May 29, 2016

F1 Update!: Monaco 2016

The beautiful blue skies of the Côte d'Azur stretched from horizon to horizon far above the Principality of Monaco, clear and serene.  Somewhat lower in altitude, however, was an unbroken swath of clouds, and they were in the process of dropping a measurable percentage of the Mediterranean Sea over the one-time quaint French fishing village.  Normally, this is hardly a concern: perhaps the ultra-wealthy residents of may be limited in their helicopter usage, but they could always use their megayachts instead, or just have another bottle of champagne in the Casino.  Today, though, the streets of the second-smallest sovereign nation in the world were in the hands of the Formula 1 circus, and the rain meant very very different things to them.  THIS is your F1 Update! for the 2016 Monaco Grand Prix!

*LIGHTS OUT... WELLLL...:  The rain, which had been torrential in the hours leading up to the start of the race, was merely steady and constant when Race Director Charlie Whiting extinguished the lights.  Instead of the usual mad scramble to get into Ste Devote before disaster occurs, this time the field set off behind the Safety Car, driven by birthday boy Bernd Maylander.  The problem wasn't the rain that was falling, but the rain that had already come down.  Monaco is, of course, a street circuit in the purest sense of the term, and drainage is not to the levels of purpose-built circuits.  Remember, last year's US Grand Prix weekend was run in biblical amounts of rain, to the point that the area around the circuit was under flood warnings.  Yet come race day the track was perfectly serviceable.  Not so Monaco: some portions of the city streets had puddles of standing water that would be perfectly manageable in an everyday car, yet would send a F1 machine hieing off into the barriers or beyond in a moment.  So as the rain tapered off, the increasingly disgruntled field trundled around town in the world's most expensive car parade.  Finally, on Lap 7, Maylander brought the Safety Car into the pits and the race began in earnest.

*AND THEY'RE OFF... WAIT, NOT SO FAST!
:  It took no time at all for the still-wet track to claim a victim.  Renault's Jolyon Palmer made it as far as the approach to Ste Devote before his car swerved left into the armco barriers in what was a surprisingly hard impact.  Not only was his nose assembly destroyed, there was some visible damage to the chassis behind the nose crash structure as well.  Immediately, a portion of the 280 marshals used for the race, all of whom are considered the best in the world, descended upon the accident site to begin cleanup, and a Virtual Safety Car was implemented.  This state of affairs lasted for two more laps, until Lap 9.

*AND THEY'RE OFF... WAIT FOR IT... YES, WE'RE GOOD:  Free of all constraints and on the full-wet tires, Red Bull's Daniel Ricciardo went galloping off over the horizon while the Mercedes teammates Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton fought among themselves for second.  He had a three second lead over the two after one lap, and had opened a 13 second gap after five more.  It wasn't so much that the Red Bull was dominating, as it appeared that Rosberg was having difficulties.  Apparently suffering from brake overheating, he just couldn't keep up with the Red Bull driver... but he could keep everybody behind him easily enough: Monaco is famous for being nigh-on impossible to pass upon.  Until, finally, Mercedes told him to let Hamilton by.  Immediately the gap to the leader began to drop.

*ONE, TWO, THREE, FOUR, I DECLARE A TIRE WAR:  Tire choice in F1 is always a huge component of race strategy, but in wet but drying conditions they can make or break a race.  As early as Lap 7, some drivers thought that Intermediate tires were sufficient for the track.  As more and more cars pitted, more and more Inters became the norm... but the two leaders were still pelting around the circuit on the Full Wets.  On Lap 23, Ricciardo pitted for fresh Inters, giving Hamilton the race lead.  Within seven laps, the Australian was nipping at the Brit's heels, the Full Wets clearly not the right choice anymore... but more and more, it was becoming clear that neither were the Inters.  An obviously visible dry line had formed on the circuit and it was only a matter of time before someone made the move to dry weather Slick tires in one of the three available compounds.  Hamilton's strategy became clear: run on the Full Wets until he could make the jump right to the slicks.  If he could manage to keep his speeds up in the process, he'd make one less pit stop than his rivals, all of whom had gone to Inters, and thereby save about 20 seconds or so in the process.  On Lap 30, Sony Erickson made the move to the new Ultrasoft tires and appeared to have no difficulties with them.  On the next lap, Hamilton made the move to ultrasofts as well.

