May 23, 25, 26, 2013
Nico Rosberg, Mercedes, dominated the entire Grand Prix weekend to start at pole and then lead for 78 laps of the race. At the back of the field though, it was Russian Roulette with as many as six accidents – some mechanical and some avoidable!
How does one describe a Grand Prix race that stayed in a state of limbo until the 29th lap, barring the odd damage through an unfortunate crash or “racing incidents”? Three Safety Car periods and then a red flag that grinded the entire Grand Prix to a halt for over 40 minutes? Seven car casualties and crashes that changed the course of the championship?
Pretty damn boring and pointless I’d say!
On the narrow, twisty and highly dangerous street circuit of Monaco, overtaking is practically impossible. As a result teams are more dependant on working pit strategies to gain a minuscule advantage hoping to undercut the competition and gain track position.
The first pit-stop was made by Paul Di Resta of Force India in Lap 9, and yes that had more to do with team strategy rather than any racing exigency starting as he did at P17. The next stops were all after Lap 24 with Mark Webber, Red Bull, Kimi Raikkonen, Lotus (Lap 26) and Jensen Button, McLaren (also Lap 26).
However, following the horrific crash that Felipe Massa, Ferrari suffered at the Ste Devote corner in Lap 28, practically the entire field decided to pit and change tyres as was natural. But this also put paid to a lot of team strategies for the remainder of the race.
Sebastian Vettel summed up the remainder of the Grand Prix quite succinctly when he said in his syndicated interview to PMG: “When you’ve got two Silver Arrows at the front, you expect them to sail off into the distance, but it was more like following two coaches on a sight-seeing tour.”
There was also the small incident of both Red Bull Racing and Ferrari Teams driving the race “under protest”. It started with leaks of Pirelli conducting a secret 1,000 km testing schedule with Mercedes – ostensibly on Pirelli’s new compound tyres for 2014 – having reached the paddock.
Analysts and of course, competing team principals suspect that the tests might have been conducted on the new construction hard tyres for the current season which were to be commissioned from the Canadian Grand Prix onwards.
The FIA has now got involved and will be investigating the matter thereby forcing Pirelli to postpone the release of the new construction tyres until the British Grand Prix at Silverstone.
Back to Monaco and it wasn’t for nothing that most analysts and fans were wondering whether such a fortuitous pre-race test after a disastrous Grand Prix in Spain would change the flagging fortunes of the Mercedes team. Everyone, however, knew they had great qualifying pace but had been dogged by excessive rear tyre wear and consequently very high degradation in tyre performance.
Not just did the Mercedes duo put in the maximum laps on their starting tyres before the Massa crash, but also ended up leading comfortably for the first 31 laps of the race. And had it not been for a simple, yet bizarrely amateurish mistake in pitting Hamilton late enough to make him lose two positions in the Safety Car period, Mercedes could have easily made it a one-two!
But at the end, at least the die-hard fans of Merc, Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton were not disappointed.
Given the nature of the race, I too have modified the construction of the blog to stick with what was considered the “most exciting and fascinating” part of the race, that is, from the start of Lap 54 to the end of the race. So here goes:
Lap 54 to Lap 78
Lap 54 Perez ran Raikkonen off the track at the Nouvelle chicane but the Iceman managed to get back on the racing line and maintain track position. By Lap 55, the Force India of Sutil had started to swarm all over Alonso’s back and finally in Lap 57 in what is the slowest corner of the circuit – the Portier hairpin – went to the inside of the track and passed the Spanish driver.
However, it must be said that Alonso who was having a frustrating evening driving around with debris stuck in his front wing, lost concentration and provided Sutil ample room by moving wide to the right. This moved the Force India driver up one place to 7th.
At the 58th Lap the line-up was: Rosberg, Mercedes, Vettel, Red Bull, Webber, Red Bull, Hamilton, Mercedes, Raikkonen, Lotus, Perez, McLaren, Sutil, Force India, Alonso, Ferrari, Button, McLaren and Vergne, Torro Rosso.
