Circuit de Monaco
A few facts about Monaco – The Turn 6 hairpin is the slowest corner in F1, at barely 50 km/h under maximum steering lock, it’s the only Grand Prix weekend to have practice on a Thursday, and it’s both the shortest and longest Grand Prix of the season, with the race only 260.286km in distance, compared to the usual minimum distance of 300km, and it has 78 laps, the most of any race on the calendar.
And now to give you a guided view of the track, here’s title character Daniel Ricciardo driving around the streets of the Principality in a work car:
Now, without a doubt, Monaco is one of the more picturesque views of any track in the world, especially when the cars shoot out of the tunnel and plunge into Port Hercules, which is also a curse, because the streets are so cramped that racing in this current era of big fat wide cars with dirty air makes for a total lack of overtaking, making the race utterly shithouse to watch, despite it being the greatest test of concentration on the calendar.
At some tracks, you need to be at least 1 second per lap faster just to overcome the effects of disturbed air and complete a pass… at Monaco you need to be 2 seconds faster, which is why you pretty much never see overtaking outside of the first lap.
Duncraig Dan 2021, Chapter 6: Ferrari gambled on Red in Monaco, and it came up Black
After a year in hiatus, one of the crown jewels of world motorsport, the Monaco Grand Prix, was back in business in the world’s most famous and glamourous tax haven, and the special helmets and liveries were back out in force for Formula One’s blue ribbon event, and starting off with the best of the liveries, McLaren revived the classic Gulf Oil light blue & orange livery, best associated with Porsche and Ford’s successes at Le Mans in the 1960s and 1970s:
For the drivers, hometown hope Charles LeClerc had a helmet to honour Monegasque racing legend Louis Chiron, who won the 1931 Monaco Grand Prix and finished 6th in 1955 at the age of 55, making him the oldest driver in F1 history, Daniel Ricciardo’s retro orange helmet featured Bruce McLaren’s original ‘Kiwi’ McLaren Cars logo, Lando Norris had a pair of of old school goggles painted on, Valtteri Bottas had a “Bangin'” comic book design thanks to his partner Tiffany Cromwell, Pierre Gasly added streaks of gold, and Sebastian Vettel, who used to be the kingpin of special helmet designs, went for a chome pink thanks to Aston Martin’s major sponsor BWT:
Of course, the big milestone of the weekend was that Williams brought up their 750th Grand Prix start, joining Ferrari and McLaren as the only teams in the history of the sport to reach 750 Grands Prix, and the special designs included Nicholas Latifi’s helmet featuring classic Williams moments, plus every Williams Championship-winning car, George Russell’s helmet featured World Champions Alan Jones, Nigel Mansell, Nelson Piquet, Ayrton Senna and Damon Hill, and both cars had a big 750 on the engine cover, plus their halos were covered with the names of 100 fans who took part in a contest stating how many of those 750 races they’ve supported the team.
Although, if you actually looked up various stats, Monaco was Williams’ 748th start from 753 entries as a team, if you do what Williams did and count from when Frank Williams’ team entered a custom March 761 in 1977, and not when they entered the FW06 in 1978, which was Patrick Head’s first original Williams design, which would make it their 740th start from 742 entries as a Constructor.
However, the team clarified that they don’t count three races (Out of 14) in 1977 when Patrick Nève failed to qualify, two races in 1980 and 1981 (Spain 1980 and South Africa 1981) that didn’t have World Championship status, and the 1982 San Marino Grand Prix, when the team joined the FOCA-aligned teams in withdrawing from the weekend during the FISA-FOCA war of 1982.
Oddly enough, they didn’t include the 2005 US Grand Prix, when they joined the Michelin-shod teams and withdrew from the race on the formation lap, although I suppose we’ll have to go with the team from Grove, given the weekend has already passed and say well done on the big 7-5-0!
