Thoughts I have post Monaco…

It’s been a while since I posted any thoughts I have following a race but after a superb Monaco Grand Prix I think that…..

This was the best race in Monaco in years! Whereas in the past Monaco has been known for its lack of overtaking and runaway leaders this year’s edition was undoubtedly the most exciting race in the Principality in years. With drivers battling hard at the front, overtaking in the midfield and lots of strategy at play throughout the field this was a race that showed just how superb Formula 1 is in 2011.

The last two races, Barcelonaand Monaco, were always likely to be the harshest test of the new regulations and the new Pirelli tyres. Could the sport produce good racing on these notoriously difficult to overtake circuits? The last week has affirmed just how successful the regulations have been in succeeding their pre-stated goals of improving the show and producing exiting racing.
After the fantastically close and competitive Spanish Grand Prix, last weekend’s race inMonaco continued whereBarcelona left off. Right from the start of the race the battling throughout the field was thrilling. With lots of wheel to wheel racing and numerous successful, and unsuccessful, overtaking maneuvers this race added a thrilling fight for the win to the usual glitz and glamour ofMonaco.

The red flag prematurely ended a great fight for the win The only negative of the race was that the late race red flag robbed fans of the spectacle of what was sure to be the most intense final eight laps in Monaco since the 1982 race. Sebastian Vettel, Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button were running nose to tail when they came across a gaggle of drivers set to be put one lap behind the leader. The midfield runners were consumed with their own fights and were unwilling to concede an inch to their rivals as they let the leaders through.
Ultimately there was little surprise when an accident ensued. Unfortunately for the fans this crash involving four drivers led to the late race red flag which robbed the fans of the true spectacle of a late race fight for the win.

Even though Vettel was leading the race with only a handful of laps left there was doubt as to who would actually stand on the top stop of the rostrum. Button, running third, had the freshest tyres and had easily closed on Alonso and Vettel and while it would have been very difficult for the McLaren to find his way past both his rivals there is little doubt that between him and Alonso there was the potential for a late race change of positions.

Strategy variety made this race thrilling The variety of strategies throughout the field in 2011 has been one of the key differences between this year and previous seasons. Obviously the Pirelli tyres are clearly the key element to this development andMonaco proved to be no exception, even if some of the variety was assisted by a mistake by Red Bull at Vettel’s pit stop.

On lap 16 the Red Bull stormed into the pit lane and there was mass confusion outside the Red Bull garage. The team has quite clearly been the slickest in the pit lane throughout the last year and as a result it was exceptionally surprising to see the team rattled. Vettel lost time and in the confusion was put onto prime tyres instead of options in the stop.

This mistake was to prove the making of Vettel’s race and instrumental in him winning the race. The reigning champion had planned to make an additional stop but the race played out perfectly to let him make the single stop. A mid race safety car and the late red flag allowed Vettel’s tyre to cool down during the race and be replaced before the race restarted.

Button, three stopping, had looked to have jumped Vettel prior to the safety car after a stunning second sector when the former champion maximised the advantage of the super-soft tyres and opened a commanding 15s lead at the front of the field. The 2009Monacowinner stopped just before the safety car and nullified his advantage over Vettel.

While everyone expected the Red Bull to peel into the pit lane he stayed out on track, ultimately surprising everyone by single stopping.

Alonso was running third and because Button still needed to switch to the harder prime tyres it seemed that the race was perfectly placed for all three drivers to make their final stops and battle to the flag.

Button was first to dive into the pits for his final set of tyres. Unfortunately for Englishman both Alonso and Vettel would not make another trip into the pits. The race panned out with Vettel’s lead being closed by Alonso and with Button catching the pair hand over fist. The strategy battle that played out at the front of the field was thrilling and showed how even though overtaking was possible on Sunday track position was still the key factor.

Even with a significant speed advantage track position is still key at Monaco With the race entering its closing stages Vettel was clearly hamstrung by his ailing tyres but even though Alonso and Button had closed down the German with ease it was far from a foregone conclusion that either would be able to find a way past.

Prior to the late race red flag memories of the 1992 Monaco Grand Prix, when Nigel Mansell closed in on Ayrton Senna by four seconds per lap, came flooding back to many. Senna managed to hold Mansell at bay, just as Vettel was doing on Sunday, but with the late race halting fans were robbed of the spectacle of seeing three of the world’s best drivers going toe to toe for the victory.

The fact that changes to cars should not be allowed during a red flag The battle at the front of the circuit was blunted by the red flag. Not only did it mean that there was a delay to the thrilling battle it also meant that teams were allowed to change the tyres on their cars.

The key weakness to Vettel quite clearly his tyres and when the Red Bull driver was able to make, what effectively was, a free pit stop there was little doubt as to who would win the race.

Alonso and Button’s key advantage was immediately taken away from them and Vettel was given an easy run to the victory. The fact that drivers were able to change tyres and, in the case of Lewis Hamilton, have their damaged cars fixed made a mockery of this race.

The irony that cars are placed in parc ferme conditions from the end of qualifying yet are able to, presumably, get a complete rebuild during the race is quite startling. It is unfortunate that this loophole in the regulations came to light but hopefully it can be closed and this situation can be rectified so that races red flagged can still have fluidity when they resume.

The accidents will lead to changes at MonacoMonaco has a special place on the calendar with every driver enjoying the challenge that driving around the street circuit presents. Unfortunately the weekend was marred by some near misses and bad crashes.

Sergio Perez suffered a sizeable crash coming out of the tunnel. The Mexican lost control of his Sauber as he crested the hill and his car bounced over the bumps that have developed in recent years. He lost the back end of the car and it snapped into the Armco barriers leaving Perez a passenger as he headed for the barriers protecting the walls at the chicane.

Suffering a sizeable crash and concussion meant that there was little option but for Perez to spend a night under observation in hospital. Following his first points scoring finish in Spain Perez was clearly exceptionally confident heading into the weekend and getting through to Q3 showed just how much progress he is making in his rookie season.

The fact that Nico Rosberg narrowly avoided a similar crash in FP3 showed just how dangerous this section of the track can be. That is not to say that I believe, as some writers have stated in recent days, thatMonacois an antiquated circuit or that its place no longer deserves to be on the calendar. It is clear that something will need to be done at this area of the circuit and that the possibility of accidents such as these, or indeed recent ones that befell David Coulthard and Button, needs to be minimised.

Whether this is done by moving back the cranes, which the barriers protect, is probably not sufficient. The track surface is what is causing the issue and it is this that should be looked at in the near future.

There is no need for drastic changes at Monaco but the fact that Vettel’s pole lap was a new lap record could play a crucial role in the arguments from people that changes need to made to the circuit.

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