Ambient 19° Track 37° Humidity 63% Wind 3-4 kmh
Opposite to yesterday’s partly cloudy, today’s partly cloudy was blessed with brilliant sunlight, illuminating the poseurs and players alike wandering the grid, frosted highlights and whitened teeth gleaming in the Mediterranean sunshine.
Penalties galore for Sainz from yesterday who may well have spent more time in the steward’s office than on the track for his various transgressions saw young Carlos forced to start from the pitlane for skipping his appointment with the weigh-bridge in yesterday’s qualifying. Grosjean, too was dumped 5 grid spots for changing his gearbox after foolishly lending his car to a young ‘un for FP1. Sky were talking up Red bull’s chances and Brundle was failing utterly at chatting up one of the more glamorous women busily texting away on their phones. He eventually got a face saving word in but it was touch and go.
The start of the race would see Merhi on the back row by himself, Alonso, Hulkenberg and Bottas choosing the Primes for their first stint and ex-drivers waxing rhapsodic about the ephemeral qualities of the circuit.
How do you solve a problem like Monaco?(To the tune of How So You Solve a Problem like Maria from Sound of Music) Many have tried, but the difficulty of passing amongst cars of even vaguely similar mien makes the race often won and lost solely in the pits, with back-markers occasionally throwing the odd twist. Fortunately in a race of firsts, first pole for Lewis, first VSC ever (relax it was only for about 2s), good old fashioned human error and poorly managed basic arithmetic managed to upset the race in a way that no one would could possibly have predicted.
The start of the race was a tense affair and if the run to the first turn was longer, Hamilton might have had issues as compared to Rosberg his start was relatively pedestrian. Still he had the position into Ste. Devote and Rosberg rapidly found himself fending off Vettel having a look round the outside up the hill to Beau Rivage. Ricciardo was less lucky and was actually penalised by his fantastic start (I know, right) and forced to lock up and avoid Vettel going in to T1.
This opened the door for Kvyat who walked right through with nary a Dosvidaniya tossed over his shoulder.
It wasn’t much of a chance for Sebastian though and as the field strung out the only action was at the back where Alonso kept his foot into it a bit too long and punted Hulkenberg into a wall headed into Mirabeau. The damage wasn’t severe, except to Nico’s race of course, and as he headed for a very early pit it was actually Massa who came out worst with a puncture that sent him to the back where he circled pointlessly for the rest of the afternoon.
By lap 5, the race was beginning to settle into its rhythm save Maldonado, who, preserving his fine form this season, reported a long brake pedal as his BBW went bye-bye. Hamilton was 2 seconds up the road and the gaps between most of the runners were stabilising at around 2 seconds. Vertappen was lining up Pastor and the next lap dispatched him with ease as the wounded Lotus was not long for the race. Alonso received a 5 second stop and go for his adventures on the first lap.
Lap 7 saw the retirement of Maldonado, but that’s become such a regular feature of Grand Prix’s this year, it was barely noticed. By lap 10 such were the gaps that aside from the train forming up behind Button there was little on offer as all the runners were content to preserve their tyres from the drivers in front. Hamilton was working with his engineers to keep his left front brake from overheating whilst Sainz had managed to progress to P15.
AS the laps rolled on it was clear that the front runners were all saving tyres for the pit window but it was also becoming increasingly clear that they would have to start pushing in order to get the midfield outside of their pit window as a lap or two getting past someone on old slow tyres could absolutely wreck their race.
Lap 18 was where it started to get interesting again as that was when Lewis started to encounter the back-markers. Though the Manor of Merhi did not put up much of a fight further up the road fierce battle were raging from P15 down to P10 and up to the first round of pit stops the biggest difference in the race was to be Hamilton’s ability to weave through these battles as he had gotten his brake temperatures firmly under control.
Such was his pace that by time he cleared the Ericsson-Sainz battle for P14 that the lads at Sky swore Hamilton gave the Sauber a wave for letting him by as he exited the chicane and he had put nearly 6 seconds on Rosberg and Vettel. As the front runners prepared to follow suit Verstappen made his way to the pits and suffered and agonisingly long stop at 52 seconds, with a balky wheel nut being the issue.
