Brought to you by TheJudge13 contributor Mattpt55
Ambient 26° Track 50° Humidity 47% Wind 0.5 m/s
Another flawless day in the Cote d’Azure, massive glare from the water backlighting the cruel gods of the Monagasque track. A day of shame awaits Mercedes as they failed to properly sort the car of their ace, Lewis Hamilton leaving him stranded in P13 for the start. The potential for a day of whinging on the radio looms large indeed. Still, Hamilton also enjoys a challenge and whether he can get his head sorted for the race will be one of the stories of the race today. Remarkably, Pat Symonds seemed to think he was unlikely to score points from there. Given the points start at P10, I would respectfully disagree.
In fact, the opportunity is there for Mercedes strategists to shine and you’d have to think that anyone outside the top 10 would have to consider ditching the Supers after a lap or 2, and then driving into clean air and hoping that the Safety Car comes soon enough to shuffle them forwards, rather than a Virtual Safety Car. But then, Monaco is all about the gamble….
Button will be doing a start from the pitlane after overnight set up changes, specifically a floor change and probably a good shout as he’s not exactly had a lot of practice with the wider cars and the first turn will be a squeaker, no doubt.
Ericsson will be sporting a new gearbox which should come with a 5 spot penalty, but as of pitlane open the FIA had yet to post the penalty on their site.
Specifics on the Button floor followed Brundle’s grid walk, that in order to repair Vandoorne’s car they HAD to take the floor from Jenson as it was the only one they had to hand that matched the one Stoffel ruined in Quali. Otherwise, it would’ve been back of the grid for both Macca’s.
The last big unanswered question seemed to be exactly how Ferrari would get Seb in front of Kimi, or whether they would. A special shout to Sainz, who received no pre-race attention for his rather staggering beat down (well, OK, it was 0.004s) of Perez for P6. Goes to show just how good he has become, IMO.
Full tanks, wide cars and the scent of the Safety Car hung heavy over the circuit as the drivers prepared to make the formation lap and officially begin the race….
Lights Out!!!! Brilliant start from Raikkonen lock up from Bottas contact between the Red Bulls and the top six maintain position with Hamilton gaining a spot.
Into S2 and already Ferrari were gapping Bottas a bit, with Verstappen already onto his gearbox and Ricciardo glued to Max.
Button was in for a set of Supers and was back out for the duration at the end of lap 1 as Raikkonen set fast lap from the start in the 1:17’s. Also clear from the first lap was that the Mercedes of Bottas was no match for the Ferraris, especially on full tanks, which is similar to what was seen in Barcelona.
Rosberg did confirm on telly that there was a set up issue on Hamilton’s car that could not be changed without breaking Parc Ferme and though many a lap remained, the Strollfosi were cheered by the early lack of crashing, though at Monaco, opportunities always abound.
Lap 6 and Button was on the radio for an unsafe release of Wehrlein, stating he had to lift and on replay it was a bit naughty. Hamilton was told his race was coming to him, suggesting that the big brains at Merc had decided to run him long.
Lap 7 and 3 seconds separated Bottas and Vettel in P2, a banner day early on for the Scuderia in the WCC and on lap 8 Raikkonen reset fast lap with a 1:16.666 to the accompaniment of an amazing replay of him missing the Armco by inches in super slo mo.
Button on the radio complaining of running behind Wehrlein and a quick scan of the gaps indicated that no one was making a serious effort to bring the pressure.
At the front on lap 12 Raikkonen and Vettel continued to trade purple sectors and laps with Bottas now over 6 seconds off the lead. On race pace, Sainz languished nearly half a second per lap off the Red Bull of Ricciardo and Wehrlein’s penalty was confirmed. Regretfully for Button, it was a 5s time penalty which would not clear the Sauber from his path.
Lap 14 and Vettel carved 0.5s off Raikkonen, perhaps looking to stay in undercut territory. Not much separated Bottas and Verstappen on lap time as the teams all counseled the drivers to keep their powder dry and await the inevitable pit stop madness.