Jules Bianchi, Marussia crashed out in the 60th lap but he was lucky to avoid the barrier and slid away into the slip road to crash sideways into the tyre barriers. Double yellow flags were out and DRS disabled. Vettel had by now stepped off the gas preferring to follow quietly behind Rosberg who in terms of championship points is a whopping 67 points behind. It was smart thinking.
Webber too cut out the histrionics and maintained a respectful distance behind his championship-leading team-mate. If there was anyone trying to race at this stage, it was Lewis Hamilton although he too was provided with the routine team warning to take care of his tyres!
In Lap 62 Romain Grosjean decided in a fraction of a second of madness that he had to get past Daniel Ricciardo, Torro Rosso, but instead launched his Lotus right into the back-end of the impressive Australian. It was a totally careless accident from the Frenchman who, much like Pastor Maldonado and Sergio Perez was fast developing a reputation of being a reckless “kamikaze kid”.
Debris scattered all over the area meant that the yellow flags were out and the race temporarily suspended with the Safety Car out. Grosjean though, managed to get back into the pits, get a new nose assembly and a set of front wings! He rejoined the field in Lap 63 only to limp around at the back-end of the grid until Lap 65 and then get back into the pits with a broken floor, to retire from the race.
Normal racing was resumed at the end of Lap 66. All the leads had by now been wiped out thanks to the Safety Car but the leaders led by Rosberg made perfect starts to pull away from the pack. Status quo in terms of the Top 10 cars was maintained at this stage.
However, in Lap 69, the usual suspect, Perez, McLaren made contact with Raikkonen, Lotus even as they made their way into the Nouvelle chicane. Raikkonen was always going left, cutting off any space for the McLaren driver to pass but instead of slowing down and letting the Lotus take the racing line, ploughed into latter’s rear right tyre. The jury is still out on whether Raikkonen could have provided a bit more room to Perez or whether the latter should have backed off when he saw the daylight in front of him close.
The result was a smashed front wing for Perez and a rear tyre puncture for Raikkonen. With no choice left, the Finn was forced to pit in Lap 70! Kimi meanwhile, returned to the track in Lap 71 in 16th place. It was going to be the first time in 23 consecutive races that he was going to be out of the points table.
The blown front wing on Perez’s McLaren meant that he was beginning to lose downforce and consequently grip and very soon, Sutil made his move and passed him comfortably to take P5. However, the Mexican reclaimed the place in Lap 73 when he went off the road and came back on track in front of the German! This was getting ridiculous now.
More action from the Perez corner when in the very next lap, Sutil banged wheels with him at the Rascasse corner to push the McLaren into the left side barriers. Perez somehow stayed on course but was now aligned with team-mate Jensen Button who was not going to do him any favours given their recent history, cut off any room Perez had, to slide past him.
That was the end for Perez’s race as he struggled with brake problems and was forced to park at the side of the road, unable to get back into the pits. Poetic justice or what?
The mêlée pushed Arian Sutil into 5th place, maintaining Force India’s impressive performance this year and probably showing the German’s credentials as a superb F1 driver who had lost none of his skills in the two years that he was out of the sport.
With just under 3 laps remaining, Rosberg pulled away from the pack and a victory was well in sight and that too 30 years after his father Keke Rosberg had achieved the feat at Monaco – the first father-son duo to do so.
The real surprise though? Kimi Raikkonen still managed to finish 10th to complete 23 consecutive races in the points!
MONACO STATS AND FACTS
|MONACO DRIVER STANDINGS|
|2||Sebastian Vettel||Red Bull||18|
|3||Mark Webber||Red Bull||15|
|5||Adrian Sutil||Force India||10|
|8||Jean Eric Vergne||STR-Ferrari||4|
|9||Paul Di Resta||Force India||2|
|OVERALL DRIVER STANDINGS|
|1||Sebastian Vettel||Red Bull||107|
|5||Mark Webber||Red Bull||57|
|8||Paul Di Resta||Force India||28|
|11||Adrian Sutil||Force India||16|
|15||Jean Eric Vergne||Torro Rosso||5|