The glitz and the glamour of the Monaco Grand Prix has historically gone hand-in-hand with the drone of fans whining about the lack of overtaking opportunities around the tight Riviera circuit. However, after a weekend that so brilliantly showcased the awe-inspiring skill of the heroes in the cockpit, after one of the most intense and arduous races of recent seasons, it’s difficult to see how any of the fans could suffer their usual Monaco blues. The stunning array of performances up and down the field was a fine tribute to the sport’s lost champion…
Top of the class…
Lewis Hamilton – Mercedes AMG Motorsport
Qualifying margin to team-mate: -0.086s
Race margin to team-mate: -3.162s
Hamilton’s ability to use negative energy to motivate him to higher performances is uncanny. Having been excused from the Thursday presser on compassionate grounds (something met with completely unacceptable criticism), Hamilton’s intended tribute to Niki Lauda was to a master a circuit which has historically proven tricky for him. Indeed, statistically, Monaco is Hamilton’s least successful race of the year. Unlike previous years Hamilton started strong, edging out Bottas in both Thursday practice sessions.
However, by Q2, Hamilton had missed the train (to borrow Vettel’s analogy) and was struggling to overhaul Bottas’ building momentum. After the first run in Q3, Hamilton was a quarter of a second down. Utter will, determination and skill allowed Lewis to steal pole in the dying seconds. Race day would prove to be an even more severe test of Hamilton’s nerves. The team’s decision to opt for the fragile medium tyre for the second stint left Hamilton with the unenviable task of fending off a rampant Max Verstappen whilst trying to keep the car on-track with increasingly worn rubber. Hamilton’s impending sense of panic over the radio and the intimidating proximity of the Red Bull’s nosecone resulted in one of the most intense duels in Monaco history; evocative of Ayrton Senna’s stout defence against Nigel Mansell in 1992. It will be interesting to see if Hamilton’s blockade is remembered as warmly as Senna’s.
Carlos Sainz Jr. – McLaren F1 Team
Qualifying margin to team-mate: -0.307s
Race margin to team-mate: -13.347s
For the second race in succession, Sainz extracted a fine points haul from a car that arguably didn’t deserve it. In addition to the car’s underlying weakness in slow-speed corners, the McLaren was visibly more lethargic through the brutal swimming pool direction change and prone to instability across the high curbs and pavements. Sainz faced an uphill battle to maintain his 100% record of Q3 appearances in the principality. Ninth place and a three tenth gap to a team-mate who has proven fairly handy in qualifying were indicators of a rather mighty lap from the Spaniard.
His race was every bit as mighty. Albeit having ceded ground to Albon off the line, an inspired manoeuvre around the outside of Massenet on the opening lap saw Sainz pass both Toro Rossos. Sainz would promptly describe this as the best move of his F1 career to date. The bold decision to stay out during the safety car gifted Carlos the clear air to exploit the remaining potential in his soft tyres. The overcut Sainz pulled on Daniel Ricciardo and Kevin Magnussen was thoroughly impressive but was also thoroughly indebted to the blockade created by Lando Norris’ rather less pacey McLaren. A superb out-lap on fresh tyres expertly fended off Kvyat’s attempt at an overcut, momentarily nabbing fastest lap of the race. Another fine weekend from a man who is clearly gelling well with McLaren, although he probably owes his team-mate an ice cream!
Daniil Kvyat – Toro Rosso Honda
Qualifying margin to team-mate: -0.382s
Race margin to team-mate: -0.626s
In keeping with the sense of pleasant surprise that has surrounded Alexander Albon’s F1 career to date, last year’s Monaco F2 pole-sitter appeared supremely confident straight out of the box on Thursday, registering the fifth fastest lap in Free Practice 2. As an accepted Monaco specialist, and with yet more admiration going his team-mate’s way, Kvyat was under pressure to respond. He did so brilliantly – eclipsing the Thai driver by almost four tenths in qualifying. Albeit falling afoul of an opportunistic move from Sainz on the opening lap, the seventh-placed Russian was finally able to break into the top eight for the first time since his demotion from Red Bull. Daniil Kvyat circa 2014 does appear to be back.