When it comes to Monaco, Qualifying is pretty much the race with the importance of track position, and Ferrari had threatened to take pole position after showing extremely promising pace through Thursday Practice, and Charles LeClerc delivered in style on his hometown streets, claiming his and Ferrari’s first pole position since 2019, and the first by a Monegasque driver at home since Louis Chiron in 1936, although LeClerc ironically secured it by causing a red flag with 30 seconds remaining in Q3, when he clipped the inside armco at the Swimming Pool, destroying the right front track rod & steering arm and spearing into the outside wall at the exit of the chicane, a mistake Max Verstappen has made several times in the past.
Speaking of Verstappen, he started from 2nd, although he was cussing heavily on the radio after losing his final flying lap thanks to the red flag, and there was only 0.044s between the Red Bull on the front row and Lando Norris in 5th, with Valtteri Bottas and Carlos Sainz only just missing out on front row starts themselves.
In what threatened to be another twist in the title race, Lewis Hamilton qualified 7th, his first start outside of the Top 6 since Germany in 2018, Sebastian Vettel had Aston Martin’s best starting position of the season in 8th, Sergio Perez was stuck down in 9th, while Antonio Giovinazzi made a rare foreay into the Top 10, albeit 1.4 seconds off pole.
Outside of the Top 10, Daniel Ricciardo had a Saturday stinker, qualifying down in 12th after struggling to crack the Top 10 all weekend, Fernando Alonso didn’t even escape Q1 and was stuck down in 17th, and Mick Schumacher missed qualifying due to a hard crash at Casino Square in Practice 3 which wrecked the back end of the car.
Still, LeClerc’s incident was nothing compared to the Formula Regional action at Beau Rivage:
Pre Race Dramas
Despite a 160 km/h impact, Ferrari stated they didn’t need to change the internals of LeClerc’s gearbox to avoid a 5-place grid penalty, but their worst fears arrived when the left driveshaft, which had apparently been unaffected by the crash, failed on the way to the grid, forcing him back into the garage, and instead of starting from 6th, the polesitter wouldn’t even START THE RACE!
Whether or not the failure was connected to the crash was unknown by the Scuderia, but nevertheless, the Monaco curse continues for Charles – He’s never finished a race in any category at his home circuit, be it in Formula 2 (DNFed both races in 2017) or Formula 1, where he’s now had a brake failure in 2018, a puncture in 2019, and a DNS in 2021.
Martin Brundle had a great quote for it – Ferrari gambled on Red in Monaco, and it came up Black.
Still, it wasn’t the first time that a Monaco polesitter hasn’t started from P1 – David Coulthard’s McLaren stalled on the formation lap in 2001 and forced him to start from the back of the grid, although he did finish 5th, which ultimately denied DC a Monaco hat-trick between 2000-02.
So with LeClerc gone, the Top 10 cars, which now included Esteban Ocon, all started on Softs, Lance Stroll and Yuki Tsunoda started on the Hard tyres, which meant they were able to run at least 50 laps, while Ricciardo , Raikkonen, Alonso Russell and Latifi all started on the Medium tyres.
As always with Monaco, track position was the key.
Race (78 Laps)
So with Verstappen effectively starting on pole from the dirty side of the grid, the Dutchman covered off Bottas into Turn 1 as the Top 7 all held position, and with the leaders off and gone gone, it turned out the only drivers to officially lose positions on the opening lap, even after everyone gained a place with LeClerc’s departure, were Ricciardo and Tsunoda in the AlphaTauri, with the McLaren stuck behind Kimi Raikkonen thanks to the Iceman’s pass at Sainte Devote, a pattern that continued for the next 90 minutes.
Overall, the big winner of the opening lap was Lance Stroll in the Aston Martin, who jumped up from 13th to 11th on Hard tyres, a move that really opened up his race given he was running long and had track position, and it was also on the opening lap that some of the few overtakes of the race occurred, one of which was Giovinazzi on Ocon for 9th down the outside into Mirabeau in a very nice piece of driving from the Italian:
And Mick Schumacher on teammate Nikita Mazepin at the Hairpin:
Other than that, the race seemed to turn into a of a procession until the pit stops began, as Verstappen and Bottas cleared away from the field, and the race lead always seemed to hover at between 1-2 seconds thanks to the dirty air and tyre management, with Carlos Sainz hanging within 3 seconds of the Mercedes, as the drivers caught in the mid-pack began making notes on the radio about how it was impossible to follow another car.
