Monaco GP Review

Mercedes' Nico Rosberg

The glitz and glamour fest that is Monaco again saw Mercedes set the quickest time in qualifying as they had done last year. Mercedes and mainly Rosberg dominated Thursday and Saturday practice, as well as Qualifying too. He’s always been in-tune with what is the streets of his home. Hamilton had set-up issues and was often a touch behind Nico but still took up second place on the grid behind his team-mate. Again like last year; the race was under a cloud of controversy with Red Bull and Ferrari lodging a protest against Mercedes for conducting a three-day test within the limits of the test ban that is in force throughout the season but i’ll go into that later. In the race Rosberg was a little slower off the start than Vettel and Hamilton but was able to defend accordingly. Up until the first stop, with Hamilton behind, he was able to control the pace of the race and the tyres and sort of sterilise them and the race to some extent. There was a huge train of cars that involved the whole field which presented a dilema for the leading cars as they had nowhere to get back into free air to try and challenge the lead. Luckily for Rosberg, Massa’s large shunt at Sainte Devote brought out the safety car which pretty much gave him a free stop under no pressure. After this and after the Red Flag he was able to have a pretty simple race and maintained a comfortable 3 – 4 second gap over the now second placed Vettel which he recoverd after the second appearence from the saftey car.

Nico Rosberg

In second Vettel lost this race in Qualifying and after several unsuccessful attempts to make his way past Hamilton, he eventually backed off from the back of Lewis to preserve his option tyres and made his only stop before the safety car came out. He was able to jump Hamilton after his timing error under the safety car. He didn’t really put Rosberg under much pressure after the restart and after the Red Flag and Webber didn’t really challenge despite being less than a second behind for a lot of the remainder of the race. Webber too was able to jump Hamilton while the safety car was out and spent the remainder of the race under intense pressure for Hamilton and had to disuade Lewis at Tabac and Rascasse to recover from a difficult run of races for him that have distanced himself from the title fight. But he does move up into fifth above Massa. Hamilton had a good launch off the grid but Rosberg had him covered into Sainte Devote. He then held off the challenge from Vettel and it was looking good when the safety car came out. However he was told to leave space between him and Rosberg as both would have to come in together. But it seems he backed off too much as the Red Bull’s both cleared him. However even if they stacked him it would still have been close as the safety car let the Red Bull’s pass anyway. But that error potentially lost him a podium. After that and the red flag he put Webber under a lot of pressure but Webber more often than not was putting his car in the right places to defend third place. After several laps putting Webber under pressure he had to back off due to the more rapid degredation it was causing in the turbulent air of Webber’s RB9. This was perhaps his best chance to recover some of the ground he lost in the title fight but with Vettel ahead, he’ll have to hope his Mercedes doesn’t work it’s tyres as hard for the remainder of the season.

On the podium: Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber came home second and third for Red Bull

Sutil had one of the drives of his career in fifth and he utilised Lowes Hairpin to make moves on both Button and Alonso. Once Perez and Raikkonen suffered the effetcs of their coming together he moved up to fifth and was able to pull away from Button. This was his first points finish since the season opener in Melbourne and he’ll be boosted by that after his luckless last four races. He’s also made sure that Force India are still fifth in the constructors championship and they’ve shown that they won’t be beaten quietly by sixth place McLaren. It was McLaren’s Button who finished up behind Sutil and he spent the early part of the race scrapping with Perez again and after Sergio cut the Nouvelle and Swimming Pool chicanes trying to defend, he eventually let Jenson through. Button didn’t have the best of races after that as he would later clip the back of Alonso at Lowes, then witness his team-mate fly down the inside of him at the Nouvelle chicane less 20 seconds later. Sutil would later dive down the inside at Lowes hairpin and Jenson was down to ninth. But in the last few laps he was able to take Alonso at the exit of Rascasse as he was stuck behind the retiring Perez. He gained a further place with Raikkonen’s puncture to take home sixth. But he still accepts that he is not in a front running car at the moment. Alonso had a very off day in seventh. In contrast to his sublime victory in Barcelona he found himself struggling for pace on Sunday in a car that was perhaps too geared for qualifying performance but even if that was the case he only managed sixth on the grid. He lost touch with the top five pretty quickly and was set upon by the McLarens. He tried to stay out longer than Raikkonen in a bid to jump him but that didn’t work out and it was only after the first safety car period where he looked like he had some pace on a new set of prime soft tyres. He was attacked on the inside of the Nouvelle chicane by Perez but Alonso was stubborn enough to keep his foot in on the outside but had to cut the first part of the chicane to avoid hitting Perez. After a brief agreement with Perez during the stoppage of the red flag period and some dicussions between his engineer: Andrea Stella, Ferrari’s sporting director and the FIA stewards; he was allowed to give Perez the place behind the safety car as the race was restarted. He did seem a little tame after that and lost out to Sutil at Lowes and Button at Rascasse while Perez was grinding to a halt. Alonso did have some of Perez’s front wing lodged in his floor towards the end of the race but he admitted he was off the pace today but took solace that he finished ahead of Kimi. But he is again out of reach of Vettel at Montreal at least, being 29 points back in third. But that gap can be easily reduced. Especially if you are Alonso.

