Brought to you by TheJudge13 contributor Mattpt55
Ambient 25° Track 53° Humidity 37% Wind 0.7 m/s
On a glorious day round the Principality, sun smashing into the mega-yachts and celebrity riff raff trolling the streets, FP3 was every bit the entertainment one might expect in this tiny nation of billionaires, gamblers and grifters. And drivers, Let’s not forget the drivers, as it was Sebastian Vettel, not a local lad, who was crushing laps in FP3 going faster and faster on used tyres, supporting Pirelli’s statement that a null stopper on the Ultrasofts would be possible, if the regulations permitted (which IMO they should). His teammate Raikkonen also killed it and it was a surprise Verstappen, being racy whilst Mercedes looked to be having the big struggle. Was it tyre temps, or something slightly more grim for the Death Star?
Early on Lewis complained of having difficulty getting tyres up to temps but then again Sky reported that they had his car apart post session with the gearbox off, which spoke to more basic set up and balance woes.
Palmer was a naughty lad, having been called to the stewards for going a wee bit too fast under the VSC. Button was looking at a 15 spot hit for a 2 element swap with his PU, to go along with Stoffel the Waffle’s 3 spot hit earned for a bit of brainless driving in Barcelona.
Ocon had a smash and crash, not so much kissing the Armco as banging his teeth into it, breaking his suspension and no doubt owing his mechanics a case or two of their alcoholic beverage of choice for getting him back out for Quali. Ricciardo had a Brake By Wire issues spoil the end of his session, but Horner said they had it sorted.
Track goes green annd they’re off!!! And for realz this time as Vettel had queued up with minute to go. Ferrari led the pack of 12 cars round which included the Renault and Mercedes teams.
Complicating the picture is the need of Mercedes to have 2 laps to get their tyres into the window for optimum performance whilst Ferrari needed only 1. This created a big gap on track, with some cars taking an extra slow lap mixing it in with cars that were already on it.
Bang Bang it was Raikkonen then Vettel setting purple sectors on their first go. Vettel not surprisingly atop the heap with a 1:13.289, 0.2s up on Kimi.
Bottas slotted comfortably into P3 with a rather un-Mercedes like 0.4s gap to Raikkonen, an inviting target for an enterprising Red Bull, who had opted to wait in the garage for the track to clear from the early action.
11 minutes to go and it was Verstappen across the line and to the top he went! 1:13.278 besting Vettel by 0.1s, but only till Ricciardo bested him with a 1:13.219.
At which point all the top 4 began trading times, with the ultimate winner being Verstappen when the smoke cleared, just ahead of Vettel and Raikkonen, with 8 minutes to go.
Ocon was out around the same time, chasing the time of Perez who had already set a quite reasonable P6. As he set up for his second run, Magnussen hit the line to go P7.
With 5 minutes to go it was RoGro causing the brown flag to fly for a Toro Rosso as he spun the car and drove the wrong way round the circuit to find room to spin the car and get it pointed back toward the finish line.
3 minutes to go and Sainz put it in P6. Hamilton languished in P9 and at the wrong end it was Gosjean, Stroll, Palmer, Wehrlein and Ericsson all with work to do. Ocon was on the bubble as the last minute began to tick off the clock.
Ericsson pulled off at the chicane with a problem , bringing out the yellows just long enough to spoil his teammates lap.
Palmer jumped Stroll but failed to make Q2 whilst Grosjean managed to get the job done, winding up P12 and pushing Ocon out whilst it was revealed that Ericsson had suffered a puncture, his left rear rolling off a rim that was broken, from getting a bit too close to the Armco on his effort.
Thus it was that Ocon, Palmer, Stroll, Wehrlein, and Ericsson were sent to swab the decks of the team yachts while the rest of the runners reset for the action in Q2. Good news for Vandoorne as he joined the midfield for the first time this season in the second session, slamming a P6. On replay it looked that Grosjean definitely committed the lesser sin as he was parked unsighted on the apex and managed to clear the car before the Toro Rosso came round.
Q2 started with a massive rush yet again. Bottas got the onboard treatment with 13 minutes left on the clock but it was again the Ferraris that were the highlight of the timing sheets, lurid purples for both Raikkonen and then Vettel. however the real excitement was Hamilton who just about put it into the barriers out of Casino square.
1:12.78 put Raikkonen ahead of Vettel as Kvyat got mouthy about traffic, which had already earned him one rebuke from his engineer.
Again Rogro had an off on his effort as it looked more and more likely that Hamilton was going to struggle to make Q3.
