The good, bad and the ugly - Monaco Grand Prix

Monaco has always been a special Grand Prix on the calendar. It’s a beautiful place, know for hosting the richest and glamorous parties in the world. It’s the home Grand Prix for all the French drivers on the grid. And more importantly, it’s a place where the air of champions can be felt forever because nothing’s changed here – same track and same road for ages now. Ayrton Senna’s  six victories, Keke Rosberg’s impressive and dominant win in ’83, Sir Stirling Moss’ s win in 1961, and the list goes on – 71 years of history jam-packed right there in the small principality of Monaco.

Monaco has historically been the most difficult track to overtake on because of its narrow streets, the barriers  and of course the track layout itself, which gives no space for making a pass.  Yet, we wouldn’t say that for Michael Schumacher, who has made numerous passes around here. To  shift our attention from drifting away into the glorious past where drivers were racing wheel to wheel and pushing the limits are the new 2013 Pirelli tyres.  The Italian manufacturer brought the usual for this Grand Prix -the soft and super-soft compounds and were expecting to see all the 11 teams work out a one- stopper.

Qualifying is of great importance particularly on a track like this. If a driver qualifies in the top three, he’s a contender for those valuable 25 points. And the one driver, who has shown he had  definitely come here to get the sweet victory, is Nico Rosberg. This German had absolutely no pressure from the back as he dominated Practice 1, 2 and 3 with lap times which were nowhere near beatable. The Red Bulls looked completely out of pace on Thursday.  But with the help of their reserve Sebastien Buemi, doing no lesser than 400 laps around this narrow track on the simulator, they made significant updates on Saturday which suddenly lifted the reigning champions to a position to contend for pole. Ferrari, who were in a good position in P1 and P2 dropped back  to  P3. The reason  why Ferrari were lacking pace is yet to be revealed,  but our guess is that probably Monaco is just not their playground. And the situation is no different in the Lotus garage. Both their cars struggling to even make the top 5, they could only hope to do well going forward.

Mercedes was untouched again in Qualifying as they locked out the front row for the Monaco GP. Red Bull making it through the tough practice with all sorts of upgrades to enhance their speed, qualified P3 with Vettel and in P4 with Webber. Kimi Raikkonen would’ve been happy to qualify P5 ahead of Alonso to keep his championship alive. McLaren, which is now basically a mid-field team brought both their drivers into Q3 to qualify 7th with Perez and 9th with the 2009 champion, Jenson Button, surprisingly. Force India is making huge progress this season, and the visual proof is Adrian Sutil’s qualifying performance to end his session at P8 ( India Shining) , while DiResta’s strategy cost him a spot into Q2, and put him only in P17.

Race day: The ideal words that closely describe a Monaco Grand Prix are – exhilarating, dangerous, thrilling wheel to heel action, and one more that never fails to be true, crashes, but  this year’s race was exactly the opposite, though, Felipe Massa, Max Chilton and Sergio Perez did keep the heat of game  alive with their exciting crashes. After  three safety car periods, a red flag session and a trail of cars one behind the other for 78 laps, Nico Rosberg led 5 world champions and rest 16 world class drivers to take the chequered flag first. On the contrary, his teammate Lewis Hamilton, who started 2nd slipped to 4th in the safety car shuffle. One man’s loss is another man’s gain;Sebastian Vettel moved into P2 taking 3 more points and same for his teammate Mark Webber, who moved a position too.  Alonso had a tough time with his car, and all the million watchers could see that. Felipe Massa had yet another horrific crash in the same corner he crashed in FP3.
Monaco Grand Prix – this is how it went for these teams and drivers:
Red Bull Racing: Making changes in the dire hours of the most important session of the weekend – possible only from Red Bull racing. On Thursday, Red Bull were on the verge of losing the championship lead, but with the game changing updates they brought on Saturday to up their pace to almost equal the Mercedes, it was surprising to see Sebastian Vettel not on pole.  Rosberg may be the king of Monaco this year, but the reigning world champion has been in the shadows all weekend. With the 2nd place in Monaco, Sebastian Vettel has increased the odds of his winning a 4th title by increasing his lead to 21 points in the championship. Red Bull, too, is now leading by a big margin in the constructor’s – thanks to Mark Webber’s third place.

