Monaco Grand Prix 2018: Alice in F1-derland

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Super-fly guy: Daniel Ricciardo belly-flops into the pool at the Red Bull Energy Station in Monaco because … doesn’t every F1 winner do this guys?
Super-fly guy: Daniel Ricciardo belly-flops into the pool at the Red Bull Energy Station in Monaco because … doesn’t every F1 winner do this guys?

This was a grand prix straight from the pen of Lewis Carroll.

‘Welcome to Monaco,’ grinned the Cheshire Cat, ‘where the weakest cars are strongest and slower cars are quicker.’

Alice looked puzzled, and replied: ‘But cat, Lewis says this is the most boring race he’s ever contested.’

READ MORE: Ricciardo romps to Monaco Grand Prix success

READ MORE: Daniel Ricciardo claims Monaco pole

The cat’s grin grew ever wider. ‘My dear,’ he said, ‘understand this. In Monaco, you win Sunday’s race on Saturday. Everything else is just, well, nonsense.’

Alice shook her head, and trudged off to the press conference.

This weekend in F1, the weak shall inherit the earth

Dan dare: Daniel Ricciardo quaffs champagne from his trusty ‘shoey’ after victory in the 2018 Monaco Grand Prix
Dan dare: Daniel Ricciardo quaffs champagne from his trusty ‘shoey’ after victory in the 2018 Monaco Grand Prix

The weakest car was, indeed, strongest. Daniel Ricciardo’s Red Bull had dominated free practice on Thursday and owned qualifying on Saturday.

He started on pole, held the lead through turn one and, from then on, only disaster would rob him of a famous victory.

In fact, as it transpired, even disaster couldn’t do that.

On lap 28, Ricciardo’s car lost a heap of power – up to 25 per cent, if you believe his boss Christian Horner, but at least 160hp, which is about 15 per cent – when his energy harvesting unit started playing up.

The Aussie was able to use only six of his eight gears, and was at least 12mph slower than second-place man Sebastian Vettel in the speedtraps.

But this is Monaco, where track position is king; or Queen of Hearts, if we’re sticking with the Wonderland theme.

Ricciardo’s limping Red Bull was slow but, after a few laps, it became clear that Vettel wasn’t going to breeze past him.

Three laps from the end, Ricciardo’s engineer attempted to offer him some advice but the affable Aussie cut him off, saying: ‘I got it, buddy.’ Indeed.

The Red Bull chassis is imperious at a twisty circuit such as Monaco, and Ricciardo’s performance on Saturday had given him enough of an advantage in terms of track position to be able to give up a slab of power and some gears for 50 laps, and still win convincingly.

Vettel, wrestling with tyre problems, plus F1’s usual aerodynamic hassles, could get close but never looked like a convincing challenger for the lead.

Only at Monaco could the third-fastest car be crippled and unbeatable.

Putting the Red in redemption

Take your pick: Ricciardo atop his Red Bull, flanked by cars from teams he may have come a step closer to joining… Mercedes and Ferrari
Take your pick: Ricciardo atop his Red Bull, flanked by cars from teams he may have come a step closer to joining… Mercedes and Ferrari

As he took the chequered flag, Ricciardo radioed his team, saying: ‘Redemption.’

That was a reference to the 2016 race when he looked set for victory at Monaco, only to be denied by a pit-stop Snafu that was not of his making.

So now Ricciardo has his Monaco win, the first time he has won a race the ‘proper way’ – if this can be described as a ‘proper’ race – starting from pole and dominating, rather than starting from outside the top three and making the most of others’ misfortunes, as he has in his previous triumphs.

Redemption, indeed. And a career boost – he’s out of contract at the end of this season, as we are always being reminded, and his Monaco performance – on Thursday and Saturday as much as Sunday – takes him nearer a Mercedes/Ferrari drive next season, or a hefty pay rise from Red Bull, should their package improve to the point where they are serious contenders for glory.

But I’m so bored, cried the Mock Turtle (and he wasn’t alone)

All at sea: Lewis Hamilton in the Monaco harbour, presumably having more fun than he did during the Grand Prix
All at sea: Lewis Hamilton in the Monaco harbour, presumably having more fun than he did during the Grand Prix

It wasn’t the melancholy Mock Turtle, of course. It was the lackadaisical Lewis Hamilton.

