The 2017 Monaco Grand Prix was a race that saw seven retirements, including a car flipped onto its side temporarily trapping its driver and a questionable strategy from the winning team – more on that later – yet, the burning question emerging from the race is…has Formula 1 outgrown the principality?
After the start, the race saw just one successful on-track overtake – Daniil Kvyat on Sergio Perez – and even that wasn’t televised. The returning world champion, Jenson Button, racing in place of Indy 500-bound Fernando Alonso, proved just how difficult it is to overtake on the streets of Monte Carlo by punting Pascal Wehrlein‘s Sauber onto its side and into the wall, ending both their races.
It’s always been difficult to race side-by-side and overtake in Monaco; Nelson Piquet once described it as “like riding a bicycle around your living room“, but the 2017 cars are even wider than in previous years, with more sensitive aerodynamics and tyres that no longer degrade at a rate which provide a variable conducive to overtaking.
The Monaco Grand Prix is a spectacular event for many reasons, unfortunately, the racing itself isn’t necessarily one of them any more. If Max Verstappen on fresh rubber struggles to overtake the car in front, you know there’s an issue.
To get ahead in Monaco therefore, the teams and drivers relied on savvy strategy and nobody proved that better than Red Bull Racing and Daniel Ricciardo. Whereas in most races, the undercut, the process of pitting and changing tyres before the driver in front to gain an advantage on fresh rubber is often the preferred strategy, Monaco saw the overcut work to sublime effect.
By staying out longer than his rivals and pumping in supreme lap times, Ricciardo was able to jump both his team-mate Verstappen and AMG Mercedes Petronas Formula 1 Team driver Valtteri Bottas to go from fifth to the podium.
FERRARI: DID THEY OR DIDN’T THEY?
Perhaps a more pertinent example of the overcut came from Scuderia Ferrari and Sebastian Vettel, albeit somewhat controversially. Kimi Raikkonen posted his first pole-position for nine years and led the race from the start until his one and only pit-stop on lap 34. Vettel proceeded to post lap times that were quick enough for the German to emerge ahead of Raikkonen once his own stop was complete three laps later.
Was it a move orchestrated by Ferrari themselves to manufacture a preferable result? Ferrari say no and even rival team boss Toto Wolff doesn’t believe they did but given the tight title fight between Vettel and Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton, Ferrari can’t be blamed for perhaps wanting a Vettel victory over a Kimi win. And if Sebastian was given the better strategy over his team-mate then it’s at least a subtle way of invoking the often lambasted team orders.
Raikkonen himself appeared as emotional as Kimi gets (note the very, very subtle changes to his facial expression) having been denied his first victory for four years and has already stated that he’ll be asking questions about the strategy used on both cars in Monaco.
Regardless, Vettel’s victory, Ferrari’s first in Monaco for a staggering sixteen years, gives him a vastly increased championship lead over Hamilton. The three-time world champion suffered his worst result of the season after qualifying a dismal fourteenth – promoted to thirteenth courtesy of Button’s grid penalty – and getting himself to a damage-limiting seventh place come the race.
The gap between Vettel and Hamilton now stands at 25 points, a healthy advantage for Vettel but by no means comfortable; one retirement on a day when Hamilton is victorious and that gap becomes nothing.
Behind the lead group, which in Monaco included the impressive Carlos Sainz Jr in sixth, the race saw close competition between the likes of Haas F1 Team, Sahara Force India, Williams Martini Racing, Renault Sport F1 and the McLaren-Honda of Stoffel Vandoorne who looked in with a chance of scoring McLaren’s first points of the season.
It wasn’t to be though, as Vandoorne ran wide and into the barrier at turn 1 following the restart after a brief safety car period. The Belgian wasn’t the only one to come a cropper at Ste Devote as the track surface began to break up late in the race; Sauber F1 Team‘s Marcus Ericsson crashed behind the safety car at the same spot, finishing a disappointing day for the Swiss outfit.
Elsewhere, it was also a disappointing day for both Force India and Renault, as both squads left Monaco point-less, a first of 2017 for Force India after both Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon suffered contact with other cars and were left down the order, unable to make progress on the tight and twisty street circuit.
In contrast to their rival’s misfortunes, Haas managed to get both cars into the points with Romain Grosjean coming home eighth and Kevin Magnussen tenth, sandwiching Williams Martini Racing’s Felipe Massa. With only 15 points now separating Haas in eighth and Toro Rosso in fifth in the constructor’s championship, the midfield battle is just as hot as that at the top.
AND WHAT OF MONACO?
To question Monaco’s place on the Formula 1 calendar is perhaps tantamount to sacrilege, but in an era where the sport’s new owners are emphasising the need to improve “the show” for the fans, is a circuit that produces processional races the sort of place Liberty Media should be taking their product?
There’s the heritage of Monaco to consider, of course, and the glamour so befitting of Formula 1. Perhaps, then, Liberty Media, along with the likes of Ross Brawn, charged with making future regulations that aid the quality of racing, can create a formula that allows for good racing at all manner of circuits, even places like Monaco…although right now, Ferrari especially probably don’t see a problem.
F1 now moves on to Montreal and the Canadian Grand Prix, a parkland circuit which rarely fails to produce magnificent racing. Who will come out on top at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve?