GRAND PRIX : Monaco : Hamilton Grumps, Vettel Smiles

Posted on June 8, 2015.

Vettel loved his unexpected elevation to second place
There was no way Hamilton was going to get by again
The Ferrari team were ecstatic at the end

Report by Tony Cotton

“Doctor, my head hurts.” “Well just keep hitting it harder against the wall. It will soon improve.”

F1’s current problem is that the number of worldwide TV viewers is dropping, so the marketing folk can’t justify spending the millions needed to finance the development and manufacture of the most complex four-wheeled vehicles on the planet. People are apparently turning off TV because current cars are “too easy to drive and too slow”. GP2 cars are nearly as fast. So what’s proposed is bigger tyres and more power through more revs. One thing we all know is that revs cost money, which the smaller teams haven’t got, and another thing is that bigger tyres give more grip and make the cars less spectacular, which the viewers don’t want. We also know that the British TV audience is one of those which is holding up quite well, and that it’s also one of the most technically knowledgable. And yet how many of those viewers know the GP2 times?

The comparison with GP2 may be interesting, but esoteric. It means nothing to the casual viewer. In reality, people are not turning off for any other reason than they don’t enjoy what they see, or that the financial demands of the organisers mean that watching a pay TV channel isn’t value for money.

The racing is less competitive than we might like because only a few teams can afford to produce front running cars, and the rules are so misconceived that it’s near impossible to develop a poor car out of a design dead end. Perhaps if the owners of F1 were brave enough to leave a lot more money in the sport, especially with the smaller, less well funded and less successful teams (surely not McLaren? – Ed) then perhaps there could be a bit more excitement. The engine rules are commendably green, disastrously expensive and incomprehensible. When Seb’s racing side by side with Rosberg, who cares about energy recovery? Less aero grip would be fun too. But I know I’m asking the impossible. Let me just hit my head on the wall again.

Fortunately, whilst wall hitting played a big part in the result of the Monaco Grand Prix, it was all relatively harmless. Kimi touched the wall in P3, which was a bit worrying, but Seb was quickest which gave a bit of hope. Sadly, when Qualifying started in earnest it went pretty much to recent form. Hamilton looked cool and in command to get pole, while Rosberg looked to be trying too hard and was “only” second. Vettel was 0.75 seconds off pole for 3rd on the grid, and just to rub it in that pole lap of Hamilton’s was done when drops of rain were falling. And to keep up his reputation as a whinger he grumbled about the tyres. Kimi was 0.6 seconds behind Seb, but was separated by the two Red Bulls. The “surprises” of qualifying were that the McLarens both reached Q2 and the Williams were 13th (Massa) and 17th (Bottas). In reality, neither was truly a surprise as the strength of Williams is high speed aero, and the lack of outright power of the Honda counts for less at Monaco.

The race had an unusually clean start. Seb challenged Rosberg, and had Rosberg faltered things might have been different, but the silver car kept ahead of the Ferrari, Vettel neatly flipping out of potential trouble at the last minute. The same couldn’t be said for Alonso, who tried to challenge Hulkenberg in the Force India but touched, resulting in a new nose needed for Hulk and a 5 second penalty for Alonso. Massa also had a long stop for a new nose. The precision with which these cars are built was clear when it just slotted on in seconds, but unfortunately for Massa the battle damage made it time consuming to remove.

Meanwhile Hamilton built a lead of about 4.5 seconds over Rosberg, while Seb was a further second and a half behind. It was fairly clear that he could have got a bit closer, but there was little point as passing was not likely and proximity can damage fuel consumption. Kvyat had demoted his affable Aussie team-mate at the start to 5th, with Kimi staying at 6th. Perez was surprisingly well behaved in seventh, ahead of Pastor Maldonado in 8th. Max Verstappen was 9th, with Button, welcoming a mediocre car as a major step forwards from a dreadful one, completing the top ten for the first few laps.

Maldonado had had an incident on the first lap, and that probably helped in upsetting his MGU-K, or “brakes” as we used to call them. As a result he was braking a touch earlier than normal and the enthusiastic, talented but inexperienced Verstappen, chasing him like a puppy after a ball, tagged him around lap 6. Max would later wish he’d learned from this error. He took Maldonado around St Devote in a lovely manoeuvre. Shortly afterwards the Venezuelan retired. If he ever reaches the end of a race, I hope he remembers what the chequered flag means.