First retirement, always a good bet, came from Nico Hulkenberg whose engine spectacularly self destructed around Portier, leading to yellow and into the pits went Perez straitaway. Out on the Supers and with a new Front Wing he went P16, his dice thrown.
With that stop, Hamilton was into the points for the moment, P10 and a sad lonely point it would be compared to the windfall Vettel stood to inherit at the moment.
Also in the points lap 20 were both the cars of HAAS, happily P7 and P8, a rarity for them as usually one or the other has amid race disaster.
Lap 22 and Bottas started splashing some purple numbers up on the board, the first from a Mercedes as Vettel by dint of being slightly more consistent had closed up to just over 1s behind Raikkonen.
2 laps later, and Hamilton was on the radio about the rear of the car starting to go as Stroll got perilously close to the Armco, enough to rate a slo mo feature on the international feed. Raikkonen too was beginning to suffer, especially in Sector 2 as despite Pirelli’s advertising, it began to be clear that the Ultras weren’t necessarily going to last the entire race for ALL the drivers.
Lap 25 caught Ericsson in a lurid slide and FOM played the radio accompaniment to that, that his car was indeed “all over the place”.
Lap 27 and the blue flags began to fly and neither Kimi nor Ferrari seemed to be aware that solid blue flags weren’t going to be displayed until there was a 1s gap between cars. That regulation was part of a change that took identifying lapped cars away from the marshals and instead used the GPS of the cars to manage lapped traffic.
Lap 28 and the approaching traffic had concertina-ed the field back together, with Bottas within 2s on lap 29, but damage done from Mercedes’ point of view. Verstappen straitlined the chicane with a rather entertaining manuever as the front runners hit clean air.
20s between Sainz and the leaders, but the 10s further back to the HAAS cars might be the target for Ferrari as far as pit window was concerned, as all the cars continued to lap, eyeing each other warily to see who would be first to blink in the pit stop battle.
Lap 33 and in was the Red Bull of Verstappen, back out in P6 and 5s of air for him to drive into. Bottas answered the following lap and on exit it was Bottas whose stop was 0.8s quicker and gave him the margin to hold off Verstappen.
Lap 34 and Raikkonen was in as Ricciardo, now in P2 was setting fast laps behind Vettel as Red Bull looked to give him his lead for a bit. Perez was stuck behind Stroll and unhappy but even less happy was Raikkonen, as his stop once again found him stuck behind Button, making one wonder if they bothered to check the gaps to lapped runners before bringing him in.
Perez’meanwhile was suffering from critical engine temps as he tried to push Stroll and the call from his engineer to get on with it or back off worked as he successfully overtook the rookie for P15 without incident lap 36.
Lap 37 and in was Kvyat opening the door for Hamilto. Up front, Vettel and Ricciardo showed there was indeed plenty of performance in the tyres which was good news for Lewis fans.
Sainz pitted lap 38, but he managed to put quite a dent into Bottas laptimes before he boxed, distancing the Finn quite a bit from the battle ahead of him.
The following lap Ricciardo was in and out and his 4 lap sprint saw him easily ahead of Bottas as he exited the pit lane.
Lap 39 and Vettel followed suit, out ahead of Raikkonen. Thus the order was Vettel, Raikkonen, Ricciardo with Bottas nearly 7s behind. Verstappen in P6 was the big loser of the pit stop gamble, with the overcut having been shown to be clearly superior.
Lap 41 was a puncture for Ocon and Hamilton persisted as Grosjean ahead boxed, leaving him plenty of clean air to drive into and apparently the ability to still turn laptimes at the pace of the frontrunners.
Verstappen was 6s ahead and Hamilton’s pit window lap 43 would put him back out P8. Stroll was in and out to let Massa by. Magnussen boxed for the second time and as the dust settled it was Verstappen winning the bitterest radio message over his early stop, over his 3 spot loss of track position. Bit of an oopsie from the Red Bull brains perhaps.
Speculation abounded that the Ferrari swap was rather more on purpose, and the opinion on Sky was strongly that it was a bit less than kosher, though the counter to that was Vettel’s laptimes once he had clear air in front of him.
Lap 47 and Mercedes played the Hamilton card, P7 just ahead of Grosjean as he exited the pit and the chase to Sainz ahead for the second half of his race.
Lap 49 saw the blue flags waved for Palmer, reminding everyone he was still in the race, and Vettel tickled 1:15s for the first time, a mere 0.069s separating him from the next chronological barrier on track. Force India radioed in that both Magnussen and Ocon picked up a left rear puncture on exit of Ste. Devote and to be careful.
Verstappen decided to have a go at Bottas lap 51 and hung 0.7s off as they hammered up the hill.
Dutifully working away in P7, Hamilton lapped nearly a second a lap faster than Sainz, with the lapped Wehrlein looming ahead, the next obstacle for Lewis.
Raikkonen was continuing to have a hard time as Ricciardo was up to 3.5 astern on lap 54 and the clarification came it was a raised manhole cover that was causing the rear left punctures. Bottas had responded to the charge from Verstappen and had run the gap back out to slightly over 1 s but both Stroll and Palmer were next up the road to be lapped, which would bring Verstappen back into play.
Lap 56 and Hamilton tossed off a rather staggering 1:15.831 and the gap to Sainz was down to 3.5s. Getting round the Spaniard was going to be a different order, however.
Ricciardo v Raikkonen was also on as the gap between the 2 was down to under 2 seconds. Along with that development, a radio message that the tarmac on exit of Ste Devote was beginning to break up, right where they had stopped the repaving.
It didn’t pay to look away on lap 60 as Hamilton had caught up Sainz and was within 1 second, as Carlos radioed in that he was being blocked by Wehrlein.
Safety Car!!!! out of nowhere car on it’s side and it was Wehrlein. Oh the first pics were ugly as not only was it on its side but flush against the barrier
Verstappen into the pits. Button with damage into the pits, looking the likely culprit.
5 live had the first analysis, that Button stuck his nose up after Wehrlein let a Ferrari by and the closing line ensured contact with Pascal’s right rear and Button’s front left. Not the smartest driving from Jenson, bit of the red mist despite his retirement.
Lap 63 and Pascal was out of the car and waving to the crowd as Perez and Massa were in for Ultras to have a charge. Stroll radioed in he’d lost temperatures in brakes and tyres and was desperate for advice from his engineer.
Under the Crashty Car, Ericsson put it into the wall on lap 65 at Ste. Devote and wound up dead center on the racing line. It was a quickly cleared as the crane was right there and the Race Director announced the Safety Car was in the end of lap 66.
Lock up for Bottas into Rascasse as the Safety Car wheeled into the pits and Vettel got a good start. On the defense into Ste Devote from Bottas, Ricciardo bounced it hard off the wall on exit from T1 but continued seemingly unaffected. The yellows were out quickly though as into the wall in a rather more race ending fashion was Stoffel Vandoorne, ruining his first points of the year. It was Perez making the move up the inside that ended the Waffle’s day, though it was a clean one.
Verstappen all over Bottas the following lap, less than 0.5s and Hamilton was following suit on Sainz as the last 10 laps looked to be fairly entertaining.
Lap 72 and Kvyat was done with a dead car, bringing the double waved yellows T4 with the car in a difficult to recover spot. Perez was in with damage, his highly optimistic move having been responsible for the end of Kvyat’s race, and the end of any points for him as well.
Verstappen again was bringing the thunder, less than 0.5s off with 3 laps left in the race. 2 laps to go and Lewis was also less than 0.5s off Sainz, but likely feeling a bit more conservative with the rest of the championship sprawling ahead of him.
