Monaco Grand Prix: Saturday Analysis

A truly breathtaking Qualifying session brought about the expected conclusion. Nico Rosberg took his third consecutive pole position from his Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton. The pair are optimistic of a good result tomorrow, however, they are far from expectant, as rivals prepare for what could be a one stop race. Mercedes will hope their long run evaluation work on Thursday will pay dividend tomorrow. Alonso has work to do from a troublesome P6 on the grid.

FP3

After topping both FP1 and FP2, Nico Rosberg completed his hattrick of glory, finishing fastest in an FP3 session littered with accidents as drivers found the limit and went beyond. Felipe Massa, Adrian Sutil, and for a second time this weekend Romain Grosjean all found the barriers within the final 20 minutes of the session, to give their engineers a major headache ahead of the most important qualifying session of the year.
Rosberg himself acquainted himself with the infamous barriers during the session as he briefly experienced a violent snap of oversteer on the exit of Portier and scuffed the barrier. Fortunately for the German, the impact proved to be nothing more than a minor incident on his way to the top of yet another timesheet. His personal best of a 1:14.378, (set on the supersoft tyre) affirmed his position as favorite for pole. 
However, the final timesheet was not entirely representative of what Qualifying has in store as the disrupted end to the session meant that many drivers were unable to post a time on the option tyre which truly reflected their short run performance. Consequently, the crashes were the talk of the session. Felipe Massa was the first to fall victim of Monaco’s barriers in spectacular fashion. The Brazilian violently locked both front wheels on the run into Ste. Devote which speared him into the outside barrier. This then stripped the car of the front left, sending the Ferrari into the tecpro barrier on the exit of the corner. This impact left many people considering Massa’s chances of reemerging for qualifying. Undoubtedly, he had given his mechanics a stressful two hours.
Next to suffer a similar fate was Adrian Sutil. The German was caught off line heading into Massenet and consequently lost the rear of his Force India which subsequently became a tasty treat for the barriers. While the damage was less severe compared to Felipe Massa’s Ferrari, Force India had cause for concern since an almost identical accident for Fernando Alonso in 2010 ruled him out of qualifying. 
In the dying moments of the session, Romain Grosjean was yet another casualty of the close proximity barriers, as the Frenchman suffered another accident at Ste. Devote. Following his costly mistake on Thursday, Lotus would have hoped for an easier day yet would be another busy team ahead of the crucial qualifying hour. As Lewis Hamilton exited the pits, Romain was conscience of the Mercedes and was focused on his mirrors as oppose to the road ahead. After missing his breaking point, Romain lost the rear of the car as he slid into the tecpro barrier, slicing the rear left tyre off of his E21. The incident meant that the clock counted down to 0 under red flag conditions. Rosberg remained fastest.
FP3 Timesheet    
01. Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1:14.378s 22 laps
02. Romain Grosjean Lotus 1:15.039s +0.661 13 laps
03. Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 1:15.261s +0.883 17 laps
04. Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1:15.286s +0.908 17 laps
05. Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:15.311s +0.933 20 laps
06. Kimi Raikkonen Lotus 1:15.380s +1.002 19 laps
07. Mark Webber Red Bull 1:15.550s +1.172 20 laps
08. Paul di Resta Force India 1:15.594s +1.216 17 laps
09. Pastor Maldonado Williams 1:15.861s +1.483 15 laps
10. Nico Hulkenberg Sauber 1:15.926s +1.548 25 laps
11. Sergio Perez McLaren 1:15.958s +1.580 23 laps
12. Jenson Button McLaren 1:15.976s +1.598 19 laps
13. Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso 1:15.976s +1.598 21 laps
14. Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso 1:16.060s +1.682 16 laps
15. Adrian Sutil Force India 1:16.068s +1.690 12 laps
16. Felipe Massa Ferrari 1:16.105s +1.727 8 laps
17. Esteban Gutierrez Sauber 1:16.427s +2.049 26 laps
18. Valtteri Bottas Williams 1:16.933s +2.555 17 laps
19. Charles Pic Caterham 1:17.902s +3.524 20 laps
20. Giedo van der Garde Caterham 1:18.102s +3.724 20 laps
21. Jules Bianchi Marussia 1:18.706s +4.328 22 laps
22. Max Chilton Marussia 1:19.228s +4.850 22 laps

