| |

F1: Monaco 2016 - fascinating but not exciting.

Publication: 
Jefferson Galt
chiefofficersnet

Some people like to live in, or visit for show-events, an environment where they can parade their frou-frou doggies with bows in their hair while comparing the price of Paris lips (expensive gains more kudos, regardless of how ridiculous they look), cellulite treatments and, of course, to criticise the effectiveness of someone else's skin cream at keeping sun-induced wrinkles at bay. And they expect clear blue skies and sun.

Welcome to Monaco where it pissed down on race day. Then the sun came out. Then it rained again. Then there was the race which didn't do as expected, either.

If there is one man in F1 who has had the smile wiped off his face it's Daniel Ricciardo. Until the past fortnight, it seemed that there was nothing that could dampen the spirits of this excellent driver who always seems as if he can't quite believe his luck to be driving a Formula One car at all and one that is capable of running at the front in particular.

Red Bull have a reputational problem and it's developed in two weeks. First, after Vettel, their previous golden boy, slowed down in front of Kvyat and was hit after which Vettel went to the pit wall, spoke to Red Bull boss Christian Horner. As he walked away, Horner put his hand on Vettel's shoulder. Two days later Kvyat was demoted to the junior Torro Rosso team. At the next race, "his" car, piloted by the extremely talented Max Verstappen capitalised on the first lap crash that took out both Mercedes and a strategic error that put Ricciardo so far behind him that the team's number one was unable to catch up.

Ricciardo was furious but put it behind him to be the fastest across much of practice for Monaco and to seal, with a six-tenths margin, pole.

And so to the start of the race where, uncharacteristically, there was heavy rain. Charlie Whiting took the decision to start the race under the safety car, rather than simply declare it a "wet" race. He explained "if we start under the safety car, teams must start with full wets." He didn't want anyone at the back gambling on intermediates, increasing the chances of crash.

After six laps of nothing much, the track was drying for much of the racing line. It seemed (still seems) as if McLaren once more failed to adopt an aggressive strategy to bump Button up the field: given his exceptional skills in the wet, to swap him to inters on lap 7 or 8, giving him time to heat the tyres and catch the back of the pack as the safety car came in on 9, after a number of drivers complained that conditions were fine. However, much to everyone's surprise, the full wets lasted much better than expected and while those who did switch to inters soon after the safety car came in benefited initially, those on full wets maintained performance even as the inters dropped back to the same level.

At the effective rolling start, Ricciardo sprinted off, pulling out a lead lap after lap after lap. At one point, he had almost an entire pit-stop in hand - and those who would jump him had stops to make as well. But before that, there were crashes, flags and a virtual safety car to deal with. Each time, Ricciardo made the most of it.

Behind the Red Bull, Rosberg trundled around as if he hadn't a care in the world: holding Hamilton back was easy on a track that passing is difficult at and Rosberg was happy to protect his championship lead and, even, extend it. A second behind Ricciardo is no big deal to him so long as Hamilton is somewhere, ideally far, behind. At last, Mercedes, who seem to have trouble remembering that in their days as both Brawn and Mercedes only English drivers have brought them championships, told Rosberg to get out of Hamilton's way. It was then we learned the truth: the team knew Rosberg was slow - he had brake problems.

As Ricciardo watched Hamilton start a charge, he managed the gap perfectly. We've seen masterful drives around most tracks and a few around Monaco over the five decades since that featured in the infuriatingly frequent mid-race advert for Rolex that disrupted viewing at several vital moments. Very few come close to Ricciardo's performance. It was, except for a bit of annoyed exuberance towards the end, faultless.

The same cannot be said for his team. What we knew during the race but he did not know even as reporters spoke to him after the race had finished was that his team called him in, but the message to get tyres ready was not passed from the engineers "upstairs" to the crew in the pit lane. He arrived, his crew took his tyres off, then someone started to get new tyres out of their blankets in the garage. "It's the second time I've been screwed," Ricciardo said, without a smile, barely able to speak to the press through lips of fury and that was before he found out what caused the delay that exceeded Hamilton's winning margin.

For Hamilton, a win's a win. Before the race his attitude was similar to Ricciardo's, sadly pointing out that all he can do is drive the car he's given. If it goes, or doesn't stop. "I just don't know why all of these problems are on my side of the garage," he told SkySports. His car worked, properly, all day and so did he: there are few people on the planet that are happier than Hamilton when he's got a car that does as it's told.

The race was not processional: Monaco rarely is. There were battles and incidents all around the track. Wipeouts and breakdowns, heroes and villains, strategic brilliance and cock-ups galore. For the third race in a row, Button was left on tired tyres as the race went into its last 15 laps when he had enough of a gap to give him a free, or nearly free, pitstop to switch to new, faster tyres. Sometimes it's almost as if there is an accountant at McLaren saying "it'll cost too much for him to use another set." As it was, he finished 9th, the second McLaren in the points but performance suggests that, with a timely change to the soft tyres on lap 55 (ish) he could have finished at least one place higher.

The race wasn't interesting as a race although there were some excellent wheel to wheel moments, some of which ended in an early (carbon fibre) shower for the drivers. Massa drove through the chicane and ignored it, Hamilton did it and almost put Ricciardo into the wall (but that was at least, in part, Ricciardo's own fault for being off the racing line and putting down full power on a wet patch) and Vettel did it and gave back the place. Inconsistent marshalling is not acceptable in this day and age.

But the race was fascinating: it was a game of cat and mouse for the latter half as conditions changed and the teams who had no data on the tyre life or performance of either the full wets or the ultra-softs worked out what was happening despite constraints on pit-to-car communications.

It was a race that had everything. Well, almost. It didn't have a streaker but it did have a sheet of plastic that fell from an apartment balcony and almost attached itself to the front of the first few cars to pass, until a brave marshal hopped through the fence to grab it and run back.

The test of a good race is if you'd like to watch it again. To that, simply because so much happened that was not expected, yes. Although I'd like to see the bits that happened while the adverts were playing.

-----------
Bryan Edwards is away so I got to write his column because I live in France. Well, it's almost Monaco isn't it?