And I’m being unfair on him, because he was entitled to be frustrated, given that the leaders were cruising three, maybe four seconds off the pace from lap 6, trying to maintain tyre condition.

I had to chuckle at his post-race message to the Mercedes team: ‘Thank god that’s over – that was the most boring race I’ve ever participated in.’

Now, part of me agreed – Monaco plus rubbishy tyres plus dry weather does not an entertaining fiesta of overtaking make.

I’d like to think that, even driving at 90 per cent, F1 stars are still threading the needle at 175mph, still capable of extracting a little more from each lap, still (in Hamilton’s case) about to finish third, and cede a few championship points to Vettel.

But Lewis certainly wasn’t the only driver castigating the event: Fernando Alonso called it ‘probably the most boring race ever’. And a whole bunch of other drivers used the ‘B’ word too.

Ouch.

Hamilton et al, though, have a point – certainly from the perspective of Liberty Media, owners of F1.

They desperately want to attract new, young fans to Formula 1. And, while Monaco has the yachts and billionaires, it sums up the problems with the sport quite neatly.

The circuit is a horror in terms of overtaking. And, although the reasons for that at Monaco are largely down to the nature of the street circuit, it’s a parallel problem at plenty other circuits, where the aerodynamic handicaps of driving behind another car mean that DRS assistance is often the only way to execute a pass.

New fans aren’t going to immerse themselves in F1’s politics, its chicanery, the build-up, the technical to-and-fro, if there’s no actual overtaking.

Now, every year, the same debate rages on F1 forums about whether Monaco belongs on the calendar. I like Monaco as a whole package (especially qualifying), many, many others certainly do not.

But, in the age of pay-per-view (let’s not forget this is the UK’s last year of any free-to-view F1 racing) punters will not pony up for a procession; the perception and, often enough, the reality, of Monaco is that it is the ultimate F1 procession.

And don’t forget that Monaco is the race that doesn’t pay a hosting fee to F1 bosses: no overtaking, no juicy race fee, an image of partying billionaires that may sit rather uncomfortably with many of us.

And, to quote Lewis and Fernando, ‘Boring’. Much as I like it, I do wonder if the Wonderland world of Monaco will start to come under more scrutiny from F1 if it can’t broaden its appeal.

I’m late, I’m late

Best of the rest: Esteban Ocon, piloting his Force India to an impressive sixth-place finish
Best of the rest: Esteban Ocon, piloting his Force India to an impressive sixth-place finish

While the leading group, from Ricciardo up front to Bottas in fifth, laboured their way around preserving tyres and being generally dull, the midfield pack was, again, throwing its own party.

At times, the midfielders – the Ocons, Gaslys, Hulkenbergs – were circulating several seconds a lap quicker than the leaders.

Several seconds. This in a sport where lap times are measured to the nearest one-thousandth of a second, which on occasion still isn’t enough to separate drivers’ performances.

There were, of course, good reasons for this – mainly tyre choice, and the fact that Ricciardo was killing the pace at the front.

It was yet another reminder not to focus solely on the front-runners. As was Max Verstappen’s progress from last place on the grid (courtesy of yet another blooper on Saturday) to ninth, via some tasty and (just about) legal overtakes in this ‘no overtaking’ race.

But, yet again, a questionmark hung over those Pirelli tyres. The hypersofts and ultrasofts had to be nursed to ensure teams didn’t have to make more than one pitstop – but, to be fair to Pirelli, the fact pitstops are so unpopular at Monaco is simply because losing track position here is catastrophic.

Pirelli (try to) do as they’re told by the F1 authorities. For 2017, they produced harder-wearing rubber that drivers could cane a bit more.

This year, they’ve brought in additional soft tyres which degrade more rapidly and are sensitive to overheating.

Thing is, at Monaco you could bin the tyres completely and run the cars on rails, and it wouldn’t make much difference to the result.

Anyway, if you like your overtaking thick and fast, Indy 500 started after Monaco finished, and you could shout ‘overtake!!’ every lap for 500 miles. If you have a more cerebral approach to your motorsport, there was plenty to cogitate on in the Principality.

Next up is Canada in a couple of weeks, and I plan to get there early – it’s got proper barriers, the Wall of Champions, a classic hairpin and it can be scary for drivers too. It’s an F1 Wonderland as well – but in a very different way to Monaco.

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