Qualifying Analysis

Nico Rosberg’s third consecutive pole position in Monaco means that the German has started half of this season’s races at the head of the pack. For Mercedes, prosperous Saturday’s have only ever led to dismal Sunday’s, yet Monaco offers the best opportunity yet for the team to convert pole into the win. Ross Brawn may have to sacrifice one of his drivers in this race to increase the chances of victory for the other. If Rosberg leads after turn one, Hamilton may be asked to back up the pack, using the circuit characteristics to their advantage, allowing the leader to escape. Consequently, this could negate the effect two stop strategy which Mercedes are likely to be forced into. 
The fact that we are considering the possibility of compromising one driver for the benefit of another is a perfect representation of the dire situation Mercedes find themselves in. Following his fantastic pole lap of 1:13.876, Rosberg highlighted the difficulties that the team would inevitably face on Sunday. “It was as recently as two weeks ago that we were one-and-a-half seconds a lap slower than Fernando Alonso who won the race,” Rosberg reflected to Sky Sports F1. “For sure, we’ve improved things and it will be better here but we still have some way to go and race pace is our difficulty. But you never know, there can always be surprises and I hope we can do better than recently and get a good result.” With Red Bull locking out the second row, many have tipped Sebastian Vettel for the victory. The German reflected on what could have been a front row start, for the race which puts most emphasis on qualifying results. He stated, “I was a bit annoyed with my flying lap in Q3; I think I maybe pushed a bit too hard here and there. The start of the lap wasn’t bad, but also it wasn’t great; with hindsight I should have gone for two flying laps at the start of Q3 and not one, but I decided for that. I thought the tyres would be good enough for the first lap. I have been struggling all weekend, but in the end it was tight. Pole was probably possible today, but we are third. I think with the Mercedes in front, it was expected that they would be strong. We have a good race car and should be able to do well from there tomorrow.” While Vettel is optimistic for a good result tomorrow, strategy could severely hamper Red Bull’s aspirations. Both them and Mercedes are likely to have to make a two stop strategy work. Tyre wear on the RB9 has not been as critical as it has to the W04, yet Red Bull will struggle to maintain grip past about 28 laps. However, the German definitely has the capabilities to spoil Mercedes’ day. If he can jump either Hamilton or Rosberg off the line, then Mercedes’ strategy becomes restricted. They can no longer control the pace of the race to suit their degradation range.
For Lotus, strategy and tyre life could play into their hands once again. Kimi Raikkonen starts from P5, claiming the “best of the rest” award for qualifying. Evidently, the characteristics of the E21 would suggest that they can complete tomorrow’s race on a one stop strategy. This could be a prosperous avenue if Raikkonen can maintain a high pace throughout the opening stint. Once again, Lotus have entered the fray from under the radar. Kimi reflected on a positive qualifying, stating, “I’m happy we made it through to the top ten and P5 was more or less the best we could do with seven tenths to the next fastest car. I’m not sure what we’ll do in the race; we don’t have a clear picture yet as you never know exactly what the strategies from everyone else will be, but for sure we’ll find out tomorrow.” Meanwhile, teammate Romain Grosjean failed to deliver after a promising practice was derailed by accidents. The Frenchman miraculously emerged in Q1 after three corners of his car had to be replaced following a heavy crash in FP3, only to qualify P13. After showing glimpses of pace throughout Thursday, a position in Q3 was essential during the most important Saturday of the season. He stated, “The team did an unbelievable job to get the car ready for me after what happened in P3 this morning; I’m extremely grateful to all of them. I really owe them today and I think that’s more drinks I will have to buy at the end of the weekend. We had the car to do something very good in qualifying, but I caught Daniel Ricciardo in Q2 when the track was getting drier and faster. I had just two laps on the slicks and we weren’t able to get through to the top ten which is really frustrating. What can you say? This is Monaco. We have seen different weather conditions and it is a unique circuit. We will see what happens in the race tomorrow.” 
