May 29, 2011

F1 Update!: Monaco 2011

The day dawned beautifully over the Principality of Monaco, just perfect weather for a quick drive around a tiny French fishing village.  But who could have expected the race we got?  THIS is your F1 Update! for the 2011 Grand Prix of Monaco!

*LIGHTS OUT:  As the race began, it looked like we'd have an improbable runaway victory for polesitter Seb Vettel.  By the end of the first lap, he had a three second lead over McLaren's Jenson Button, a lead that would grow to nearly five seconds by lap 4.  Great, another dominant blow-out for the incumbent champion, that'll be exciting.  To make matters worse, Lewis Hamilton, the only driver with a legitimate chance to catch Vettel in the championship standings, had fallen to 10th and probably wouldn't have a chance to do anything in the race.  But then the weirdness began.

*RED HOT PIT STOP ACTION:  Button came in for his first stop on lap 15, putting on another set of super-soft tires.  Then Vettel pitted from the lead.  To say that the Red Bull pit crew made a complete hash of the stop would be something of an understatement... or perhaps it was Vettel who did, as nobody was quite sure what the hell happened.  It looked quite a bit like the team had teammate Mark Webber's tires out and ready, as a mad scramble for tires occurred.  Whatever the reason, Vettel's stop took over 30 seconds to complete (including drive-in and drive-out), an eternity in F1, and nearly 10 seconds slower than Button's.  Then Mark Webber pulled in just as Vettel was leaving, and the same thing happened again.  Webber wouldn't be heard from again all day.  When Ferrari's HWMNBN came in for tires, Button was promoted into an 8.8 second lead over Seb Vettel.  A few laps later, Lewis Hamilton came in for his first stop on lap 21, McLaren clearly wasn't ready for him.  This sort of Keystone Kop-ery stuff just doesn't happen in Formula 1, and particularly at Monaco.  Hamilton returned to the race in 15th, losing eight places as the McLaren pit crew peed what little chance he had down their collective pants leg.

*WHAT IN THE WORLD...?:  As the race continued, Button stretched his lead to nearly 15 seconds over Vettel, who had put on soft tires at his stop, as opposed to the super-softs on the 2009 Champion's McLaren.  On lap 34, Button stopped for another set of super-soft tires, meaning he would have to stop one more time at some point to put on soft tires, so as to comply to the sporting regulations.  As he did so, Felipe Massa stuck his car into the barrier inside the Tunnel, bringing out the first Safety Car of the 2011 season.  Button rejoined the race in second place, but with backmarkers between him and the leader Vettel.  Unlike almost every racing series in the world, in F1 cars form up behind a Safety Car depending on where they are collected... backmarkers are not waved past.  This led to the race restarting and Vettel immediately having a 9 second lead over Button, as it took that long for the five or six cars between the two to cross the line.  Ten laps later, on lap 49, Button pulled into the pits for a set of soft tires, rejoining the race in third, some 20 seconds behind the leader and  15 seconds behind second place HWMNBN, who had pitted for his mandatory soft tires during the Safety Car.

*HE CAN'T REALLY BE TRYING THAT, CAN HE?:  Around lap 55, everybody came to a sudden realization: Sebastian Vettel hadn't been into the pits since lap 17, when he changed from super-soft tires to soft rubber.  Behind him, HWMNBN was whittling a second a lap out of Vettel's lead as the leader nursed his tires.  But if the Ferrari was whittling, Jenson Button was using a chainsaw.  By lap 60, the McLaren was a mere three seconds behind the Red Bull; he had made up 17 seconds in 10 laps!  On lap 62, the order was Vettel - HWMNBN - Button, all three covered by two-thirds of a second.  To say that we were set up for one of the most epic finishes in F1 History would be to massively understate things.  Three World Champions, running three different tire strategies, running nose-to-tail, on the most dramatic circuit in the world, with only 16 short laps to go.

*HOLY MACKEREL!:  For the next seven laps, we were treated to an example of just why F1 drivers are the best in the world.  Button would stab at HWMNBN, who would parry while attacking Vettel, who was managing to keep his tires functional enough to be able to keep the Ferrari behind, despite having 50+ laps on them.  All the while, the three kept going so quickly that they had nearly 50 seconds on Gandalf Kobayashi in 4th place... on a track where a slow lap takes only 80 seconds or so to complete.  The situation was fascinating: Vettel had the lead, but his tires were failing.  However, Monaco is the best circuit in F1 to keep someone behind you, even when your tires are paper-thin.  HWMNBN had better tires in second place, but he had the dual tasks of trying to get past Vettel while defending his position, splitting his concentration at a place that demands your entire attention at all times.  Button was in third, on the freshest rubber, but had to get past the Ferrari driven by someone with the ability to make his car incredibly wide when he wants to.  Legendary Announce Team member Steve Matchett summed Vettel's options up quite succinctly around this point when asked whether the Red Bull driver should pit for new tires.  "If he pits, he finishes third.  If he stays out, he has a small chance to win, and at worst he'd finish third.  He stays out."  And so he did, and the knife-fighting between the three was amazing.