7 minutes to go and it was Verstappen on the move, setting fastest S2 and going P2, ahead of Vettel. Ricciardo had gone P5 with Bottas slotted in between as the lads at Mercedes were scratching their heads, with Lewis P14 and 6:30 to figure it out.
Along with Lewis, Sainz, Grosjean, Magnussen and Massa were on the outside looking in.
5:30 and out went the Merc of Lewis. Rogro tapped the barriers while Hamilton was on his outlap and with the track filling, traffic loomed large for the Death Star. P7 and P8 for Button and Vandoorne was looking good for McLaren who were hoping to do the double into Q3 for the first time this season.
2 minutes to go and snap oversteer for Hamilton but still 0.5s up on P10. He backed off and earned a rebuke from his engineer who warned him he was running out of chances. Hamilton replied he thought there was a car issue, but there was no more room for error.
Time ticking down and then, into the wall was Vandoorne AHEAD of Hamilton. Double Yellows and everyone’s laps were spoiled, stranding Lewis in P14, wrecking his best lap of the weekend. 2013 being the last time he missed Q3 on pace, according to Sky.
Also scuppered by Vandoorne were Kvyat, Hulkenberg, Magnussen and Massa, sent to prep the hors d’oeuvres and clean the pool for those at the sharp end.
The cause of Vandoorne’s woes were revealed to be the nut behind the wheel, as he whacked the Armco and broke his right front, hurtling the car into the barrier, a remarkable imitation of Ocon’s incident in FP3.
Q3 and again no time wasted as Sainz led the way, trailed by Bottas and the Ferrari duo.
9 minutes to go and it was Raikkonen into the 18s for S1, and that alone earned him P1 with a 1:12.296. Verstappen to P2 0.8s back as Raikkonen had a second bite. Ricciardo put the hurt on his teammate as he put Max into P3, whcih became P4 as Bottas also improved on the Dutchman’s time.
Vettel furthered the fall of Verstappen, slotting ahead of Bottas for the last of the podium spots as Max complained of a loss of front grip, blaming the tyres for his sudden loss of performance.
5 minutes to go and RoGro and Button remained the only 2 of the top 10 to have no time, a situation they had set about remedying as the track was mercifully free of traffic with the rest having hit the pits to reset for their final tilt at glory.
3 minutes to go and as the track began to fill with runners on outlaps it was RoGro to P6 as Button elected to go round for another shot, having backed off before he put in a proper effort.
Bottas and Raikkonen just evenly matched through S1 and P2 was the best the Finn could do with Red Bull and Ferrari still coming.
Purple S2 for Kimi and a further 0.1s up the road for the Finn, being chased by Vettel who hit the line for his effort with just a minute left.
Vettel purpled S1 as Bottas kept on it and improved his last time. PB S2 for Vettel. S3 was aPB and only good for S2 as Bottas had the fastest S3, but not quick enough as P3 was the best he could do.
Verstappen took P4, winning the battle with Ricciardo who had looked imperious up to the point when time ran out and it was Sainz with the mega quali, P6 for the Spaniard. RoGro ultimately thrashed Button to take P8, but it mattered not as he was facing the back of the grid with his penalties.
Similarly, Stoffel was looking at P12 on the grid tomorrow, for his Spanish sins.
Monaco rarely produces excellent racing in decent weather, but if Mercedes manage to sort Hamilton’s car, it could be quite the show as he tries to work forward and sort his championship chances, though with Vettel on his 4th turbo, playing the long game almost certainly means the championship leader will have to eat a 10 spot penalty at some point during the season.
Verstappen v Bottas also looks to be a fun battle, especially with Ricciardo in the wings, Danny boy having said post Quali that he thought pole was in sight, but poor timing had robbed him of a clean track when it all mattered most. That’s Monaco, though.
In fact, the whole midfield is likely to be a bit mad, but even though Kimi will likely get the palmares for finally driving one of the fastest cars on the grid as fast as it deserves, the real winner of the day was Sainz with his P6, 0.2s ahead of the Merc powered Force India of Perez. Kudos to James Key as well, as they continue to bring innovations that are copied by the big 3, despite their relatively modest budget. Not looking so good, however, were Palmer and Stroll, with Stroll in particular not even sent out for a proper 2nd effort to escape Q1, reason as yet unknown.
Rear tyres and management thereof seemed to be a trending topic in the paddock and certainly an area where Ferrari seemed to have the biggest advantage. Going long or short is the other choice facing teams not in the front rows, given the supposed infinite laps the tyres are capable of.
In the absence of weather it’s the Safety Car that will add the strategic spice to the race, and fortunately for race fans, rookies and pay drivers plus wider cars = plenty of fun on the morrow. Or at least one hopes.
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