Worthy of a special mention is Jean-Eric Vergne. The Frenchman qualified in P10, making it into Q3 for the first time in his career. The Toro Rosso is certainly a stronger car following the Barcelona upgrades and both Vergne and Ricciardo are looking to capitalize on the opportunity. Vergne stated, “My first Q3 of the season feels pretty good, even if I would have preferred it to keep raining right until the end. But even in the dry I got a good lap in, but I aborted my very last lap as I wasn’t able to improve. I think this is about where we should be having improved the car still further, which means we are making progress race by race. I believe that our performance in race conditions tomorrow should be better than it was now in qualifying so we will be hoping for a good result, whatever the weather. Anything can happen on this track so we can definitely aim for points tomorrow. Getting into Q3 is good but there are no points given out in qualifying, so we still have to concentrate and produce a strong performance tomorrow.”
Another admirable performance came courtesy of Geido Van der Garde, who gave Caterham their equal best qualifying position in P15. While his efforts were greatly aided by the tricky conditions, Giedo read these track changes better than his rivals to steal a well deserved place in Q2. An exuberant Van der Garde stated, “I’m obviously very pleased to put my name into the Q2 timesheet for the first time this year and I want to thank Tony, Cyril and the whole team for the jobs everyone did today. Honestly, it’s a great feeling, but it’s still part of the learning process for me. I’ve said since the start of the season that I’d make progress, and today showed how far we’ve all come in just six races, and there’s more to come.” Looking ahead to Sunday’s race, Giedo hopes for an even more prosperous session. “Sunday could be very interesting. I start between the two Williams cars of Bottas and Maldonado and I’ve had good starts all year, so hopefully I can have another good launch, avoid anything like the GP2 mess on Friday, and from there anything’s possible. I finished on the podium here last year in GP2 and, while that’s not going to happen this year, we will definitely be racing quite a few cars all afternoon.”
Felipe Massa has the almost impossible task of scoring points in Monaco from the very back of the grid after his team failed to repair his Ferrari following his heavy shunt in FP3. Replacing all four corners before qualifying was too big a task for the team and Felipe will start the race from the pit lane. However, every cloud has a silver lining, and Felipe will now avoid any possible collisions at turn one. Another disappointing day was experienced by Esteban Gutierrez. Following a promising P11 in Spain, the Mexican has taken another step backwards this weekend. He starts from an awful P19, with plenty of work to be done tomorrow.

Qualifying Result
01. Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1:13.876s
02. Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:13.967s +0.091
03. Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 1:13.980s +0.104
04. Mark Webber Red Bull 1:14.181s +0.305
05. Kimi Raikkonen Lotus 1:14.822s +0.946
06. Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1:14.824s +0.948
07. Sergio Perez McLaren 1:15.138s +1.262
08. Adrian Sutil Force India 1:15.383s +1.507
09. Jenson Button McLaren 1:15.647s +1.771
10. Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso 1:15.703s +1.827
11. Nico Hulkenberg Sauber 1:18.331s +2.343
12. Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso 1:18.344s +2.356
13. Romain Grosjean Lotus 1:18.603s +2.615
14. Valtteri Bottas Williams 1:19.077s +3.089
15. Giedo van der Garde Caterham 1:19.408s +3.420
16. Pastor Maldonado Williams 1:21.688s +5.700
17. Paul di Resta Force India 1:26.322s +2.870
18. Charles Pic Caterham 1:26.633s +3.181
19. Esteban Gutierrez Sauber 1:26.917s +3.465
20. Max Chilton Marussia 1:27.303s +3.851
21. Jules Bianchi Marussia
22. Felipe Massa Ferrari

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