Monaco was exciting, but not because of on track passing. Instead, we were treated to the glitz and glamour of Monaco, an intense qualifying session on Saturday and then the determinative strategy battles on Sunday. At the end of the day, it ended with a 1-2 finish for Ferrari, although perhaps not the one that was expected at the beginning of the day, and a disastrous P7 for Lewis Hamilton.
The teams rolled into the principality on the Côte d’Azur on Wednesday, a day earlier than usual. The official reason was that practice was on Thursday instead of Friday, but I think we all recognize that the teams and drivers want to spend as much time mingling with the ultra rich on their superyachts as possible.
On Saturday afternoon, the teams got down to qualifying. The big story was in the top 10. More specifically, who wasn’t in the top 10. In Q2, Hamilton struggled to warm up his Ultrasoft tyres from the start and didn’t have a great hot lap. Then he was sidelined in the pits for a few of the 15 minutes of qualifying because his car was weighed mid-qualifying by the FIA. He got back out in time to warm up the tyres and start his second hot lap. But it was not to be. As Hamilton finished the “swimming pool” section of the track, Vandoorne slammed into the armco ahead of him and brought out the yellow flag. Hamilton couldn’t finish the lap and came into the pits without a top 10 time. Hamilton sat in his car in the garage for 5 minutes to compose himself, knowing that he wouldn’t have much opportunity to gain ground in the race.
In Q3, it was Raikkonen, not Vettel, who was the Ferrari driver to grab the all-important pole position. Vettel was right behind him, followed by Bottas, Verstappen and Ricciardo. Both McLarens were in Q3, but they started outside of the top 10 because of grid penalties. Poor McLaren.
It was no small miracle as the lights went out that the cars whipped around the first turns without contact and no safety car. Raikkonen held his P1 position and the red cars looked to be pulling away from the field. Behind them, Verstappen was putting Bottas under pressure, as the prediction that the silver arrows with their long wheelbase would struggle on this tight track looked to be coming true.
The cars lapped and lapped without any change in position — the much maligned “Monaco procession.” Things started to get spicy around lap 30 as Vettel (P2) begain to close the gap to Raikkonen (P1). Raikkonen was lapping at about 77 seconds when Ferrari called him in for fresh tyres at lap 33. This was well expected, as Pirelli had suggested that the fastest strategy would be to stop at lap 28. Raikonnen came back out into a nice gap, but up ahead, Vettel took the bit
between his teeth and ripped off 4 to 5 blistering laps at 75 seconds each, even though he was on
very used Ultrasoft tyres. By the time Vettel pitted, he had enough of a gap to come out in P1 and march on to victory.
Vettel’s drive was impressive, but the strategy was the key, as evidenced by the fact that Ricciardo was able to leap his teammate and Bottas by mirroring Vettel’s strategy, while those two had pitted earlier, like Raikkonen.
Further back, Hamilton managed to pick up a handful of positions and finish P7. Button raced well, but crashed out while trying an audacious move on Wehrlein right before entering the tunnel.
Raikonnen was royally pissed after the race because he thought the team did him wrong on strategy. But after he talked to the engineers and saw the data, he cooled off. It’s hard to stay mad for long on the beautiful streets and boat slips of the finest principality on the Mediterranean.
P1, Vettel (Ferrari); P2, Raikkonen (Ferrari); P3, Ricciardo (Red Bull); P4, Bottas (Mercedes); P5, Verstappen (Red Bull); P6, Sainz (Toro Rosso) ; P7, Hamilton (Mercedes); P8, Grosjean (Haas); P9, Massa (Williams); P10, Magnussen (Haas)