*LAP 69:  Ahead of the leaders, an amazing gaggle of cars had formed.  Take a look:

6th: Adrian F'n Sutil  7th: Cleric Maldonado  8th: The Red Menace  9th: Lewis Hamilton
10th: NKOTT  11th: Seb Buemi  12th: Nico Rosberg
We've taken the liberty of labeling the on-track positions of the traffic.  Suddenly, Vettel's job had become infinitely more difficult; he'd have to pick his way through the cars ahead, all of whom were racing for position and couldn't just move aside like normal backmarkers.  To be sure, the sporting regulations insisted that they'd have to.  But, for example, nobody could expect Lewis Hamilton in 9th to pull aside in a manner that'd make it easy for NKOTT in 10th to sneak by too, or for The Red Menace in 8th to do so, either.  But a few moments later, it all became moot.  Just past Tabac, Adrian F'n Sutil brushed the armco, his right-rear tire coming off as they reached Piscene... and all hell broke loose.

*CAR-NAGE: Sutil, mostly out of control, cuts across Piscene just as everybody else arrives.  Lewis Hamilton slows to avoid the careening Force India.  NKOTT bangs into Hamilton, his front wing going under his tires and pitching his Toro Rosso into the air, deranging the McLaren's rear wing in the process.  NKOTT then has the left side of his car removed by the barriers.  The Red Menace, who had slipped back just before the melee, suddenly had a limping Force India blocking one side of the circuit and a ruined Toro Rosso blocking the other in front of him.  With no place to go, the Renault plows nearly head-first into the armco.  The remains then embed themselves into the back of NKOTT's car.  And then the leaders arrive on the scene.

*RED MEANS STOP:  So here's the situation facing Seb Vettel.  He's got an angry Spaniard crawling all over the back of his car, a confident Brit immediately behind him, and a disaster movie playing out directly in front of him.  Carbon fiber shards and chunks of racecar litter the track, and he has to pick his way through the mess.  By some miracle, all three leaders made it through the chaos in one piece, just as the world's fastest Safety Car indication comes out.  This time, no backmarkers are in between Vettel, HWMNBN and Button.  Nothing will get in the way of this ending.  Except things are not all right at the scene of the accident.  The Red Menace, still in his ruined Renault, tells the Medical Car occupants that he can't feel his legs.  An ambulance is summoned and the Red Flag is thrown, stopping the race.

*FINALLY:  According to the rulebook, if the race is red-flagged after 75% of the race distance is run, the race may be declared over.  But not today!  Instead, the horde forms up on the grid behind the Safety Car, shuts down their engines... and another quirk of the rulebook comes to light.  In most every other form of motorsport, if a race is red-flagged but is expected to be resumed, you can't touch the cars.  No tire changes, no repairs, no nothing.  In F1?  The only thing you can't do is refuel.  Immediately, Red Bull was out to jack up Vettel's car... carrying a brand new, unused set of super-soft tires.  It was at this point that the F1U! team wanted to throw our deep-dish pizza at the TV screen.  What was looking like a tremendous five-lap scramble to the checkered flag up until that point suddenly became a five-lap guaranteed win for Vettel.  Of course, HWMNBN and Button put on super-soft tires as well, but it doesn't matter.  The race restarts, Vettel opens up a 1.1 second lead and keeps it like that all the way to the end.  HWMNBN holds a similar lead over Button as they cross the line.  A frustrating way to end what was looking like a true classic race.

*POSTSCRIPT:  The Red Menace was essentially uninjured in the wreck, just bruised.  Good to hear!

*DRIVER OF THE RACE:  A one-stop strategy in this day and age of F1 seems like an impossibility, but Monaco might be the one time it could possibly work, if you're quick and good.  Seb Vettel was both, and managed to keep his 52-lap old soft tires in racing condition right up until the race was red-flagged.  While we might be dissatisfied with the way the affair ended, there's no denying that the reigning World Champion did a miraculous job conserving his shoes while keeping up a competitive pace.  Not everybody could pull that off... indeed, perhaps not anybody.  Congratulations Seb, you deserve this one. 