Penultimate lap and Hamilton was looking very racy through the hairpin but again the risk reward was very much in Sainz’ favour.
The opposite was true for Verstappen which was responsible for much agita on the Mercedes pitwall.
Bang!!! across the line went Vettel P1 as discretion got the better of valor for Hamilton and he backed way off and settled for the points in hand. Verstappen kept at it but Bottas proved to be an immovable object in P4.
Huge result for Ferrari both for the WCC and the WCC and if anything was clear, even with the optimum strategy it looked like P3 was the best Mercedes could’ve done on the day. It speaks volumes, however, that they covered the Verstappen undercut instead of trusting their pace. Monaco is a strange beast though, but looking back to Barcelona it does appear that Ferrari have the upper hand at the moment and it is Mercedes now in the rather unusual role of chasing a rather significant gap.
Red Bull with a happy podium for Ricciardo and they best have some strong PR game as Verstappen’s complaint about his strategy will likely see a full on Twitter assault by Team Orange. The reality, as ever, was more complicated as they chose to go for the undercut, not recognising or rather betting that he would hit the looming traffic after the leaders followed him in. If they staid out it would put paid to his risky bet. They likely didn’t count on the fact that Raikkonen was about to be shuffled out of the way so Vettel could take maximum points, which further put Max’s race behind the 8 ball. Of course Kimi was also shuffled out of the way because Vettel had the pace in hand and they would have seen that quite clearly on the pitwall, so choose your arguments carefully in the comments. With Ricciardo covering Vettel it was game over for Max as they extended the stint for 4 laps and created an unbreachable gap.
This disparity in pace is what trapped Verstappen, along with a somewhat slow stop as Horner stated he also went rather long coming into the box. Still the writing was on the wall and the undercut from there was always going to be long odds.
Huge result by Carlos Sainz and Toro Rosso, P6 and successfully defending from the Hamilton in the closing laps confirming again that the Spaniard is ready for the Big Leagues, (coff coff Ferrari) as soon as a spot is open.
Post race it was interesting to hear Lewis say he was told P10 was his best result by the team and then hear Toto say they had calculated that P7 was what they had expected. Driver wrangling 101 as Hamilton appeared quite happy to have exceeded his expectations. Similarly the Wolffinator stated that Bottas’ tyres were done and hence the coverage of Max with the stop. Again, speaking volumes about the state of Mercedes at the moment and the very temperamental nature of their chassis. Pure speculation, but it’s possible that their longer wheelbase has somewhat bolloxed their tyre data when combined with the new Pirelli compounds, leaving them adrift when things go awry, as they increasingly often seem to be.
Speaking of massive own goals, Sergio Perez wins this week’s award, taking out Kvyat and himself with one ill judged manouevre. It was doubly bad news for Force India as Ocon’s race had already been wiped out thanks to a puncture from the crumbling asphalt and exposed manhole cover. Thus no points for Force India ruining their record of double points this season.
HAAS however managed for the first time to make double points with Grojean P8 and Magnussen P10, a big step for the new team on the grid. Small joy for Palmer as well, as he actually managed to finish in a respectable P11, as long as you close your eyes and squint so as not to notice only Ocon and Perez finished behind him, with everyone else having stopped for various reasons.
Willliams was gifted a few points by Perez as well, but Stroll’s cry for help under the Safety Car will not go unremarked on Social Media, but what should really be looked at is how little progress they are making with the Mercedes engine in the back of the car. The fundamental problems with downforce they have suffered the last few years appear to still be haunting them and it will be all on Lowe to sort it, though at this rate 2018 will have to be the year we get the verdict as it already appears to be a problem they lack the budget to solve for this year.
A full race lead for Vettel and Ferrari 17 points to the good heading to Canada, one of Hamilton’s favourite tracks sets the stage for some proper racing 2 weeks from now, if Mercedes can get their act together.
Thanks, as always, for stopping by.
And remember to play nice in the comments!!