenty for Ferrari and others as well as providing a handy metaphor for the larger issues hanging over the future of the sport. Monaco is in many ways a drivers circuit as the Armco hanging inches from the cockpit requires a curious kind of concentration compared to the rest of the tracks. Risk hangs heavy indeed and in that spirit once again Sky let Johnny Herbert loose on the Sky Pad but this time the results were sadly a bit less comical.
Unlike the rest of the races, the green lights saw the entire field queued up and ready to go with Mercedes in the second group out. And to answer the questions it was indeed Lewis Leading Nico, his engineers having decided that indeed round the Principality it was best to be in front of an always dangerous Rosberg.
Given the cooler temps it was a change in strategy as once again it was only Ferrari and Mercedes able to eke it out on the softs. Still it was taking more than one lap to get tyres up to their operating window and through the first round of times it was Maldonado and Bottas going fastest as the big teams took their 2nd lap.
It was past 13:00 before the times at the top began to tumble and it was Lewis setting the bar at 1:16.84 and then graciously allowing Nico by as he had another go. It continued to be the Vettel show behind as once again Sebastian claimed P3 despite the inevitable traffic, but more than a second off Mercedes.
Rosberg’s first effort fell short as the minutes ticked away and it was Hamilton having one more go. Raikkonen took P8 and the tale of 2 quali’s continued apace at Ferrari. Merhi caused a brief stir by losing it at T11 but it failed to unsettle Hamilton who improved his time to a 1:16.588
With 10 minutes left the writing was on the wall and the midfield were already beginning their switch over to the SuperSoft compound.
Vettel stole the attention of the telly when he went for another effort and while they were all distracted by the bright shiny red object, Rosberg snuck into P1.
As attention shifted to the rear of the grid it was Williams looking uncharacteristically slow, in P14 and P15, though their slipperier than most aero was doing them no favours, particularly in conjunction with the cooler temps.
AS the final laps approached it was Button, Merhi, Stevens and Perez on the outs with Sergio out and on it. Hulkenberg continued to entertain as he lost it into T5, a victim of the bumpy surface and cool temperatures, and properly damaged his car and the hoardings, though not badly enough to keep him from returning to the pits
Into the final minutes it was only Mercedes and Ferrari sat in the garage, though it looked to be a bit of a nervy time as the Maranello mates began dropping rapidly down the order as the first of the midfield set their times on the softer of the 2 compounds on offer.
Alonso went P10 as reports of spots of rain trickled in, and Massa was down to P16 with less than 4 minutes left. Vettel had slipped to P7 as both Toro Rosso’s managed to beat Vettel’s time. Sainz missed the weighbridge on his way and will no doubt be thouroughly investigated for his transgressions.
Below 2 minutes and the drop zone still contained Bottas and Ricciardo with Massa having clawed his way up to P11.
With the checkers looming it was Hulkenberg who, having managed to get back out after his incident, elevated himself out of danger and Bottas, in the noblest of gestures, gave up his last chance to escape Q1 and let his teammate by. Sauber, having been nowhere in the session continued to achieve little with both Nasr and Ericsson joining Bottas, sandwiched in between, along with Stevens and Merhi in not moving on to Q2. Alonso managed a feeble P15 to Button’s P8 and Kvyat a surprising P4 in a positive sign for Red Bull.
Sky continued to dance with the devil by letting Herbert loose on the SkyPad for a second straight session.
Again no time was wasted with all the runners getting the early start as soon as the lights went green. Teammate drama immediately bubbled to the forefront as Nico complained about Hamilton going too slow in the pitlane to create a nice gap in front of him. This would ultimately prove to be a non issue as all the top teams again were running a 2 lap strategy to get the tyres warmed.
Alonso provided the early fireworks by grinding to a halt just at the pit exit, with his screen flashing to pull the clutch as yet another McHonda misadventure came to an early and somewhat sad demise. It was left to Button to carry the team colours going forward.
With less than 9 minutes left it was still no times for Mercedes as Vettel had stepped up to claim the early lead and Raikkonen a big surprise only 0.3s off his teammate in temporary P2 and Verstappen rounding out the top 3 for the moment. That order didn’t last long as Rosberg was painting the track purple and easily displaced Vettel with a 1:15.471. Hamilton’s lap was much slower however and thew best he could do was P3 as the momentum for pole seemed to be once again swinging the way of Rosberg as the field made it’s way to the pits for fresh tyres.