*TEAM OF THE RACE:  The logical choice would be Red Bull.  After all, Vettel finished 1st and with the help of the red flag, Webber came in 4th.  However, we're not giving it to them.  After the race, it turned out that Vettel's tire strategy was an accident; he was supposed to have another set of super-soft tires put on at his first stop, but confusion resulted in the soft tires going on.  Then they wanted to bring him in late, thereby throwing away the win (but locking up a third-place finish).  Vettel ignored the call to stop.  That's not a sign of a team working together.  Yes, they did well, but something didn't click for the Bullies today.  So instead, we're giving the Team of the Race award to perennial underdog Sauber.  Despite working under the black pressure of having one of their drivers in hospital, they flawlessly executed an intentional one-stop strategy.  It was only because of the red flag and Webber getting to put on a fresh set of super-soft tires that they lost out on a fourth place finish for Gandalf Kobayashi.  Still, fifth place is pretty darn good, and well-deserving of the Team of the Race.  Honorable mention goes to Lotus for quietly having their best day ever, finishing 13th and 14th.

*MOVE OF THE RACE:  Karma can be a real beeyotch sometimes. Last week in Spain, Lewis Hamilton complained that he believed Slappy Schumacher had intentionally blocked him, so as to slow the McLaren driver down in his pursuit of Slappy's fellow German Seb Vettel.  Today, Hamilton got a chance to provide some payback.  Early on, he'd been hounding the seven-time world champion for a couple of laps, needing desperately to get past if he wanted any chance to affect the outcome of the race.  On his soft tires, he had to stay in touch with the leaders, but here he was, stuck behind Slappy's Mercedes.  On lap 10, as the two headed towards Ste Devote, Hamilton said "enough."

He pulled alongside the Mercedes driver as they entered the braking zone, brazenly daring Slappy to slam the door on him.  Considering who we're talking about here, it was quite the gamble... Schumacher is notorious for doing just that, and damn the consequences.

Instead, Schumi squeezed over, getting their tires overlapped.  One false move by either, and the whole thing would end in tears and carbon fiber being shed.

No false move was forthcoming, leaving Slappy with a choice: either keep fighting the young Brit, and likely ending up in the quickly upcoming barrier, or backing off and letting Hamilton by.  Wisely, he did the latter, and Lewis zipped off into the distance.  A truly gutsy pass in a place on the track that isn't particularly conducive to such things.  Brave lad, here's your MotR!

*MOOOOOOOO-OOOOVE OF THE RACE:  From the sublime to the idiotic in 24 laps.  Now Hamilton was stuck behind Felipe Massa, and not having any luck getting unstuck.  The Ferrari driver just wasn't giving him any chance to get by, and Lewis was getting desperate... and impatient.  Coming into the Loew's Hairpin, Hamilton threw caution (and brains) to the wind and went to the inside of the Brazilian... with predictable results.

For the record: the sidewalk is not the preferred line around the Hairpin.  Bodywork flew, Massa wound wind up crashing in the Tunnel a few seconds later, and Hamilton was given a drive-through penalty for causing an accident, thereby ruining his race anyway.  He later claimed that it was all Massa's fault, saying that the Ferrari driver had turned in early, forcing him onto the sidewalk and thenceforth into the red car's sidepod.  Uh-huh.  Here's your Mooooooooo-oooove, Lewis.


"What?  Red flag?  I'm sorry, I can't hear you over the sound of how awesome I am." - Seb Vettel

"There was nothing to lose for me.  I'm not leading the championship and so I was going to try and win the race.  If we crash, we crash... " - HWMNBN (note: real quote.  That's what we like to hear...)

"I could tell that Fernando was getting ready to have a go into Turn One - it was fun to watch because they were either going to crash or there was going to be an opportunity for me to try and get through as they battled each other." - Jenson Button (note: real quote)

"So I sat there in the pits and waited.  And waited.  And waited.  Meanwhile the entire field went past twice.  Eventually, I got out and changed my own damn tires." - Mark Webber

"I knew I should have hid all the red flags before the race..." - Gandalf Kobayashi

"(after being told he'd been given a 20sec penalty post-race for crashing into Bishop Maldonado) Out of six races, I've been to the stewards five times.  It's a joke.  It's an absolute frickin' joke.  I was quite a lot quicker than Massa, I went up the inside and the guy just turned so early and just turned into me so I tried to go onto the kerb to avoid him, and we're stuck together.  So it was just... and of course I get a penalty which is usual. He held me up in qualifying and I got the penalty. He turned into me, and I got the penalty.  And I went up the inside of Maldonado and you can see on the screen he turned in a good car length too early to stop me from overtaking him and crashed into me. This stuff's ridiculous. These drivers are absolutely fricking ridiculous, it's stupid.  Maybe it's because I'm black... that's what (comedian) Ali G says." - Lewis Hamilton (note: real quote.  Hamilton later apologized to the stewards for claiming racial bias was involved in the penalties, instead of being based on complete and abject stupidity on his part)

