The Ferrari Owners’ Club
of Great Britain

GRAND PRIX : Monaco : Red Bull Hands it to Hamilton

15-06-2016
Report by Tony Cotton
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Vettel was the best of the Fazzas but only fourth.

During the late 1990s I followed British Formula 3 quite closely. In 1998, Jonathan Palmer’s MSV introduced a competing series, Formula Palmer Audi. A distinguishing feature was the “push to pass” button. How we laughed at such artifice. And now in F1 we have DRS, degrading tyres, and KERS, all justified for “the show”.

But there was another feature of those Palmer Aldi cars – they were one of the last professional series to feature an aluminium tub. Carbon has now taken over in virtually all areas of “the professional driver ladder”. Whilst I unreservedly applaud the safety, and welcome the lives and limbs saved by a great step forward, I can’t help thinking that the invulnerability that the modern single seater provides leads to an anything-goes mentality with drivers.

In the lead up to Monaco we had another innovation being inked in for 2017 – the halo. If it saves a life, then any reservations I have are irrelevant. However, even setting aside the concerns on making exit more difficult after an incident, I fear it will lead to even more pass or crash moves, which will inevitably filter down the culture of motor racing to the club level where the inherent safety of the cars – whether a Pirelli Ferrari formula classic, or Formula Ford – can never approach F1. Motorsport needs to be wary of unintended consequences.

Actually, two halos were in the news at Monaco. The one I’ve just mentioned and the huge one around the New Messiah, Max Verstappen. Almost as if working to a clichéd script where triumph and disaster alternate, he dramatically left it late to leave the pits in Q1, and on his first quick lap he caught the barrier near the swimming pool, broke a trackrod and was out against the wall. Interestingly, what seemed a fairly trivial incident by F1 standards resulted in a change of “survival cell”, which I assume is what you and I call the monocoque or tub. He started from the pitlane.

It would normally be good to say that Ferrari initially set qualifying on fire, but sadly it was the Ferrari engine in the back of Nasr’s Sauber that literally did that, even before Max’s bang.

Kimi, of course, had a gearbox change and so a 5 place penalty. This (artifice) is sometimes said to be the sort of thing which seems to give him a negative mindset, and he finished Q3 in 6th, between Hulkenberg’s Force India and Sainz’s Toro Rosso. But did it influence his performance? He was under 0.2 sec behind Seb in 4th. It’s sad to report that the Scuderia were effectively just the “best of the rest”, with Seb 0.6 seconds behind 3rd man Hamilton. Just to put that in perspective, 0.6 seconds was the same gap from Kimi to the “hopeless” McLaren driven by Alonso. Hamilton had managed 3rd despite failing to leave the pitlane in Q3 at the first attempt. Only the hardest of hearts failed to have a major wave of Schadenfreude. They tried the PC technique of turning it off and back on again and he was out, but behind Rosberg and Ricciardo on pole. Of course, you can’t overtake at Monaco…

The race started with 7 laps under a safety car due to rain. Whilst a club race in the UK would undoubtedly have started normally, the track layout and the fact that everybody but poleman Ricicardo would be looking at a wall of grey made it the right choice. Bizarrely, as the race started Magnussen switched to intermediates, which was proven wrong in every way possible. His Renault team-mate Palmer was on wets and hit a white line, always an issue at Monaco, spearing off to retirement. As racing resumed, Ricciardo built a strong lead and Hamilton hassled Rosberg. Round about this time, Kimi, hobbled into 10th by the penalty, simply understeered at the Station Hairpin, or whatever it’s called this year, and then was a passenger into Portier. Grojean in the Dallara Haas Ferrari narrowly avoided him, Kimi driving on with a wing under the left front through the tunnel only to retire at the Nouvelle chicane.

By this time, it was getting more into intermediates territory, and thoughts on tyres seemed very mixed. Ferrari put Seb onto the inters, though Riciciardo was still fastest on wets. It might make a good dinner debate question as to how often inters are the right choice. Or maybe unlike me you have a life. With Ricciardo 14 seconds in front, Mercedes lost patience and order Rosberg to cede. Vettel must have been a bit jealous as he was clearly faster than Massa in 6th, but just couldn’t get past. Monaco is tricky enough in the dry, but in the wet there seems to be just a single line. Max Verstappen is, of course, still relatively new and doesn’t seem to know this fact, as he made up places. If this was a justification for his promotion to Red Bull, Kyviat then decided to justify his own demotion. After some deeply untidy and unimpressive dicing with Magnussen he rammed the hapless Dane at Rascasse. Kyviat was out, Magnussen not. Ericsson repeated the concept on Bottas a few laps later, they both escaped but it still looked unprofessional. Remember my crash or pass comment?

By lap 22 Perez had managed to get “properly” in front of Seb by clever strategy, and they both started to be delayed by Rosberg. Ricciardo switched to inters, which left Hamilton in the lead, the last changer. With the sun now shining, Ericsson had tried slicks, and it seemed to work. On lap 31 Hamilton pitted and put on ultrasofts. Rosberg followed, and then Ricciardo.

There are no doubt excellent reasons why the Aussie’s tyres weren’t ready. A theory by somebody who might know is that they run the teams by checklist and nobody is really in charge. My theory is a massive cock-up. Whatever the reason, Daniel was destroyed by his team. A strong lead was thrown away and he went back in 2nd., virtually on Hamilton’s gearbox, and looking angry and motivated. He looked angry and motivated for the rest of the race, clearly had the fastest car, and it’s a tribute to Hamilton that he resisted the pressure. With offs over white lines and a lengthy, fruitless pursuit by a popular hero, I can’t help thinking this year’s script was by whinger Mansell.

Almost exactly on the halfway mark, physics caught up with Verstappen. He went a bit off line on slicks, and removed the right hand wheels at Casino Square. He’s good, but still lacking the maturity of the greats. The next piece of drama was when the Saubers tangled. Nasr had been asked to let Ericcson by, but as Ericcson said “his radio must have broken”. So at Monaco’s favourite non-overtaking spot, Rascasse, the two pay drivers collided. Not with the style of Hamilton and Rosberg on a good day, but in a banger racing sort of way. Both were out, albeit after a couple of further laps.

Seb continued in 4th place, and would finish there. He was able to keep up with Perez in the Force India, but no more. At one point in the laps, he had a big lock up into Casino Square. It looked like a narrow escape, but in my view he showed that in these conditions, at a tight circuit, he drives to allow for the unexpected, with enough margin to recover from problems. Did you ever see him try an idiot overtake? Seb is now like Alonso, he just processes information so quickly and thoroughly that he takes risks only when it’s necessary with a good chance of success. He will surely bring the Championship back to its spiritual home in the next year or two.

As the last lap started, rain fell. It made life a bit difficult for some, but had no real effect. The result of the race was the biggest mix of emotions amongst the top six that I can remember. Hamilton had a very lucky win, Ricciardo was uncharacteristically and justifiably angry with 2nd – “just don’t say anything” he said over the radio. Perez’s third was almost like a World Championship for Force India – this decade’s equivalent of Surer’s 4th at Brazil in an Ensign. Seb drove a great race to 4th, but the feeling was a bit deflated – more like 12th. Whereas for Alonso and McLaren, 5th, over a minute behind the man he vacated a seat for, was a moment of euphoria. Maybe that Honda dog is starting to get trained…. And finally 6th for Hulkenberg’ Force India, which appeared at Monaco to be the best value chassis on the grid, was especially sweet as he deposed Championship leader Rosberg in sight of the line.

I’ve said before that Monaco could mark a turning point, usually hoping for a Ferrari resurgence. I’m afraid I’ve got 2017 in mind for that. But I do think Monaco 2016 could be seen as when self doubt rightly starts for Rosberg. And of all the criticisms you level at his rival for the championship, self doubt has never and will never be one.