AS the cars prepared to return to the track it was Hamilton’s radio revealing that he had suffered both from traffic and tyre pressure issues on his effort. Oddly for once it was the driver calling for calm as his crew reviewed the situation.
Apparently it was a successful regrouping as on his 2nd attempt Lewis managed to get P2, still 0.4s off Rosberg though, but a much better effort. Others improving on their final run included Ricciardo and Raikkonen and as the checkers fell it was yellows in Sector 1 that caused the problems for the late runners, most notably Button who was only 0.094s off making Q3 after his last effort was spoiled. And once again it was Rosberg in the slip road doing the damage, this time with a massive lock up on the way to Ste. Devote.
The response by internet comedians was both predictable, strong and mildly entertaining as Twitter rapidly suggested he was just “practicing” for Q3, notwithstanding the fact that Hamilton had chosen to set times ahead of his teammate.
More subtle analysis would look to the dropping track temperature and the fact that Hamilton was still not in the pocket versus what was most likely Rosberg pushing a bit too hard as the big deciders heading into Q3.
Still, at the end of the day it was Grosjean losing out in P11, his missing of FP1 having done him no favours whatsoever. He was followed in his early exit by Button, Hulkenberg, Massa and Alonso.
It is often in the tiniest details that the biggest stories get written and in this case it was a call from Rosberg’s engineer encouraging him to take an extra gap that may have made all the difference. As Nico approached the end of his first timed lap he backed off just that little bit extra, with the result that he ran a time in the 1:21’s compared to the 1:20’s for Hamilton. As they rolled onto their second lap and 100% effort it was Nico again having trouble into T1 as Lewis had apparently finally gotten it together for a very tidy 1:15.304 0.14 ahead of Rosberg’s effort.
Predictably it was again Vettel in P3 tickling the upper 1:15’s with his time as Red Bull confirmed with Ricciardo and Kvyat in P4 and P5 that they were finally here to play and not merely spectate. Further back it was Vertappen winning the first round of teammate battles just ahead of Sainz with the pair in P7-P8 ahead of Raikkonen in P9 who seems to just plain forget how to drive in Q3. In this instance though, since he is kindest to his tyres in the races, it was likely the falling track temperatures, down nearly 4 degrees, that did him in.
Still it was just banker’s and with it all to play for it was a final turn on the front wing and back out to track for Hamilton with the 3 minute mark fast approaching and a huge gap to Ricciardo who had led off the second wave.
And again one of those details, as somehow, on the way out of the pits, Verstappen managed to get himself in between Rosberg and Hamilton and stayed there as the field warmed up for it’s final try and all the teams were warning their drivers to weave and build energy in the tyres. Vettel was most remarkable efforts in his efforts on the way to Tabac, almost balletic in their weight shifts.
AS the time time dropped below 1 minute to go it was Maldonado early days into P7 then Hamilton again dropping a purple S2 as Rosberg once more locked up into the 1st turn and ultimately backed off as he missed the apex to T11, spoiling what would have been an epic showdown no doubt. The advantage to Hamilton going first became apparent however as having no knowledge he continued to hammer for the finish line, ultimately turning in a blinding 1:15.098 for his first ever pole position at Monaco, so congratulations to him.
P4 and P5 went to the Red Bulls, confirming their resurgence with Ricciardo leading the way for the team. Raikkonen slotted neatly into 6th and Perez, having been the ultimate beneficiary of Williams bad luck, stole 7th away with his only effort as he was down a set of tyres from having had to use the SuperSofts to escape Q1. Rounding out the top 10 it was Sainz who won the war with his teammate this round in P8, followed by Maldonado and Verstappen.
Of course there is Hamilton’s rotten start in Barcelona to talk about and liven things up a bit for tomorrow’s race, and uncertain weather is again predicted for the afternoon. Beyond that is the almost certainty of a safety car, though why the most technologically advanced racing series on the planet is unable to get it’s Virtual Safety Car working is beyond me, when other series, supposedly less advanced, seem to be doing just fine with it. If that’s not enough to get you watching, then perhaps the aliens will finally invade.
Congratulations again to Lewis Hamilton on his pole, to Mercedes on their front row and Happy Race watching tomorrow!