George Russell – Williams Racing
Qualifying margin to team-mate: -0.274s
Race margin to team-mate: -52.734s
George Russell’s inexperience (with only one fairly disastrous F2 weekend to his name) and Robert Kubica’s former brilliance around the streets of Monaco was bound to result in a finer balance of power between the backmarking Williams duo. Indeed, the Pole managed to eke out a three tenth advantage over Russell in final practice. However, the Brit’s single lap prowess restored the equilibrium between the pair in qualifying. An early switch to the hard tyre and a superbly measured stint allowed Russell to climb to fifteenth in the race; ahead, on merit, of both Alfa Romeos and Lance Stroll. This was not only Williams’ highest finish of the season; it was the first time the team had been in meaningful competition with other cars.
Homework to do…
Nico Hülkenberg – Renault F1 Team
Qualifying margin to team-mate: +0.452s
Race margin to team-mate: +27.771s
Having not scored a point since the Australian Grand Prix in March, on the back of two consecutive uncharacteristic Q1 eliminations, it was not just Renault under pressure to stop the rot heading into Monaco. Having had some initial success alongside his new team-mate, Hülkenberg’s quest for notoriety has been somewhat derailed as Ricciardo has found ways to minimise the Renault’s obvious deficiencies. The German duly failed to match the Monaco maestro in qualifying – although the final delta was inflated somewhat by track evolution in Q3. A puncture following a tangle with Leclerc ended Hülkenberg’s chance of points. He didn’t do much wrong in Monaco, however, unfortunately, it was the fourth successive weekend where he had been unable to match Ricciardo.
Lance Stroll – Racing Point F1 Team
Qualifying margin to team-mate: +0.613s
Race margin to team-mate: +29.801s
Racing Point was not fast in Monaco, however, unfortunately, neither was Lance Stroll. The RP19 suffered from a distinct lack of agility around the tight and twisty streets, with neither Stroll nor renowned Monaco expert Sergio Pérez able to find a comfortable balance across the trio of practice sessions. Unsurprisingly, Stroll suffered his tenth consecutive Q1 elimination, lapping some six tenths slower than Pérez who would also fail to make the cut. Whilst the Mexican at least managed to maintain midfield pace in the race, a dreadful race for Stroll left him with the ignominy of being undercut by George Russell’s Williams. A weekend flashback to his 2018 toils.
Strategic blunders at Ferrari have certainly become an established feature of the 2019 season. With Charles Leclerc dumped out in Q1 due to utter incompetence (with the Monegasque having been fastest in Free Practice 3), an almost inevitable tangle with Hülkenberg during his recovery offensive left him with massive floor damage and doomed to the sidelines. Sebastian Vettel hit the barriers three times on Saturday but calmed things down on race day to inherit second place following assorted dramas for Bottas and Verstappen.
Another fine weekend for Verstappen saw him pose an outside threat for pole, however, his assault dwindled in Q3. But for a premature pit release and the near impossibility of overtaking, Verstappen could have won the race. However, despite a pace advantage probably approaching three seconds in the latter stages, the newly mature Dutchman refrained from any kamikaze urges. Another solid if unspectacular race from Pierre Gasly could have seen the Frenchman play a more decisive role in the mid-race strategic battle if not for a grid penalty for impeding Grosjean.
A mixed weekend for Haas saw both drivers enjoy an even share of dejection. Whilst Kevin Magnussen celebrated one of the best laps of his career, Romain Grosjean was borked by Gasly in just about the most blatant case of blocking ever seen. Things turned on its head for the race, with Grosjean executing a fine over cut to nab a point for tenths as Magnussen fell out of points contention ruing an early pit-stop. A promising Thursday for both Alfa Romeo drivers quickly evaporated on Saturday, with Raikkonen and Giovinazzi unable to match the quantum leap in pace taken by much of the midfield. A nightmarish race for Alfa unravelled as both cars chewed through their tyres at an alarming rate. Giovinazzi’s wait for his first points continues amid an increasingly worrisome start to the season.