The Ferrari Owners’ Club
of Great Britain

GRAND PRIX: Monaco: Ricciardo Stays Calm

14-06-2018

Story by Tony Cotton

If, a month ago, I had been asked to associate words with Monaco they would probably have been  ‘Casino’, ‘Glamour’, ‘Wealth’ and, as far as motorsport is concerned, ‘History’. Around that time I was kindly invited to sit in the pits during one of the F1 races at the Monaco Historic Grand Prix, and as a result the words might change. ‘Steps’, ‘Tunnels’ (the architectural not aero sort of both) and ‘Expensive Beer’ would now be amongst them. ‘Veneer’ might be as well.

Whilst the Casino is breathtaking and the track is stunning, the pits are less impressive. Did you expect them to be propped up on plywood offcuts? Despite the show, the organisation and marshalls are distinctly not to UK club standards – blue flagging the leader, anybody? Not allowing access when you do have the right pass? And, sorry to say it, the drains smell. Finally, I was thrown out of the Gala Dinner though that does allow me to say anywhere with absolute confidence “I’ve been thrown out of better places than this.” So you might expect this report to be a bit jaundiced about Monaco, but it isn’t. I love it.

Thursday evening was spent walking around the track, and the TV does not do it justice. It is far tighter than any circuit I’ve raced on. My nearest comparison, as an ex-hillclimber, would be stringing together Prescott, Doune and Curborough, and repeating around 80 times.

My respect for the drivers of both historic and modern cars around the circuit is unbounded.  Dicing, driving two abreast, swapping places, and following each other into the tunnel less than a car length apart takes a special talent, and sad to say it isn’t one that’s needed much in the Grand Prix. The old cars with a big wing front and rear, a bit of rake, possibly a bit of ground effect, but none of the modern tricks, can race nose to tail.

This made me recall a Royal Aeronautical Society lecture by a leading F1 aerodynamicist that I attended a couple of months ago. A perceptive audience member asked if amongst all the aero work did they ever try to make the wake as dirty and unfriendly as possible? No, replied the man, we don’t need to, it couldn’t be any worse than it already is. He also explained that in a week they will try hundreds of CFD (computational fluid dynamics) models and dozens of wing tunnel models, just to move a vortex by a few millimetres. The whole aero thing is so competitive that Ferrari had a chip specially made to optimise its CFD performance under FIA processor restrictions.

And all this work, with teams of 800 or so people for two cars as opposed to the driver, mechanic and engineer “we” had for “our” 1980 F1 car (which won, by the way) should perhaps result in close, thrilling racing in modern F1. Dream on.

The most significant event of the weekend took place before qualifying. In P3, with nothing at stake, Verstappen chose to risk the swimming pool exit. He must have got nostalgic for his 2016 swimming pool crash because he repeated it perfectly. The car came in at the end of practice but was too badly damaged to be repaired in time for qualifying two hours later. Back of the grid.

Fortunately for Red Bull, Ricciardo makes up for in intelligence and calmness what Verstappen lacks. He simply dominated qualifying, and didn’t look to be stressed (or even near the edge) at any point and at 1.10.8min was the only driver in the 10s. Seb, driving smoothly as ever, lined up alongside him, 0.2sec slower and a hard trying (read tyre-wearing) Hamilton a further 0.2sec behind. Kimi was 4th, a whisker slower than the Ham and ahead of Bottas.  These places probably reflect the agility of the car concepts around the circuit – Red Bull, Ferrari and Mercedes are increasing wheelbase and “low speed aero friendly” in that order.

The race start was clean and there was little change of places. This was inevitable, because while the hypersoft tyres were fast, they were fragile, and running in dirty air lowers the grip and increases the wear. So a quick clean overtake in a superior car was okay, but dicing (or what we fans used to call ”racing”) wasn’t really an option.  Max Verstappen, arguably the fastest though by no means the best driver, but in the most suitable car made up two places in lap 1, while Grosjean auditioned for the role of comedy Frenchman, grumbling about somebody touching him.

Sirotkin was called in for a penalty on lap 7 as they had been working on the car on the grid. Williams seem to be falling apart at every possible point.   As he served it, the Williams team was reported for “working on the car” – it appeared to be a blower to cool the engine. Note to ACM – try to get officials who have seen an F1 race before, it can help understanding. Stroll shortly afterwards reported “something broken on the front”.  I believe engineers call them “tyres”, Lance, and the word is “puncture”. They changed his wheels and nose just in case and I imagine would have changed the driver too if they had that option.

With 11 laps gone, Hamilton was the first big hitter to stop; he is usually harder on tyres than his peers.  With a fear that slower tyres would leave him open to pressure he was fitted with ultras; Bottas (stopping on 17) took the supers and was a bit slower, but bluntly it made little difference. No front runner took the chance of a second pit stop as getting a place back by racing was almost hopeless, and with tyre management to the fore the race became a procession.

On lap 16, Seb took a pitstop, effectively trading places with Kimi until he stopped on lap 17. By the late 20’s everybody except Pierre Gasly who made his tyres last to lap 37, had changed.  Suddenly there was hope for Seb and Ferrari. On lap 28, Ricciardo reported a loss of power. Almost in the “Houston, we have a problem” class, he stayed calm. A flashing rain light warned of an issue, so Seb knew there was something happening, made clear when the engineers told the Red Bull man that the battery had failed, meaning 160bhp lost. Dan:  “Will it get better?”; Pit “No”. Whilst we all desperately wanted Seb to pass him, the way Ricciardo knuckled down to the problem and drove round it was mightily impressive.  Seb quickly caught up with him, but with the aero sabotaging the tyres as he got close, he had to ease off to preserve the rubber. The Aussie, conversely, was running in clean air so had something to make up for his 160bhp loss.

Behind Seb, Hamilton was as whining as Ricciardo was stoical, complaining petulantly about the tyres going off, and being repeatedly told, more tersely each time, that yes, they knew and everybody was in the same boat.

Alonso had a battery failure on lap 53, ironic really as Renault are the manufacturer with more battery powered road cars than the rest of the grid. His was more dramatic than Red Bull’s with smoke appearing. Amazingly, this was the first retirement. Also around this time we saw some “racing” as Sainz defended against Verstappen (old scores?) whilst letting team-mate Hulkenberg  past.

Circumstances – a narrow, punishing track, the aero characteristics, a rather silly tyre offering from Pirelli, and a cool, intelligent mind inside Ricciardo’s helmet – conspired to deprive Seb of what should logically, and anywhere else would have been, a win. Ricciardo was as gracious in victory (“Cheers boys; Redemption”) as Hamilton, third and still whining, was petulant. Kimi drove one of his solid reliable races to fourth, with Bottas and Ocon following up. In fact there was no difference between the first six in qualifying and the race, while the top ten was completed by an impressive Gasley (looking closer to 12 than his 22 years), Hulkenberg,  Verstappen who must have been thinking of what might have been, and Sainz.

In view of my spending four days in the Monaco Historic pits, I am ashamed to say that even though I wish it had been said from a Red Car, Ricciardo’s relieved comment meant a lot to me.  “We won Monaco”, he said reverentially. The history, the atmosphere, the people, the uniqueness, the character, the spirits of the past that live on every inch of the track mean that, despite the poor quality of modern racing, Monaco is The One to Win. The optimist inside me says that this race was not all bad news for the Scuderia. It shows that they have a car which is adaptable and competitive on all sorts of track, so perhaps we can hope that Seb will continue to push and surpass Hamilton. It doesn’t have the same depth of meaning as at Monaco, but “we won” will still sound very good the next time I hear it from Seb or Kimi.