Lost ground on Vettel: Kimi Raikkonen (left) finished 10th and Fernando Alonso (right) seventh

Jean Eric Vergne drove a consistent, controlled and relatively quiet race to come home eighth from tenth on the grid. He was helped up from tenth by the Kimi and Perez incident but he kept his head and gains four points from it. Di Resta had a disaster of a qualifying when a team error in not putting fresh intermediate tyres on his car saw him eliminated from Q1 in seventeenth. His task seemed even more arduous when he pitted early as Force India tried to pre-empt a safety car which pushed him into a two stop. However he made two great moves at Sainte Devote around the outside of Massa and then Guitierrez and after the red flag he was eleventh. He was helped by Raikkonen’s and Perez’s coming together to move into ninth. From seventeenth on the grid. Kimi finished in tenth in what should have been at least fifth for the Iceman. Even though the move to put on a new set of soft tyres at the red flag interval appeared to be the wrong choice, it was Perez who ruined his race. He had to take avoiding action down into the Nouvelle chicane with Kimi subsequenly calling him an idiot on the radio. But Perez had already took on two world champions down into the chicane and was full of confidence to take on a thrid. However it was this confidence that was his downfall. Kimi had made sure Perez had little room coming out of the tunnel and into the chicane but Perez was committed to the move and went into the gap which was rapidly decreasing and he made severe contact with Kimi and the armco. Raikkonen had to pit with a puncture while Perez continued for a little longer with bad front wing damage but some of his front wing was lodged into his brake caliper and his had no choice but to retire. Kimi meanwhile had an excellent final two laps in which he overtook Gutierrez, Bottas and Hulkenberg going into the final lap to take one point and continue his point scoring run.

Hulkenberg had a very quiet afternoon until he made his way up to tenth like so many others thanks to Kimi and Sergio’s crash. However Kimi was determined to get back into the points and on fresher rubber; was able to take Hulkenberg into Sainte Devote as the last lap started. Even if he had took that point, it would have done little damage to the lead Force India and McLaren have on them now. 39 points from Force India and 32 from McLaren will be difficult for Sauber who have a slow car. Even Toro Rosso are leaving them behind on 12 points and are becoming more consistent as the races go on. So they need to sort their car out very soon before their season becomes a disaster. Bottas in twelfth was where Williams expected to be and if he was to score he needed more drivers to crash. Gutierrez the same in thirteenth. It was a great fourteenth place for Max Chilton in the Marussia who passed their rivals Caterham and Giedo Van der garde in the last two laps. He was however responsible for Pastor Maldonado’s nasty crash at Tabac which pulled the Tech-pro barriers out on to the track and so wrecking his Marussia team-mates front nose structure. Because of this he recieved a drive through penalty and accepted he was in the wrong; believing Maldonado was further behind him. Van der garde was the last of the finishers in 15th. Perez as you know; retired from brake caliper damage from his clash with Raikkonen and with Kimi suggesting he needs to be “punched in the face”. Kimi’s team-mate Grosjean had already crashed once on Thursday and again on Saturday morning. Despite just making qualifying he was knocked out of Q2. He crashed for the third time this weekend when he messed up his braking and clambered onto the back of the unsuspecting Daniel Ricciardo in the Toro Rosso. This leaves many questions about his ability not to crash that he was starting to cast away this year. Bianchi lost control of his Marussia at Sainte Devote in a weekend to forget for the Frenchman. Maldonado of course was launched into the barriers at Tabac which brought out the red flags. He was a little shaken up but ultimatley o.k. The same goes for Massa who had a carbon copy of his Saturday FP3 crash by locking up both front wheels and clouting the armco on entry to Sainte Devote and them slamming into the tyre barriers waiting for him at the bottom of the start finish straight. The high speed of both heavy impacts lead to some trackside medical attention and a lengthy safety car period. But it was confimed after a visit to the Hospital, Felipe was fine. Charles Pic was unlucky to suffer a gearbox seizure and the resulting fire while running in fiftheenth. He felt he could have kept Gutierrez behind him but we’ll never know.