Kvyat was first of the top runners to hit the pitlane lap 30 and then it was just a waiting game for Mercedes to see how the Prime tyre did. And it wasn’t a long wait as Rosberg hurtled in first, contra Mercedes’ usual arrangements, on lap 38 to protect against the reemergence of the undercut from Vettel as traffic had reduced the gap between them. It was a real blinder and despite Vettel’s best efforts Rosberg easily beat him out of the pitlane a lap later.
The unfolding of the pit stops left Lewis hammering at the front in relatively clean air and when he had his pit stop he easily emerged P1 giving him the real possibility for a Grand Schelem, which would have been an auspicious start to his new contract indeed.
Ferrari may not have managed it with Vettel, but Kimi was able to successfully execute the overcut and emerged ahead of Ricciardo for P4. By lap 41 the race was settling with the exception of Ricciardo who was determined to reclaim his place and not going to let Kimi rest easy.
Which was entertaining, at least until Alonso went straight on at Ste Devote and parked it up, victim of a failed MGU-H. Button was told that the issue was unlikely to affect him and on he raced, with McHonda’s only hopes for championship points resting on his shoulders.
Verstappen continued the action at the back as he closed up to Bottas on his recovery drive and began an extended attack for P12. Otherwise it was status quo as again preserving tyres from the aero wash was the main concern at the sharp end, that and the behaviour of the lapped cars. In particular, Raikkonen was unusually eloquent in complaining about blue flags being ignored and directly after FOM aired his radio fulminating, it played for comedic effect Merhi ripping his engineer for telling him to move aside when the car behind was too far away to overtake. Very Rashomon-like of FOM indeed.
That said, it was in for a penny in for a pound and since they had ruined his race earlier with a bad stop, Toro Rosso said what the heck and brought young Max in lap 48 and gave him a set of new Options to go play with. He promptly did so with abandon, saving the audience from an extended period of Senna reminisces from the commentators.
By lap 56 Verstappen had grabbed the tail of Sebastian Vettel and realised that all the cars he was trying to pass were moving over and with his brand new shiny options he could keep pace with Vettel and make the pass before his victims realised he wasn’t driving a Red Bull.
His teammate was first to fall victim and Verstappen was so proud of his cleverness in his youthful exuberance he had to share it over the radio with the team. Properly warned by Lotus as to the tactics, since it turns out that other teams listen to the radio traffic (who’d a thunk it, really) Grosjean saw the approaching duo in his mirrors and let Vettel by on the entrance to the hairpin smartly shutting the door on Max and setting the stage for the real drama of the race.
Lap 61 saw Verstappen cut off by the slower Lotus and 2 laps prior Bottas, miserable in his Williams, came in for a 2nd stop giving up any chance of points for the Williams team this week, eventually finishing P14 with Massa, directly behind him in P15.
For the next 2 laps Verstappen lapped carefully harrying Grosjean at every opportunity but unable to get the job done as the Mercedes PU was turning out to be worth rather a lot at least in the narrow confines of the Principality.
Then coming across the line for lap 63, young Max thought he saw half a glimmer of an opportunity and seized it ruthlessly screaming up the inside of Grosjean into Ste Devote when it all went sideways as Grosjean hit his braking point earlier than Verstappen expected and young Max discovered the limits of his signature move, when the subsequent collision tore his left front suspension off and delivered him straight on into the barriers on the outside of Ste.
Devote at a rather alarming speed. Fortunately this is an impact F1 cars are very much designed and tested for and he emerged, shall we say, shaken but not stirred and no doubt a bit wiser as to why everyone doesn’t pass like that all the time. He also emerged with a 5 grid spot penalty for the next race and 2 penalty points and it is only to be hoped that his parent’s insurance don’t drop him in the meantime.
Naturally with an impact of that nature one would expect the safety car but lo and behold, Charlie Whiting deployed the Virtual Safety Car immediately, which had the effect of neutralising the race, long enough for Bernd Maylander to get off his lazy Teutonic ass and start properly advertising Mercedes’ brand.
As it turned out, the VSC was in effect for all of 10 seconds or so (so lazy only by excessively strict German standards, then), simultaneously making a total mockery of the concept and demonstrating how F1 plan to use it, solely to protect against claims of negligence until the real Safety Car can deploy and properly advertise whatever they have painted on the hood.