*DAGNABBIT!:  On Lap 32, Daniel Ricciardo brought his Red Bull into the pits to change onto slicks as well.  As he pulled to a stop, he was stunned to see his old tires come off... and nothing get put on in their place.  The team strategists, seeing Hamilton on the ultras, changed plans on the fly, wanting instead to put their man on the more durable Supersofts.  In theory, he could run the rest of the way on them, while Hamilton would probably have to stop one more time.  Great idea, one that would nullify the Mercedes driver's advantage gained by going from Full Wets to Slicks... except that it occurred at the last moment, and the supersofts were at the back of the garage.  As Ricciardo pulled into his pit stall, the tires were only just being pulled off the rack by the mechanics.  Instead of just being slapped on as the old ones came off, they had to be brought out to the car. The pitstop dragged on and on, every second ticking by bringing Hamilton closer and closer to the front straight.  When Ricciardo finally pulled off pit lane and back on track, what had been a sure 10 second lead had turned into an one second deficit.

*FRUSTRATION:  Which didn't mean that the Aussie had given up... far from it.  He was all over the back of the Silver Arrow for lap after lap, aided in part by three Virtual Safety Car sessions.  The first came out when Red Bull teammate Embryo Verstappen  plonked the wall for the third time during race weekend.  From race winner to race failure in one race... still, not so bad for an 18 year old.  The second was for debris on the track, the third for, unbelievably, a tarp on the circuit.  Each time the VSC was called, Ricciardo was able to pull back the gap to Hamilton (never very large in any case), and the race would be back on.

*FINALLY:  The tires on both Hamilton and Ricciardo's cars were looking ragged indeed as the final laps ticked down.  Neither driver, of course, ever thought of stopping again, as that would not only throw away the race win, but probably drop them down to fourth.  Behind the two leaders, the surprising Force India of Sergio Perez and the Ferrari of Seb Vettel were locked in a similar duel, and only 10 seconds back.  Eventually, and not a little surprisingly, it was the supposedly more durable supersofts on the Red Bull that gave up the ghost first, dropping Ricciardo farther and farther behind Hamilton.  The reigning World Champion took the checkered flag some seven seconds ahead of the crushed polesitter.  Behind those two, Force India racked up their fourth ever podium, with Sergio Perez finishing only a couple of seconds ahead of Vettel.  McLaren's Fernando Alonso finished fifth, and the other Force India, this of Nico Hulkenberg, passed a struggling Nico Rosberg at the last possible instant for sixth.

*SELECTED DRIVER QUOTES OF THE RACE:

"It didn't feel lucky to me.  Hang on, I gotta say hi to Justin Bieber over there." - Lewis Hamilton

"I just want to get the hell out of here, to be honest." - Daniel Ricciardo (note: real quote)

"Holy crap, I don't even care that there isn't an actual podium here in Monaco, I'm on the podium at Monaco!" - Sergio Perez

"Not only didn't I get a podium, but a friggin' Force India beat me to it?  Sunuva..." - Seb Vettel

"Monaco: it's a magical place." - Fernando Alonso

"Never give up, never surrender!" - Nico Hulkenberg

"Oh bite me, fanboy." - Nico Rosberg

In two weeks, we'll be on the third stop of the European calendar: Montreal?  Wha?  See ya then!

Posted by: Wonderduck at 10:12 PM | Comments (4) | Add Comment
Post contains 1485 words, total size 9 kb.

1

I was wondering which was softer, "Super soft" and "ultra soft". Apparently it's ultra.

I can understand why Ricciardo would be a bit sullen, but he comes off as a sore loser. It sure as hell isn't Hamilton's fault that Riciardo's pit crew loused up, and in any case coming in second is better than being hit in the face with a dead fish.

Yeah, he had bad luck today, but it's nothing like all the stuff that's been happening to Hamilton this season. I think Ricciardo needs to grow up.

Posted by: Steven Den Beste at May 29, 2016 10:30 PM (+rSRq)

2 Steven, this is Monaco we're talking about here.  Last year, Hamilton had the race taken from him by a bad pit call and very nearly didn't show up to the podium celebration at all.  He then barely acknowledged Rosberg backstage before the podium, and was strangely absent from the team photo post-race.  And this from a guy that was reigning world champion and would wind up running away with 2015's award as well.

Sore loser?  It's not like Red Bull is Mercedes these days, able to honestly win races on pace alone... they need luck, too.  Ricciardo had everything he needed to win at F1's premiere event today, the one race that the entire sport if not all of motorsports considers special, and his team let him down. 

Further, an argument can easily be made that a bad pit call cost him in Barcalounger as well... so two wins, gone, on account of pit gaffes?  I'd say he's allowed a little steam blowoff.

Posted by: Wonderduck at May 30, 2016 03:10 AM (X/kQu)

3 Yeah, I can forgive him a little salt. "Bad luck" was losing his first-ever finish, in 2nd place, to a technical violation of the regs related to a fuel flow sensor. This was just an own goal by Red Bull.

Posted by: Avatar at May 30, 2016 11:27 AM (v29Tn)

4 We need a post about the Halo!

Posted by: Steven Den Beste at May 30, 2016 07:03 PM (+rSRq)

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