Realistically, the only chance the drivers outside of the points on Medium tyres (Raikkonen, Ricciardo and Alonso especially) had of making it into the points was a Safety Car, which would allow them to gain track position, but unlike past editions of Monaco, there wasn’t so much as a local yellow flag.
Over the next couple of laps, the only major moments came when Bottas stated his front left was starting to handle like a wet tyre, Lando Norris was given the black & white flag for breaching track limits at Turn 10 on Lap 19, the same lap in which Lance Stroll did his first bunny hop over the swimming pool chicane, and apparently escaped without major damage:
Finally, Mercedes pulled the trigger first of the major pit activity and boxed Hamilton on Lap 30 for the Hard tyres to try and undercut Gasly, Bottas was in next lap, but in a classic case of history repeating for Mercedes, the Finn had a horrible right front change when the rattle gun, which was more like a jackhammer, cross threaded the right front wheel nut onto the axle, meaning they couldn’t remove the wheel off the car, and through no fault of his own, the Finn was out of the race from what would’ve been a surefire 2nd place!
Now, thanks to the Formula 1 subreddit, this is what a normal, unseated Mercedes wheel nut looks like, which you can see with the threading on the inside to fit it onto the hub:
And here’s what Mercedes did, ‘machining’ the wheel nut onto the axle, making it impossible to grip and creating a shrapnel shower from the sheared threading every time they tried to remove the wheel:
And, completing an awful lap for Mercedes, Hamilton couldn’t clear Gasly out of the pits, as Pierre’s in-lap on warm used tyres ended up being faster than Lewis’ out-lap, and it was about to get even better, because Vettel pitted next and used Aston Martin’s overcut strategy to get ahead of both Gasly and Hamilton into an effective 5th place, but the dickheads in the local TV production booth didn’t show the finale of Vettel and Gasly’s fantastic wheel to wheel battle up the Beau Rivage, because they were too busy flicking to a replay of Stroll surfing over the Swimming Pool chicane again!
It’s probably not the first time the citizens of Monaco have seen an Aston Martin taking part in a drag race up the Avenue d’Ostende
As Hamilton raged over the radio at losing 2 spots through Mercedes’ pit strategy, the new top 2 of Verstappen and Sainz pitted on Lap 33, with Verstappen retaining the race lead from the sister Red Bull of Sergio Perez, who had been stuck behind Vettel since the opening lap, but the Mexican’s race was opening up perfectly in clear air, setting the fastest lap of the race on Lap 32, and by the time he stopped on Lap 35, he jumped up from 8th to 4th, as Red Bull’s afternoon just kept getting better and better.
Ricciardo pitted on Lap 37, with his race thoroughly up shit creek having been stuck behind Raikkonen for so long, and it worked out that he was 23 seconds off Ocon with half the race to go, although with clear air for the first time all afternoon, the Aussie set the second-fastest lap of the race (At the time) on Lap 43, needing to claw back 8 seconds from Raikkonen to make the undercut work.
When the Alfa Romeo finally stopped on Lap 45, it would turn out that McLaren’s undercut failed by barely one second (If Raikkonen had stayed out another lap, they’d have swapped places), and to pretty much end his afternoon, the Aussie got shown the blue flag as race leader Verstappen closed up, and to rub a hot iron on the gaping wound, Norris lapped his McLaren teammate on Lap 52, and that was pretty much the end of Daniel’s 15 consecutive race points scoring run.
Having sat in 11th prior to the pit stops, Stroll stopped on Lap 59 and went from Hard to Soft tyres to move into 8th place, another successful piece of strategy from Aston Martin in what was their best Sunday of the season, although Stroll was investigated for breaching the yellow line on the pit exit, but the replays showed the Canadian never crossed the line, so there was no further action.
