MOTORSPORT

F1 Monaco Review

High stakes at the roulette table

TopGear Reporter
May 31, 2022
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F1 Monaco Review

F1 has become the apex of monetisation exercises in the motorsport world. It is, though, my opinion that we should take a page out of the Indy 500 book and remind everyone that traditions should be upheld and sometimes, it shouldn’t just be about the money. Ironic, since we are referring, of course, to the Monaco GP. Virtue signalling aside, let’s get to the meat of this.

This past weekend’s race proved just how exciting Monaco could be given some changing dynamics. Again, race direction was brought into question with lethargic decision-making around factors like DRS and the rolling start, following a suspended start, when we all craved the potential theatrics a standing start may have brought on. 

Could’ve, would’ve, didn’t… Motorsport is dangerous and wrapping up every driver in cotton wool seems to be the only priority given the recent developments. Even the drivers voiced their frustration around this. Regardless, the Monaco GP gave us some of the most exciting racing we’ve seen at this track for some time. It was anything but the snooze-fest we have come to know. 

Tension at McLaren

Tensions are brewing in the McLaren camp with Daniel Ricciardo not meeting expectations. It reminds me of those sticky work situations where performance is in question, but labour regulations dictate the decision-making process. He’s been given a fair chance but are they supporting him enough? His woes continued into qualifying, failing to make it into Q3 once more. 

Charles Leclerc was, once again, in top form with Sainz right behind him looking to secure another Ferrari front-row lockout. But then… drama. Perez spun out at Portier before Sainz arrived at the accident scene. The session was red-flagged before Verstappen could do anything to change his fortunes. Perez secured third, even with that accident. I know what the conspiracy theorists are thinking. 

Awkward start

With threats of rain on race day, there was more Martin Brundle awkwardness on the grid walk with celebrities you likely don’t care about… The rain threats then followed through on the formation lap after a mad scamper to change to full-wet tyres. The deluge then ensued and race direction decided to red flag the race before it started with the heavens gradually turning the track into something closely resembling a river. 

Images don't do the River de Monaco justice.

What followed was an in-line rolling start which, for F1, looked a bit timid. Not for the first time, this season, race direction seems to be causing some frustration. These cars and drivers are the extreme versions of the modern race package so shouldn’t they be able to race in the extreme weather? Yes, there needs to be discretion made on the levels of extremity, but the race should’ve started earlier. Motorsport is, after all, a game of high risk, and high rewards and yet officials continue to err on the extreme side of caution.

What we can say is that, if at the beginning of the season, drivers were struggling with the handling characteristics of the new cars, Monaco showed that many of them had gotten to grips with the great displays of car control in the wet. Bravo!

Strategy is king

The gamble was always gonna be around swapping full-wet tyres for slicks or stepping down from the grooved tyres to intermediates before opting for slicks. Pierre Gasly was the first to roll the dice on the latter, shifting from full-on wet tyres to intermediates, and it paid dividends as he gained seven places by lap 20, proving that you can overtake at Monaco (in these conditions). Tricky decisions to make but in this gamble, you must risk it like Sainz did, gaining an advantage over Leclerc who lost the most ground in that battle. Perez, the ultimate winner, gained enough of an advantage on the intermediates to get the jump on Sainz. He then gained ground on Verstappen who, in turn, got the jump on Leclerc. This resulted in his day going from bad to worse. Ferrari then protested that Verstappen crossed the yellow line on the pit exit. The FIA dismissed the protest. Don’t expect this decision just to fade away anytime soon.

Mick Schumacher overcooked it on the exit of the Swimming Pool section, sending the Haas spinning out and connecting with the barrier, splitting the car in two. A real-life safety simulation that certainly validates the safety changes for the 2022 cars. It's a difficult scene to wrap your head around; seeing that and accepting that it’s working the way it should – more so for the drivers passing the wreck. Another red flag… another rolling restart. 

About that mid-pack situation: Alonso's ability to seemingly control the entire race deserves mention. He made the Alpine as wide as a two-way Monagas roadway, refusing to let Lewis Hamilton through. All this before cracking on and securing the fastest lap of the race. A true masterclass.

Ferrari opted for the more durable of the available tyre choices.

In the closing stages of the race, the contrasting strategies of Ferrari and Red Bull couldn’t have been more polarised. The advantage, though, swung in the way of Red Bull. The team’s double-stacking of both Perez and Verstappen and then opting for the medium compound tyres that strike the best balance between pace and longevity. Ferrari also double-stacked its drivers and played the long game with the slower but more durable hard compound tyre. 

It’s a strategy that seemed disjointed with the decision-making seemingly off, clearly irritating Charles. Who can blame him, though, since he had a shot at finally winning the Monaco GP. Either way, it was the high-stakes, high-rewards gamble and it seemingly shifted the balance back to Ferrari as the medium tyres didn’t give the Red Bulls that much of an advantage.

Roles reversed

Instead, it resulted in a set of worn mediums on the Red Bull cars. Perez had to fight off the charges from Sainz, followed by Verstappen and Leclerc in fourth, battling into the dying embers of the race. And that’s the way it was going to stay in what was an ironic ending for both ‘number two’ drivers. Sainz gets the jump on Charles and Perez who, after the previous week’s team order debacle, got retribution in the fairest way possible. Did anyone’s heart skip a beat as the four-car train approached Nicholas Latifi being lapped? Eish.

With Perez winning and closing the gap to Verstappen and Leclerc, the Mexican is in for an actual shot at the championship. Needless to say, that’s going to intensify the team order discussion even more. Next on the calendar, we head off to Baku in Azerbaijan for another street circuit – one that never fails to deliver on excitement. 

Words: Brent Van Der Schyff

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