With the Safety Car out and the field regrouping Hamilton had started with a 19 second gap over Rosberg and 20 second gap over Vettel. However, the gap on the leaderboard showed 26 seconds over Vettel whereas the live ticker showed only 20 seconds over Vettel. If you’ve not seen the race and you are aware of Mercedes’s recent history with pit stops you can probably see where this is going.
After some hemming and hawing about cold tyres, Mercedes decided to box Hamilton, in what will be widely ridiculed as one of the most bone headed moves in many a year. Given the actual gap, Hamilton was about 0.5s off Vettel at the Safety Car line effectively ceding P2 to Sebastian and giving P1 to his teammate, who was no doubt on line to buy a lottery ticket after the race as that’s the kind of luck you have to ride as long as it lasts.
Thus the long endless circling under the SC began, and just when you thought it was over, the Stewards released the lapped cars, because, why not run a few more laps off the counter even though letting them through is not required under the regulations and the total number of laps left was dwindling rapidly.
In fact it wasn’t until lap 71 that the car came in and even though Lewis had a good go, Vettel was too much in the Ferrari to get past. By time DRS came on 2 laps later, Seb’s tyres were up to temperature and the opportunity was gone. And that would have been it except in an interesting strategic play, Ricciardo passed Raikkonen with some brand new tyres, well, OK he kind of shoved him out of the way similarly to Alonso but without the stop and go and then Red Bull actually convinced Kvyat to let him by and he had a go at Lewis.
The astonishing thing about that is that once it was obvious he couldn’t get by, Ricciardo gave the spot back to his teammate because that was the deal when he was first let past. So, hats off to Danny Boy and Boy Danii, showing the rest of the drivers how to be proper teammates.
And certainly hats off to the FIA, whose insistence on using antiquated technology to artificially enhance the race and taking away an honest, if somewhat anticlimactic race, and replacing it with a ridiculous folie a trois. And no, I have no actual idea what that means.
For all that people bitch and moan about DRS, the Safety Car is miles worse in its impact on the racing. The fact of the matter is the VSC is being used successfully in other series and had it been used properly here, we would not be sat here discussing the endless drama of it all but would instead be focusing on how Ferrari was able to stay close through the opening stint, how close Perez cut it on fuel and whether or not Verstappen will ever try to make another pass on the inside, or at least any time soon.
Instead endless amounts of virtual ink (including obviously mine) will be spilled discussing the public self-flagellating of Mercedes whilst they try to pretend they added the numbers wrong and everyone writes endless click bait headlines.
The fact of the matter is Lewis thought everyone had pitted and asked to come in and whoever’s job it was to check these things looked in the wrong place to get the gap back to Rosberg and Vettel and then utterly failed to look out the window to see what Ferrari were up to. Ferrari of course, were busy getting ice cream cones ready for Kimi, and subsequently, shaking their collective heads as Hamilton rolled down the pitlane and out behind Vettel. After that, of course, they were busy icing the champers and who can blame them, one isn’t often given gifts like that.
It’s always tough to see a loss incurred in that manner, and the fact is it was a sparkling drive by Lewis and even Rosberg was quick to admit Hamilton deserved to win, in the sense that Lewis was quicker in the race, (shall we agree to call it the enhanced driving display). But the fact also is that MotorSport is a cruel and fickle mistress and she kicked Lewis and Mercedes squarely in the plums this time round.
Much like golfers calling penalties on themselves that cost them the match there’s not much that’s fair about this, but it was edifying to see Hamilton not just angrily lashing out but being more measured in his response. These things will happen, bad calls will be made but at the end of the day, if the FIA persist with the Safety Car in this fashion they might as well bring in the sprinklers and bring back the exploding tyres as the artifice of it all begins to wear deeply on one’s soul.
There is no need to force such things on the sport as plenty of opportunities already naturally abound in F1. That is the real corruption at the heart of the sport that seems to be missed by all those closest to it, as they are too busy chasing eyeballs to figure out what really works.
Enjoy the arguing in the comments but keep it clean.
See you for the next race!!