Monday, May 28, 2007

Monaco – Race Analysis

It is difficult to separate Monaco from Formula One history. The slow speed layout reduces the engine differences, the tight corners reduce aerodynamical deficits and drivers become more important. Some of the greatest F1 drivers have had memorable races in this race track. The first Monaco Grand Prix was actually in 1929, but for Formula One it all began with the yet to be 5-time world champion Juan Manuel Fangio, who won in 1950.

Graham Hill was the original Mr. Monaco, with 5 wins in the 60’s. Michael Schumacher later matched the 5 wins, but when he did, Ayrton Senna had already won 6 times. It could have been 7 for Senna, had the 1984 race not been controversially stopped due to rain, when he drove a Toleman to 2nd – that would be equivalent to a Spyker winning the race today, for those who are not old enough to remember Senna’s greatness.

Where do I want to get with all this history and nothing about the 2007 Grand Prix? Well, the first statement is that it is not a coincidence that the winner was the current world champion, Fernando Alonso – actually, twice world champion and also twice a Monaco winner. The second statement is that the race itself had not much going on for me to write about, so I had to write about something else... Most seemed happy with the positions they held and even those who did not – such as Hamilton and Raikkonen – could not do anything to change the results as it is almost impossible to overtake in the tight street circuit. The rain that could spice up the race never showed up, so it was just another race, not a great race. Still, there are a few things that I wish to analyse with a little more detail...

Alonso proves that Hamilton is McLaren’s no. 2

Fernando Alonso can say whatever he wants, but I am certain that he was affected by Lewis Hamilton’s recent pace. The world press kept saying that his teammate was faster, and Alonso had not much to answer, as he was clearly slower in the past 2 races. Yesterday he showed the world who is the boss in McLaren.

Actually, it all started yesterday during qualifying. Lewis Hamilton seemed faster, but did not give enough distance to traffic before starting his last flying lap. That was a rookie mistake, as were the two or three times he brushed the wall during the race. In the post-race conference even Hamilton acknowledged that he was McLaren’s number 2 driver [1].

The way Hamilton drove during this weekend makes me feel like he is not that special after all. I mean, the guy is great, but he is human. He makes mistakes. He is young and eager to win, but does not know when to hold back. After the first races almost everyone seemed to have the feeling that Hamilton was better than any other rookies they had ever seen. Well, he is just lucky to have a great car. There are many other young drivers who could do the same good job in McLaren – Nelson Piquet Jr., for example. I am sure Heikki Kovalainen would not struggle so much if he drove for McLaren. Don’t get me wrong, Hamilton is great. He will fight for championships. Right now, though, he is McLaren’s number 2. The good thing for him is that he knows it.

Massa proves that Raikkonen is Ferrari’s no.2 – for now, at least

This is not yet clear as it is in McLaren, but I believe Ferrari also has defined its number 1 driver. Felipe Massa was expected to get the upper hand in the beginning of the season, but by now Kimi Raikkonen should be closer to him. This is not happening. Raikkonen’s mistake during Qualifying 2 is hard to be understood. Not much effort was needed to put the Ferrari in the top 10 for the final qualifying session. So why did Raikkonen hit the inside wall as he got out of the famous Swimming Pool section?

Since Kimi has the highest salary in Ferrari, I am sure that no decision was made by the team bosses. It is clear who the favourite among the mechanics is – Massa. His performance yesterday was nothing to write home about. But it was the smart thing to do, since the next two races – Canada and United States – should favour Ferrari. It is also nice to save the engine before the fast Montreal circuit. I am sure that Michael Schumacher gave Felipe a little helping hand in deciding this strategy!

Monaco’s quick notes

- Giancarlo Fisichella proved that experience is what counts in Monaco, as he finished 4th with the very hard to drive Renault R27.

- BMW finished a solid 5th and 6th, with Kubica and Heidfeld respectively. The one-pit-stop strategy paid-off, but I wonder if they could not finish better if they had lower fuel loads during qualifying. I guess they were expecting a safety car period that could make them win the race, but why try that with both cars?

- When everyone expected Nico Rosberg to score points for Williams after he qualified 5th, a poor start put him for many laps behind Heidfeld, who had a heavy load of fuel. That cost Nico his race, as he ended up in 12th place. At least that helped his teammate Alexander Wurz to score 2 points in 7th.

- Anthony Davidson held back Felipe Massa for many laps, and was penalised with a drive-through. Later on, he said that Massa was not close enough, so he did not open up for him to pass. This is pretty dumb thinking for a driver who is being lapped and has blue flags waived at him corner after corner. After the drive-through, he returned to the track behind teammate Takuma Sato and lost the only battle that could prove anything in his favour.

- Scott Speed started 18th and finished 9th. Besides great strategy by STR, this shows that Speed has taken seriously the rumours about him losing his ride for 2008. This was his best race ever. He still needs to improve if he wants to keep his job, though.

Star of the race:

Fernando Alonso. Hat-trick: pole, best lap, win.

Shame of the race:

Anthony Davidson. Kimi Raikkonen almost got this award after Saturday’s crash, but at least he saved 1 point.


[1] Formula One official web site, ‘FIA post-race press conference – Monaco

--Andre N.

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