Bad weekend: Massa missed qualifying on Saturday after colliding with the barriers at turn one in FP3

Collision: Pastor Maldonado was taken to a medical centre for checks after crashing his Williams

There was an FIA investigation after the race on the issue of Mercedes being asked to conduct a three day tyre test after the Spanish GP on the 15th – 17th May. Red Bull and Ferrari lodged the protest with Lotus declining and those such as McLaren and Force India not wanting to protest against their own engine supplier. Thankfully Rosberg’s race win stands as it’s always frustrating for a race win to be taken away from someone like that and the test will have had little effect on the race like Sebastian Vettel later suggested. Ross Brawn, Niki Lauda, Toto Wolf and other Mercedes leading figures said they were asked by Pirelli to conduct the test and Pirelli’s motorsports director: Paul Hembery eluded to the fact that in the contract they signed with the FIA in 2010. It states that they can request the use of a teams car for tyre tests. This would also explain why the FIA allowed permisssion for Mercedes and Pirelli for the test to occur as Lauda was claiming before the race. But Red Bull and Ferrari are claiming that it contrevenes article 22.4 of the sporting regulations which forbids full on in -season testing. They also claim they broke the rules in using the 2013 Mercedes in the tests as any cars used in-season for events or private tests have to be a minimum of two years old so only 2011 spec cars can be used. Even Pirelli’s test car is a 2010 Renault. Pirelli thought they wouldn’t have the representative data with a car that is now much slower than today’s and this was something he was saying in the face of critisism post race a Barcelona. Therefore they required the use of a 2013 car. However now the question is that does the FIA – Pirelli contract signed in 2010 by-pass the regulations banning in-season testing that came into effect in 2009.  With this in mind, I don’t see Mercedes or Pirelli at fault here as they are adhering to the FIA contract. Perhaps they were a little foolish to think no-one would cause a fuss and perhaps foolish not to have representatives from other teams or the FIA at the tests. I think the FIA should shoulder the blame for poor governance of the sport. They have drawn up a contract that seems to by-pass the testing regulations and whether they’ve realised it or not; it’s a contract. It should stand. It would also seem they have failed to inform the teams about this clause too. If the contract clearly states the cars Pirelli can ask to use have to be two years old then you could punish them and Mercedes. But Mercedes could escape punishment if they can provide an effective argument suggesting Pirelli mislead them on false information. Whatever the case i’m relieved to hear that this is being decided at the next meeting of the World Motorsporting Council at the FIA headquarters in Paris. The initial idea that the case would or could be decided then and there by the four FIA stewards at Monaco – one who only has juristiction on driving matters, was madness. It’s like local government passing a law for the whole country. This is now a matter for the representatives of the WMSC including FIA chairman – Jean Todt. This means Pirelli, Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull, even the FIA themselves can gather their evidence in a realistic amount of time with input from FIA Race Director for F1 – Charlie Whiting.

So F1 travels to Montreal under it’s latest politicals storm. Grosjean will again be under scruitiny with a 10 place grid penalty for the race. Despite Mercedes victory their tyre issues are not solved. Monaco is more easy on tyres and Montreal will be similarly. Red Bull might struggle as they always do here, while the winners of the last three Canadian GP’s: McLaren, are in no position to win. This could therefore make it a scrap between Lotus and Ferrari with Mercedes nearby and Red Bull not a million miles away. But expect them to lose points there.

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