"I dunno, I liked the Safety Car coming out when it did." - Adrian F'n Sutil

"Next time, I'll try the whole 'setting my car on fire' tactic again.  It seems to work better than actually qualifying." - Grizzly Nick Heidfeld

"These are Williams' first points of the season.  Who would've thought?" - Rubens Barrichello

"I don't think I like Monaco very much." - Seb Buemi

"I had a good start today, and that's the one positive thing I can take from the race." - Nico Rosberg (note: real quote)

"Wheeeeee!  I love bumpercars!" - Paul di Resta

"'Trulli suicidal.'  Heh.  Clever.  Get my lawyer on the phone." - Jarno Trulli

"I seriously believe that we'll catch Williams in the Constructor's Championship.  Hey, baby steps, y'know?" - Heikki Kovaleinninninnie

"Stop calling me Custard." - Custard d'Ambrosio

"See?  The stewards were right to let us race!  I was only three laps down!" - Vitantonio Liuzzi

"I lost a lap with the safety cars somehow, but otherwise I would have been three laps down too!" - Narain Kittylitter

"Hamilton tried a very ambitious manoeuvre at the first corner and that was the end of my race." - Grand Mufti Maldonado (note: real quote)

"I didn't mean to cause the red flag to come out!  I'm fine by the way, thanks for asking.  Stop throwing things at me!" - The Red Menace

"Hamilton braked very hard in front of me and, although I also braked as hard as I could, it was too late, I could not stop and went into him." - NKOTT (note: real quote.)

"After Hamilton had tried to pass me at Loews, which is an impossible place to do it, hitting me and pushing me into Webber, the car was no longer right and I could not drive it properly. That put me on the dirt and then I ended up in the barrier." - Felipe Massa (note: real quote.  Anybody noticing a trend here?)

"I had a rendezvous with Lewis (Hamilton) at turn one which left my front wing not working properly, then I had a fire in my airbox which ended my race." - Slappy Schumacher (note: real quote)

"AIEEEEEEEE.  Well, someone had to say it." - Timo Glockenspiel

"Has anybody badger wombat camouflage turnipseed?" -  Sergio Perez

So that's it from the Principality!  In two weeks, we're in Canada and the debut of a new feature: TWO DRS zones!  See you then!

Posted by: Wonderduck at 09:52 PM | Comments (8) | Add Comment
Post contains 3173 words, total size 21 kb.

1 Bravo!   Outstanding coverage of the race!  Who'd have expected Monaco to be quite so eventful? 

Posted by: Mallory at May 30, 2011 06:49 AM (WJ2qy)


The Red Menace, still in his ruined Renault, tells the Medical Car occupants that he can't feel his legs.

I read that and started feeling sick.

I'm glad it turned out that he's OK.

Posted by: Steven Den Beste at May 30, 2011 09:48 AM (+rSRq)

3 Hamilton's lucky he didn't catch a penalty for the next race, with as much contact as he got into.

Great race. Shame about the ending, but some honest-to-goodness white-knuckle racing leading up to it.

Posted by: Avatar_exADV at May 30, 2011 06:14 PM (mRjOr)

4 Great report Duck. Thanks!
Pirelli's degradation is nonlinear; performance suddenly goes"off a cliff". That is adding a lot of fun. Now we just need McLaren and Ferrari (or maybe Mercedes) to improve their cars a notch or two and continue closing the gap. The F150 works great on starts and HWMNBN is really good at that as Webber found out in the last two races.
Is Canada a "Red Bull track"? It is fast, it requires a mid-low downforce setup. I am afraid so. It also "eats" tires which Bulls seem to manage well. Will wait for your track report.

Posted by: dogbox at May 30, 2011 06:29 PM (+YlqZ)

5 What the world really wants to know is how the Pirelli's cope with running over woodchucks.

Posted by: Steven Den Beste at May 30, 2011 08:33 PM (+rSRq)

6 Wow, a Montreal Marmot Massacre reference!  Steven, I'm impressed!

Posted by: Wonderduck at May 30, 2011 09:05 PM (n0k6M)

7 Well, isn't that the reason F1 comes to Canada? Every track has its unique feature. Monaco runs on city streets. Mumble's track has "Quad 8".

And Montreal has woodchucks. (They're worth two points each.)

Posted by: Steven Den Beste at May 30, 2011 11:57 PM (+rSRq)

8 So THAT's HRT's strategy. Forget winning races, they're going for championship points by hitting as many woodchucks as possible!

Posted by: Avatar_exADV at May 31, 2011 11:26 AM (mRjOr)

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