“Two years in the making this, so I finally feel like the redemption has arrived.’

Race Review, Round 6, Monaco – Circuit de Monaco, 2018.

The weekend just got better and better for Daniel Ricciardo, finishing top of the leader board on all the practice sessions and putting in two laps in Q3 good enough to take pole. The track record seemed to be broken each time Ricciardo took to the track. His final time in Q3 was 1:10.810, a couple of tenths ahead of nearest rival, Sebastian Vettel. Mercedes fears of this being a weak GP for them was bearing fruit as, half way through Q2, both Hamilton and Bottas looked as if they wouldn’t make it into Q3. Their plan of qualifying for Q3 and hence start the race on ultrasoft tyres came to naught as they had to pit quickly and put in a couple of laps on hypersoft tyres to get them both into Q3. That wasn’t the the worst performance of the day though, as Max Vercrashen didn’t even make it to qualifying as (in an almost identical incident to Monaco 2016) he crashed out in the dying seconds of FP3, wrecking his car beyond repair in the few hours available before qualifying. Max started from the pit lane, while his team mate completed the Red Bull sandwich, starting on pole.

Talking of Monaco 2016, will this be Ricciardo’s chance to finally put those ghosts to bed? How can we forget the disastrous pit stop which cost him the race? ELEVEN seconds he sat in the pits waiting for the team to get his new tyres ready, just long enough for Lewis Hamilton to close the gap and steal the lead from Ricciardo as he left the pits and, with overtaking in Monaco being very difficult, staying there until the chequered flag.

Ocon put in an excellent qualifying lap to start on the third row, behind Bottas, with Alonso and Sainz taking row four followed by Perez and Gasly on row five. All top the top ten started on the pink walled hypersoft tyres; the rest of the grid started on ultrasofts. (useful for Ricciardo, as the split tyre strategy meant Verstappen could give Red Bull an idea of the durability of the ultrasofts under race conditions).

Having had an excellent qualifying session, (P13) Sirotkin’s luck began to change ahead of the formation lap, when there was a problem with his wheel nuts and his wheels were not fitted ahead of the three-minute deadline, an error which cost him a 10second stop go penalty.

Remarkably, the start was very clean (except for a slight coming together between Ricciardo and Vettel into turn 1). Most of the field cleared the first lap in qualifying order, except for Verstappen, who overtook Magnussen and Grosjean, continuing his rise through the field by then overtaking Ericsson for P17, followed by Stroll on Lap 8.

Things seemed to be going from bad to worse for Sirotkin as, when he pulled into the pits on lap 7 to serve said penalty, one crew member blew cold air in his direction, and although technically not ‘working on the car’ it was an indiscretion noted by the stewards but not one which was worthy of another penalty.

William’s woes did not end there as Stroll limped into the pits on lap 9 with a front left puncture, and had a new nose fitted for good measure (after being overtaken by Vandoorne, Leclerc and Verstappen).

The drivers (Magnussen and Sainz) then complained about debris on the track cutting tyres. Race control deemed the debris to be off the racing line and therefore could be ignored, even if (as Magnussen informed them) it was being blown onto the racing line by the wind.

Hamilton was first of the front runners to bite the bullet and took an early pitstop on Lap 12, onto the purple walled ultrasoft tyres.  He emerged in P6, behind Ocon but retook P5 a couple of laps later (well, Ocon moved over and let him pass).

Hartley, Leclerc and Grosjean all pitted ahead of Vettel, who pitted on Lap 16, managing to maintain P2 on exit, ahead of team mate Raikkonen.

Red Bull did cover Ferrari’s pitstop and pitted Ricciardo on Lap 17. This initiated a flurry of pit stops as Raikkonen, Bottas, Magnussen and Ericsson all followed suit on the same lap. Interestingly Mercedes fitted Bottas (much to Hamilton’s chagrin) with the hardest available compound, the red walled supersoft, meaning he could definitely go to the end of the race without another pitstop.

So, after 18 laps, the running order was Ricciardo, Vettel, Hamilton, Raikkonen, Ocon, Alonso, Bottas, Perez, Gastly and Hulkenberg.

This didn’t last long, as over the next few laps Alonso, Sirtokin, Vandoorne, Perez and Ocon all pitted.

By Lap 25 Verstappen (who had yet to pit) had made it into P10 and Raikkonnen had moved to within DRS range of Hamilton, and Ricciardo was told to ‘look after his tyres’.

Well, just as I was about to nod off, Verstappen reported there was something wrong with the down shift from 3rd to 2nd gear, and the quality of his left front tyre was ‘really poor.’

As if that wasn’t enough excitement for one day, Ricciardo had to trump his team mate with those immortal words ‘I’m loosing power’ Ferrari also heard this message and by Lap 29 Vettel had reduced Ricciardo’s lead to 0.6 seconds…..was he getting ready to pounce and snatch victory from Ricciardo?  Would this be the nail in Red Bull’s coffin (in terms of securing another contract with Ricciardo?) Was Ricciardo going to lose ANOTHER dead-cert victory in Monaco?

