2018 Monaco Grand Prix Analysis
When watching Formula 1 races, I steer clear of Twitter. It’s for the same reason as for why it’s best to avoid reviews of a film before watching it for the first time – it’s better not to have someone else’s opinion impeding on your own impressions.
My first reaction when the chequered flag fell on Sunday afternoon – ‘what a brilliant race.’ Safe to say, it was rather surprising to see that the Twitter machine had fired into a frenzy to the contrary, with fans lamenting what they believed to have been a boring race.
Even Fernando Alonso powerfully described it as “the most boring F1 race ever.”
While the top six may have finished in the same positions that they started and overtaking was at a premium, the 2018 Monaco Grand Prix was far better than the critics would lead you to believe.
So often in motorsport, and especially F1, success is both defined and limited by the capabilities of a driver’s machinery. While a magnificent Red Bull chassis was critical to Daniel Ricciardo’s first Monaco Grand Prix victory, this was a race defined and conquered by the man behind the wheel.
On lap 18 of 78, Ricciardo suffered a failure of his MGU-K – a fundamental part of the ERS system and responsible for around 160bhp. With the issue impossible to resolve mid-race, Ricciardo’s dreams of redemption following the pitstop calamity which cost him a Monaco win in 2016 appeared to be dashed.
However, he was able to manage the gremlin all the way to the chequered flag, not once conceding the race lead. His achievements were remarkable considering the circumstances.
He was over 20kph slower than the pursuing Sebastian Vettel in the speed traps. The ERS issue had also meant that, in order to protect the rear brakes, he was forced to move his brake balance forward by seven percent – with adjustments across the course of a race typically ranging between one and two percent. This would have made it far easier to induce a front lock-up but, despite an extraordinary amount of pressure, Ricciardo was faultless.
Vettel occasionally snuck into Ricciardo’s DRS window, but could never reduce the gap below half a second and was critically never close enough to launch an assault at the wounded Red Bull.
Some fans have argued that because of this, the battle for the lead was a non-event. This couldn’t be further from the truth.
The race leader was hobbled – grappling with huge mechanical issues which on another track would have almost unquestionably resulted in retirement. His power deficit was so significant that he did not use seventh or eighth gears after the problem surfaced.
With Vettel close behind, one mistake would have decided the race. If the ERS issue spread to other elements of the power unit, it could have ended Ricciardo’s race. There was a constant concern over the rear brakes and whether they would last the 78 laps.
This may not have been an all-action, wheel-to-wheel blockbuster, but this was instead a tense thriller. The potential for a race-critical overtake is more exciting than a motorway-style DRS-induced drive-by.
Those that argue that there was no possibility of a change for the lead clearly failed to appreciate the scale of the issues that Ricciardo faced.
Immediately after the race, Red Bull team boss Christian Horner likened the drive to Michael Schumacher’s Spanish Grand Prix win in 1994, when he completed half the race with only fifth gear to finish second.
I would argue that Ricciardo’s Monaco win eclipsed even Schumacher’s salvaged victory. Hardly the makings of a ‘borefest.’ It should go down as one of the great F1 wins.
Some fans were frustrated that Lewis Hamilton in third and Kimi Raikkonen in fourth did not opt to make a second pitstop to ditch their worn ultrasoft tyres.
Had the pair made an extra pitstop, it would have added an additional dynamic to the closing stages and introduced an extra spark of entertainment. That much is unquestionable.
However, the demons of 2015 will have been of concern to Mercedes. That year, the team called Hamilton in from the lead for a late pitstop when the safety car was deployed, accidentally sacrificing track position in the process and sliding to third.
Despite having brand new tyres and a clear pace advantage over Vettel, he was unable to pass. That experience frightened Mercedes into retaining the track position in 2018 rather than going for broke with a two-stopper.
This decision was ultimately made easier by the relative pace of the midfield. Esteban Ocon in sixth was the fastest driver on the circuit in the final 20 laps, reeling in the top five.
He eventually closed to within Hamilton and Raikkonen’s pitstop window, meaning that they could not pit and retain track position over the Force India, therefore dispelling any temptation to make a late switch to hypersofts.
That dynamic was fascinating. It was a bizarre novelty to see the midfield outpace the frontrunners and effectively force their hands from a strategic perspective.
That’s not even stopping to individually note the exceptional performances of Ocon and Toro Rosso’s Pierre Gasly. Sixth and seventh for two of F1’s promising youngsters at the category’s most challenging venue – it was not just Ricciardo’s stock which rose over the weekend.
This challenge and the value of a good result is what makes Monaco so special. It will never provide a wheel-to-wheel blockbuster – but anyone who expects that from a race around the Principality is missing the point.
Monaco is an exhibition of driver skill and precision. Ricciardo demonstrated supreme skill to win and watching him propel a broken car to victory was nothing short of remarkable.
The jeopardy surrounding Ricciardo’s lead, the prospect of a Mercedes or Ferrari diving into the pits for a second pitstop and the respective pace of the midfield were all fascinating plot points building to create an entertaining race.
Some fans will love the high-speed chess provided by Monaco. Some want every race to be like the Azerbaijan Grand Prix. Monaco may not have given us a race to everyone’s taste this year, but it was far from boring.