As the race meandered on, Giovinazzi’s Lap 1 pass on Ocon came to nothing when the Frenchman got back ahead after a successful 36-lap Soft tyre stint, and the Alfa’s repeated failures to find a way through on the slower Alpine for 20+ laps had invited Raikkonen back into points contention, which in turn brought Ricciardo, and later Alonso, on the back of what finished up as a classic Trulli Train.
I’ll cut the bullshit – None of them made a pass, and it was utterly frustrating to watch.
By Lap 65, the fight for the podium had become slightly interesting, as Perez had slowly but surely reached DRS range of Norris’ McLaren, but if nobody was having any luck passing down into the Turn 10 chicane, then a pass was extremely unlikely, and Norris did respond after asking for radio silence.
The last driver to make a mandatory stop was Yuki Tsuonda, who made it 64 laps on Hard tyres, despite the fact he wasn’t going to get much higher than 14th, but to the Japanese driver’s credit, he wound up setting what was a new lap record 1.14.037, but it was fleeting, as Hamilton conceded he wasn’t going to pass Gasly and pitted again on Lap 67 for a set of Soft tyres to go for the fastest lap, which he absolutely shattered with a 1.12.909 on Lap 69 to take the bonus point, as if he was getting rid of some pent up frustration.
And that was pretty much it, as the final 10 laps came and went, special guest Serena Williams waved the chequered flag to end one of the least memorable editions of a Grand Prix that has rarely been entertaining to begin with, as Max Verstappen led every single lap to break his Monaco hoodoo, taking the lead in the World Championship for the first time in his career, Ferrari overcame their early heartbreak to stand on the podium with Carlos Sainz 8.9 seconds back in 2nd, matching his career best result, and his old McLaren teammate Lando Norris completed the podium, claiming McLaren’s first Top 3 finish in Monaco since Jenson Button’s 3rd in 2011, a good reward after re-signing with the team.
Back then, it was also a Red Bull winning the race, a Spaniard driving a Ferrari in 2nd, and a British driver for McLaren in 3rd!
Perez’ 4th placing put Red Bull into the lead of the Constuctors Championship by 1 point, the first time they’ve led the Constructors’ since the end of 2013, Vettel took Driver Of The Day honours with a fine 5th, his first points for Aston Martin, Gasly was straight up better than Hamilton, who wound up as the last driver on the lead leap in a rare quiet performance, as Stroll jumped 5 places to finish 8th as the best of the lapped cars, and Ocon in 9th and Tonio Giovinazzi in 10th would complete the points finishes, as 9th down to 13th would be covered by 5 seconds on the line.
There was no Safety Car at Monaco for the first time since 2009, and the fact there wasn’t even a single yellow flag during the race meant it was also the fastest Monaco GP in history.
1 hour, 38 minutes and 56 seconds, beating the 2007 race record (Won by Fernando Alonso) by a good 2 minutes.
And, if you take note of the action involving backmarkers, that’s the first time Nikita Mazepin has finished ahead of Mick Schumacher this season… even if they were both 3 laps down.
So not only did Max Verstappen finish on the podium at Monaco for the first time, let alone win for the first time, the Flying Dutchman became the 61st driver to lead the World Championship, and it marks the first time since the last of their four consecutive Double Crowns in 2013 that Red Bull have led either the Drivers or Constructors’ Championships – They now lead them both, which simultaneously marks the first time since Britain 2018 that Mercedes haven’t led either championship.
Deviating away from the reignited fight for top spot, the LeClerc non-start from pole could prove to be a huge moment in the fight for 3rd between McLaren and Ferrari, who could have put a huge hole in the British team with an extra 18 or 25 points if all had been right, but instead, the Woking team only dropped 3 points thanks to Norris’ podium.
Putting on my Green and Gold glasses, it was a crap weekend for our Daniel Ricciardo, who finished outside the points for the first time since the Spanish Grand Prix last season, which marks the first time this season McLaren haven’t recorded a double points finish, and it marked the first time since 2007 that an Australian hadn’t scored a point at Monaco, when Mark Webber retired with a gearbox issue for Red Bull.
So to sum up the weekend in 11 words…
These wide fat cars are just shithouse to watch at Monaco.
Next Up: WELL DONE BAKU in a fortnight.