There is something magical about Monaco. The most densely populated country on the planet invites the Formula 1 circus to put on a showpiece event every year – a 78 lap blast around a location entirely unsuitable for hosting a grand prix.
Nelson Piquet Jr famously described the challenge as like riding a bicycle around your living room. Simply lapping the circuit at the limit of adhesion alone is enough of a trial – overtaking on Monaco’s impossibly narrow streets is the work of a moment of magic.
It may be a procession on Sunday. It may be a winner from pole position and a one-stop strategy. Regardless, there are plenty of reasons to be excited about F1’s blue ribbon event.
In Spain, Mercedes’ mistake afforded Red Bull the opportunity to snatch victory. Just two weeks later it was Red Bull who, having dominated the weekend, made a costly error to allow Lewis Hamilton the opportunity to take his 44th race win.
Such is the speed at which fortunes can change in motorsport, pole sitter Daniel Ricciardo saw his maiden win at the Principality slip away, when a miscommunication between pit wall and garage saw him arrive in his pit-box, while his mechanics were still fumbling over which compound of slick tyres to fit.
Elation on Saturday became heartbreak on Sunday for the Aussie.
Monaco has been the venue for many a memorable story-line since 1950. 12 months ago, Hamilton and Rosberg’s qualifying battle wrote the back page headlines but in 2015, it was the race which sparked debate. Lewis Hamilton controlled proceedings before a late Safety Car was called. In response, Mercedes decided to fit the option tyre to Hamilton’s car in an attempt to strengthen his grip on the top spot, however, a misinterpretation of the timing screens meant that the Briton fell behind Nico Rosberg and Sebastian Vettel – a third position from which he was unable to improve. The inquest has begun following a costly and uncharacteristic blunder by a usually slick Mercedes outfit.
It is quite remarkable that the driver billed to be the most naturally talented of his generation by many analysts, had never taken a pole position around F1’s most iconic circuit. However, Lewis Hamilton has addressed this oversight today, claiming a maiden Monaco pole position in style, recording two laps which were both good enough for top spot. Nico Rosberg seemed the favorite to win this particular act in the Mercedes inter-team scrap, as Lewis struggled through the opening two segments, but the German could not match his teammate in Q3, with his final attempt to usurp him scuppered by a lock-up into Sainte Devote. In the most important qualifying session of the year, it was Hamilton who hit the jackpot.
Not only on account of the fact that both FP1 and FP2 took place in the unique-to-Monaco spot of Thursday, but the track action itself made for a rather peculiar first day of running. The weekend in Monaco is a story of unrelenting track evolution, but the rubber laid down in today’s opening session was soon replaced by puddles, as FP2 was riddled by showers which kept the majority of drivers in the confines of the garage for a full hour. Rain, therefore, doing the work which is usually done by Thursday and Friday evening’s parties at Monaco’s social hotspots. Just like those enjoying the perks of attending this particular weekend, Lewis Hamilton will be sporting a smile heading into the heart of the weekend, as the Briton topped the timesheet’s in both of today’s sessions.
Not just in the context of F1, but sport as a whole, the Monaco Grand Prix is a truly special event. The marquee race within the exclusive club of blue-ribbon venues. It is a huge challenge for drivers as they look to thread their cars in-between the famous barriers which punish the smallest of mistakes. With Nico Rosberg having won the previous two Monaco Grand Prix, he will bid to become only the fourth driver to win three consecutive races, following in the footsteps of Graham Hill, Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna. However, Lewis Hamilton will look to halt his teammate’s momentum and secure his fourth victory of the campaign, on the back of the confirmation of his contract extension.
Following a truly shambolic weekend in Monaco, Eric Boullier has dismissed speculation that Romain Grosjean is beginning to devolve into the reckless driver he was just 12 months ago. His hideous misjudgment which ended Daniel Ricciardo’s race yesterday is yet another addition to the long list of incidents which have previously earned Grosjean the unsavory title of “Mr.Nutcase”. His clumsy accident in yesterday’s race was dubbed a “misjudgment” by the unfortunate Ricciardo, yet Grosjean’s mistakes happen all too frequently. In a season which has been confirmed as his second and last chance, he is yet to repay Lotus for the faith they have shown in him. His ten-place grid penalty for causing the nasty collision will significantly hamper his Canadian Grand Prix weekend. The impressive pace he displayed throughout practice is soon forgotten and talk of his accidents continues to steal the headlines. While Eric Boullier may feel apprehensive regarding the team’s decision to keep Grosjean for another season, he is not allowing the press to gauge his insecurities. Today, the Team Principal evaluated, “We will sit down with him and go through the weekend. It’s always the same story, especially in Monaco. He had the pace, we could see it. It’s even more frustrating because of that. Thursday’s accident didn’t help but it happens. The rest of the story went worse on Saturday morning. I think building up his frustration was Ricciardo who didn’t allow him to complete the Q2 like he should have done and being 13th on the grid just finishes the frustration. I think we just need to cool him down and have a proper discussion when we are back in the factory.” With Davide Valsecchi waiting in the wings, it is unsurprising that Romain is beginning to feel the pressure. If he wants to return to Monaco in a Lotus next season, the Frenchman needs to improve and seize his evident potential.