Mercedes: Unstoppable all weekend. Rosberg managed the tyres well, and they too co-operated to give him the first win of the season. Though, on the other hand, we saw a wrong strategy call by the team for Lewis Hamilton, which dropped him to P4 and a blow to a possible contention for a race win. Clouds of doubts still remain over the Mercedes team as to how they managed the tyres on race day, which has been the weak link for the team in the past 5 races. But as the media revealed, Mercedes conducted a ‘secret’ 1000km test with Pirelli after the Spanish Grand Prix weekend (which could’ve helped them, despite the claim being denied by Pirelli and Mercedes).  And there ended the Mercedes’ Monaco story..  it found itself embroiled in an unethical act which could cause damage to the whole team.

Ferrari: Lost pace whole weekend. This pretty much sums up the situation in Fernando Alonso’s garage. The usual ‘Alonso-style’ start was missing and he just couldn’t keep up with the leaders. So, he had to settle for a disappointing 7th place.  Felipe Massa who didn’t qualify after the big shunt in Free Practice 3, started from the very last position. His race went from bad to worse on Sunday. A suspected suspension flaw wiped him out of the race the same way it happened in the last practice session.  It’s not all over yet, Canada is a circuit where speed matters more than downforce, so Ferrari might be able to spring in some good results.

Lotus: Not a very good day for both the Lotus drivers.  Kimi Raikkonen was running comfortably in P6 until Sergio Perez tried making a brave move into  Nouvelle chicane and it went all wrong. A rear puncture on Kimi’s car forced him to pit, which pushed him 7 places back. Nevertheless, in the last two laps, the Iceman fought hard to grab a 10th place, continuing his streak for consecutive points finish. Romain Grosjean who looked quick throughout the practice sessions (when he wasn’t in the wall) was less impressive on Sunday. It was like seeing the 2012 Grosjean back in action again after he rammed into the back of Daniel Ricciardo. Now Grosjean’s days in F1 might just be countable.

McLaren Mercedes:  One team we’ll continue to talk about is McLaren. So far, it’s been a rough ride for the Surrey based team, but this Monaco GP was a positive take. Jenson Button is slowly finding his way to the top, while his teammate keeps “turning into” him. Once again, we saw some disruption between the McLaren teammates as Perez almost struck Button at Nouvelle chicane. That only makes us think “how many more, Checo?”.  Seeing overall, and into the future, with the recent ‘McLaren front and rear wing’ updates working very well, I’m expecting to see McLaren with better pace during both Qualifying and the race from Canada.

Force India: had to write about this team and its drivers as they did a stunning job throughout the 78 laps. After a disappointing qualifying for Paul di Resta, he roared back from the back to finish P9. His overtaking manoeuvres at Ste Devote were sensational, and it was almost a flawless race for him. Adrian Sutil seemed gone for the first half of the race, but the fire kicked in in the 2nd half when he made hair-plucking overtakes on Fernando Alonso at Rascasse and Jenson Button too. A double points finish for the Force India team meant celebration not just in Vijay Mallaya’s yacht, but also for the million watchers in India who were proud of the team’s evolution.

This race wasn’t THE Monaco Grand Prix a 500 odd million people around the world would want to watch. My ideal view of a Monaco Grand Prix is where I see drivers pushing their cars to the limit, a  tough fight in the last laps of the Grand Prix, and where there is action throughout the race.  As Sebastian Vettel demonstrated last Sunday, by clocking the quickest lap time of 1 minute 16seconds on lap 77,  how much quicker the cars could be if tyres weren’t influencing the high speed sport to an extent that the drivers control their speed and drive nearly three seconds slower each lap.  In his own words ” I’m not trying to do something silly [on setting the fastest lap], and I apologize for quarrelling with my engineer on the radio, but it’s a reflection of how racing is today, when you can be three seconds a lap faster.”
Pirelli just confirmed that they will not be racing with the new ‘kevlar-belted’ tyres, instead they’ll be tested during the Friday practice the coming week. Another delay postponed the new compound’s rebut to the British Grand Prix weekend. Canada will again host (hopefully) a very interesting GP for a change.

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