The Ferrari Owners’ Club
of Great Britain

GRAND PRIX: Monaco: Horses for Courses

06-06-2017

By Tony Cotton & Nigel Bland

I’ve been writing occasional reports for the website for well over 10 years but in this piece, as well as picking up the old reference to “the hapless Button” so beloved of my part-time colleague Winston D’Arcy, I’ll be writing a few phrases I never thought I would. “Magnussen complained that Hamilton was getting in his way”. “Alonso was pleased to qualify just behind Takuma Sato”. And “The head of F1 Marketing said that it must engage more with the fans”.  Let me explain….

I am convinced there’s been a meeting of Liberty Media and the teams at which the F1 Marketing Director Sean Bratches challenged each to come up with an idea that would surprise and delight the fans. Hence in Spain, as Jack Target said in his race report, we had the young Kimi fan given Ferrari VIP treatment . I see the release of Alonso  for the Indy500 as part of the same PR approach. Unsurprisingly he gave a good account of himself in the race, qualifying behind and running much of an exciting race with eventual winner and team-mate Takuma Sato, before his Honda engine failed. But more important he got the Americans talking about F1, and gave a courteous and charming speech when accepting the Rookie Award post event. Would the Grey Empire have allowed this? Would Bernie?  

Just as spectacular (with economics I can’t begin to fathom) was Friday 2 June when there was a day at Silverstone to celebrate 40 years of Williams, with a plethora of old drivers and track demonstrations of cars from FWO6 to FW40. Grandstands were packed, and Sean Bratches gave his approval: “This is a good example of how F1 should be engaging with the fans”.  Did I mention that entrance was free? And that there were fans with smiles everywhere? 

The Monaco race could by no means be described as a thriller, even if the outcome cheered all Tifosi. Yet in a way, it fits into the Liberty model. It’s different, aspirational, glamourous, and an event that gets noticed.  To be won by the most aspirational brand in F1, and arguably the world, just adds to the shine.

Qualifying

Thursday first practice had Mercedes – and Hamilton – at the top of the time sheets.  This was to be a false dawn for them.  More than anywhere else, Monaco takes time for the track to settle down, and when it did this year’s Pirelli’s proved to be as much of a problem for Hamilton and his chassis as last year’s had, on occasion, been for Ferrari.  

When Saturday came Ferrari headed the practice times, though Max Verstappen was quickest in Q1, just ahead of Seb and Kimi.  Honour was restored in Q2 as Kimi was quickest followed by Seb. Whilst Mercedes’s Bottas filled  4th, Hamilton looked to be struggling badly. Clearly, they had taken a wrong direction setup. “There is so much wrong with the car”, he said. Isn’t that why they have practice?  Hamilton was driving wildly and slowly –  Magnussen complained about being held up by him. He might perhaps have struggled into Q3 but  Vandoorne had a swimming pool barrier step out in front of him and that was a red flag. Despite this both McLarens were in the top 10, while some beautifully smooth driving put Kimi on top and Seb behind him. Clearly, Ferrari had the best mix of mechanical and aero grip and engine characteristics, on the day.  Kimi’s “Good. Thank you” when told of pole was a joy to hear after the noisy, practised verbal overflow of less mature drivers.  Bottas was third, whilst the traditional driveability of Renault F1 engines left Verstappen and Ricciardo 4th and 5th

Race

The Liberty PR machine clicked in just before the start with some transatlantic banter and good wishes between Button and Alonso. Irrelevant to the racing, but great show business.

Some first lap jostling had no real effects, nothing changed at the front. Kimi and Seb made the most of the car’s ability to use the tyres straight away and built a lead over Bottas of over 6 seconds by lap 20.  

By the pitstops, Bottas had narrowed the gap to just over a second. The first of them was on lap 33 by Verstappen, tactically trying to undercut Bottas.  Bottas came in a lap later, and held off Verstappen. But would this in effect act as a “double undercut” on Ferrari? 

Kimi came in first and of course, Seb went for it. He knows no other way. Interestingly, before pitting he passed Button who I thought had broken down, but I suspect that was his normal pace. Poor, hapless Jenson.  Ricciardo tried the same trick, building up a clear-air lead.  There was little to choose between the 3 leaders’ times, Kimi marginally quicker than Seb. The strategy worked for Ricciardo when he pitted, coming out ahead of Bottas. Seb pitted on lap 39, and came out comfortably ahead of Kimi. Was it staged to put Seb at the front? I think Ricciardo getting ahead of Bottas is evidence that this was just the 2017 equivalent of slipstreaming – “the last shall be first “.  And then there is the little matter of Seb being just so much quicker than Kimi on the in- and out-laps…

With pitstops over, the order at the front stayed unchanged to the end, Seb, Kimi,  Ricciardo, Bottas, a sulking Verstappen, and Sainz. Hamilton was well managed and lost his qualifying blues. He ran a very long first stint to be the last tyre changer, but it was all in vain as he could not get past Sainz, and finished 7th. It may have been different had Button not got bored and (a) forgot he was in a 2017 car (b) tried to pass Wehrlein at Portier. Ever so neatly, the Sauber ended up squarely on its side, roll bar against the foam barriers, with the driver trapped but safe and cool beyond the call of duty. Seven laps of safety car ensued.  Incidentally, the accident showed the power of interlocking wheels in flipping a car. Those Dallaras at Indy may be very ugly, but they are interlock resistant. 

With one Sauber out, Ericsson in the other fell victim to the safety car rules which are different to club racing where (in the unusual circumstance of the safety car getting it right) the leader is picked up and a long crocodile forms. In F1 the lapped cars unlap themselves. Illogical, and a cause of confusion in hard-of-thinking club drivers who watch F1. However, as he passed the safety car Ericsson forgot that his brakes  and tyres were cold and bounced off  the barriers. Embarrassing, but understandable to anybody who has tried to use cold brakes in a modern, even low powered, single seater. A near replica of the accident happened just after the restart as Vandoorne, in an unusual scoring position but being pressured by Perez, went off at the same point. That the race resumed at a pace around 7 seconds slower than it was running before the safety car does call into question whether the safest action could sometimes be a stop and proper restart.  With the slow laps, we effectively lost over 10 laps of racing.

The top 10 was completed by Grosjean, Massa and Magnussen, who all had a fairly low profile race. It was good to see both Haas finishing in the points for the first time.  By the way, bearing in mind that the chassis hail from Northern Italy and the engines from Maranello, has anybody called these the Prancing Haases? I hope not….

Seb’s 25 point lead over Hamilton means little at this stage of the season, but it undoubtedly feels good for him and for the Tifosi.  Similarly, a Ferrari 1-2 at Monaco is the right emotional result, and I’m sure Liberty were pleased, even if the race was a bit dull. Afterwards, the lack of overtaking caused some to question whether Monaco can remain as an F1 track. I refer to Ross Brawn, at Silverstone. He said if teams like Williams are in danger of dropping out of F1, then F1 needs to change. I suggest likewise with Monaco.  It’s an anachronism, it’s impractical, it’s too narrow and it’s for the privileged. But if F1 doesn’t suit it, F1 needs to change.  Away from Bernie, I am confident it will, and for the better.