In a word, no. By Lap 33 we knew Ricciardo’s problem was not going to get better and he was told to use ‘display 4, position 7’ where he could and ‘change on the lights.’

It appeared as if Vettel had decided to play the long game and save his tyres (and fuel) to make a move towards the end of the race. Ricciardo has lost the power from his battery and was 140ish horsepower down, but that didn’t seem to matter much on this track as even the straits are wonky and the narrow streets make overtaking very difficult, and those who are used to the circuit know to watch out for the exit to the tunnel and the run up into the first chicane.

On Lap 34 Stroll pitted with another puncture (same as last time).

Hamilton kept us entertained with some whinging about the tyres blistering and how much he didn’t like the ultrasofts and that he’d told them this before the race started and that he didn’t think they’d last to the end of the race and why did they put him on these anyway and he might as well pit now and lose two places etc etc. All of which the team ignored and told him to just keep on doing what he was doing and get on the podium and if they had to bring him in later they would (which they didn’t).

On Lap 52 Gasly appeared to be putting Alonso under pressure in a battle for P7, as it appeared that Alonso (also on Renault power) was having similar problems to Ricciardo. Except that Alonso’s problems were worse of course, and as he appeared to throw his toys out of his pram (which he didn’t) he pulled over with a gear box failure, which astonishingly for Monaco, was the first retirement of the race. This caused a very brief yellow flag in sector 1.

Lap 54 saw Sainz come under pressure from the newly booted Hulkenberg (his Renault team mate) and Verstappen.  Hulkenberg was told his teammate would let him past, which Sainz did very deftly up the hill, whilst managing not to allow the Verstappen the same privilege. However, having gone off the racing line to allow Hulkenberg past, Sainz picked up debris and had difficulty defending against Verstappen and a bit of a kerfuffle between the two developed into the first chicane. Did Sainz deliboratly cut the corner of did Max push him off track when he tried to overtake? Either way, Sainz held position but Verstappen was having none of it and in exactly the same spot (nearly) next lap, Max cut the corner and took the position away from Sainz. The stewards turned a blind eye to both incidents, as they seemed to balance each other out and no harm was done to car or driver.

Lap 62 saw Stroll’s love affair with the pit lane continue as he pitted for the third time this race, onto hypersofts and emerging in P19 (i.e. last).

Lap 64 saw a bit of a scrap develop between Gasly, Hulkenberg and Verstappen for Ps7-9, and (rather tellingly) Red Bull told Verstappen to ‘keep it clean’. (Can’t imagine why.)

With only a few laps to go, Grosjean pitted on lap 70, as Gasly was told he had a five second penalty for speeding in the pit lane (running a whole 1km/hr faster than the speed limit).

By Lap72 Ocon was a mere 0.6s behind Bottas, who, if the front runner’s tyres were not going to last the race, would be sitting pretty if they had to do a last-minute tyre change (which they didn’t).

It’s says a lot about

  • The sorry state of F1 and
  • Monaco as a race venue

When the ‘highlight’ of the race was a front wheel brake failure. Leclerc appeared to be gaining ground on Hartley (not surprising really, as he had no brakes) and rear ended the unsuspecting STR driver just ahead of the first chicane, causing enough damage to both cars to see them exit the race forthwith. However, all was not lost for Leclerc as he gained kudos for ‘even crashing well’ as he had tried to avoid Hartley by steering into the wall to try to slow himself down.

A virtual safety car was deployed and Vandoorne grasped this opportunity to get himself a free(ish) pitstop and emerged from the pits between the front runners (although he was now one lap in arrears) Ricciardo and Vettel.

Two laps later the safety car was withdrawn and the long-awaited challenge for the lead from Vettel never happened. In fact Vettel dropped back to over five seconds behind Ricciardo (who was protected from Vettel by the intervention of Vandoorne). Vettel then started to catch up a bit but had a big lock up on Lap 76.

So it came to pass that Ricciardo got his long awaited Monaco Victory and could say those (other) immortal words:

“Two years in the making this, so I finally feel like the redemption has arrived.’

Ricciardo won, taking him to an equal number of wins (2) as the championship leaders, Hamilton and Vettel. He stands third in the WDC, Vettel reduced Hamilton’s lead in the WDC to 14 points, STR moved five points ahead of McLaren, and Force India moved another two points ahead of STR.

Well, the pace of this race may have been slow, but if has a long way to go to catch our next venue as the slowest average speed for a F1 race…… How can we forget that magnificent 2011 Canadian F1 when Jenson Button snatched the win in a record breaking time of 4:4.39.537 (I love it that, even when a race takes more than four hours to complete, they still record the time to one thousandth of a second). Well, that’s F1 for ya.

@F1TheaJ

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