Verstappen continued to drive with verve, putting the pressure on Perez, but his pit stop on lap 29 was disastrous. It was a full 27 seconds slower than the norm, and to put it in perspective it was (according to the FIA) 18 seconds slower than Hulk’s stop to change a nose. In some ways this was the defining moment of the race because it put Max back amongst the lapped cars.

Kimi provided a bit of entertainment during the mid part of the race as he chased Ricciardo. and looked faster than the Red Bull, but unfortunately at the front end of the race at Monaco passing needs a bit more than looking faster, so Kimi had to wait until the pit stops to get past. The official FIA figures show that Kimi’s pitstop was 0.3 seconds faster, but the total of his in and out laps were a spectacular 2.5 seconds faster than Ricciardo, which was how he got past. And there, FIA, you have one of your problems. To understand why there was a change of place I needed a lap history chart and a calculator. Being an accountant I like that sort of thing. I think the normal viewer prefers actual racing. If you want people to watch and teams to take part – keep it simple. Time to hit my head again.

The pit stops complete, there was some general droning around. Alonso went out with “a gearbox problem” on lap 41. Verstappen tactically came in for new tyres on lap 46 and came out behind Bottas and Sainz. He got nowhere until Seb came along, when Sainz made a big move over and Max found the gap too big to resist, so followed Seb through. He obviously enjoyed it so much that he did the same trick with Bottas. Quite how brilliant all this really was when Sainz may have been told to pull over and Bottas was heading for the pits anyway, I can’t say.

But next up – Grosjean. He was a bit more savvy and held Max up, and was then helpfully advised from the pitwall to keep Verstappen behind. Bet that never occurred to him…  After some close chasing, Max clearly forgot that Romain was on old tyres and needed to brake a bit earlier. At undiminished speed he hit the Frenchman and speared straight into the foam barrier at St Devote. Bluntly, 40 years ago he wouldn’t have ever driven again. With the foam, a HANS device and immensely strong tubs, he got out looking unshaken, and later was rewarded with a 5 position grid penalty for Canada. Grosjean was then helpfully informed that he had been crashed into. What would he do without pit to car radio?

There was a “virtual safety car” (nope, me neither) and then a real safety car while the mess was remedied. In the confusion, the boffins at Mercedes called in Hamilton. They later blamed the mistake on lack of a GPS signal, confusion with the virtual and real safety cars, a precaution in case Seb challenged (ignoring the fact that Rosberg was there to ride shotgun) and “the numbers being wrong”. The Mercedes team, of course, is descended from Tyrell, and I can just hear Uncle Ken asking if any of them have any common sense at all. Actually, that was pretty much what Lauda asked after the race. Not only did Rosberg get ahead but so, thanks to a bit of pushing and a great knowledge of the rules, did our man Seb as he got just inches ahead of Hamilton on the line. And that, when the last 8 laps after the safety car had run, was the podium. Hamilton put Seb under pressure, but realistically nobody is going to intimidate a driver of his experience. It was really a bit of Mansell-like showmanship,and none the worse for that.

But it wasn’t the end of the excitement. With the bunching up, Ricciardo was right behind Kimi. On lap 73 he pushed Kimi out of the way with a move the Finn described as “not very nice” and to an independent observer (independent?- you’re fired!– Ed) looked very similar to the move Alonso was penalised for. The stewards didn’t agree with me, but even Christian “Mr Ginger” Horner acknowledged it as a close call. Ricciardo was then released to attack Hamilton, which really didn’t sound to ever be a runner, and sure enough the place swapped back on the last lap so that Kvyat finished 4th and Ricciardo 5th, which was a result of either natural justice or the relative size of the Russian and Aussie marketing budgets for sweet fizzy pop. Kimi deserved 5th, but was 6th, with Perez 7th, a delighted Button 8th, Nasr 9th and Sainz last of the points scorers.

With a melodramatic touch worthy of the most awful of 50’s movies, Hamilton stopped on the slowing down lap at the Senna place to Stare Meaningfully Out To Sea, then crashed into his 3rd place board. In club racing, both of those would get you a summons to the Clerk of the Course. But this is F1.

The pecking order hasn’t really changed after Monaco. As usual it has rewarded a combination of bravery and precision. I’m afraid the Mercedes still have the upper hand, while the Scuderia’s finest are best of the rest, but pleasingly are consistently so. Elsewhere in the field, the Red Bulls were flattered by their drivers, and whilst Button and McLaren rejoiced at 8th remember that last year the much missed Jules Bianchi, who is still in our thoughts, dragged the Marussia into 9th.

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