In Monaco, qualifying means everything. With a track that has seen few changes since it was the stage for a world championship in 1950, the venue features the tightest corner of the season and the only indoor bend of any track on the FIA Formula 1 calendar. Because it is a circuit where overtaking is nearly impossible, Monaco qualifying sets up the race grid and the likely race results.
Tranquil conditions at this year’s Monaco qualifying did not necessarily mean an easy drive. Monaco qualifying is the most important qualifying of the season. The city’s serpentine, winding streets are both its lure and bane. Teams machine a special steering rack for Monaco that is not used at any other track of the season.
A driver whose qualifying results place him behind the first couple of rows of the grid has little chance of race victory. If there is any place during the race where a pass might occur, it is the harbor-side Nouvelle Chicane. The area of the track immediately before the chicane is a dark and fiercely fast tunnel, so, with a driver still adjusting to a blasting field of sunlight, the car skips onto a bumpy, slightly downhill braking zone. A driver must heave his car up the inside of a target vehicle in order to make the pass stick.
The harbor-side chicane is a site of many off’s during practice and even qualifying, but drivers face possible penalties if they do so during the actual race.
To Finish First, You Must First Finish: The Age-Old Story of Monaco Qualifying
Monaco qualifying becomes an intellectual clash of pushing it to the limit — and kissing a wall — or being prudent — and qualifying at the back of the pack. Barriers are barely inches away from the cars in corners, and an easy-to-make mistake can make a competitive edge vanish. The fact that drivers are racing at the slowest average speed of the year is less apparent due to their’ need to navigate the surrounding, claustrophobic walls.The drivers are boxed in, even more so this year with 25% wider 2017 tyres and 8″ wider cars.
Sebastian Vettel set the track record during practice session three. Not everyone was so pleased, however. Jenson Button un-retired to run at Monaco, only to find himself replicating Alonso’s frustration with the Honda engine as he was slapped with a 15-grid spot penalty for an unscheduled power unit change before qualifying even started. Daniel Riccardo’s Red Bull had brake failure during practice and seemed uncertain as to whether he could get good performance out of the car in the upcoming qualifying session.
Monaco Qualifying Replay and Results
The fun at Monaco was typical— numerous drivers complained about traffic impeding their lap times. Romain Grosjean pulled a 360 spin, righted the car, continued on in Q1 to advance into Q2. Esteban Ocon, who had crashed into a barrier during practice, failed to advance to Q2. Raikkonen rose to the top of the rankings during the early part of Q2 and stayed there, finding half a second that others could not.
Lewis Hamilton had a scary moment in Q2 when, pushing at every corner, the front end broke away from him. Lack of race grip plagued Hamilton throughout qualifying, especially at the Nouvelle Chicane and Casino Square, and he was eliminated in Q2. The three-time world champion was quite emotional back in the paddock.
Both McLarens made it into Q3, even though Stofell Vandoorne crashed into a barrier; luckily, he had set a competitive time in a previous lap.
At the beginning of Q3, only one Mercedes was in the running. Raikkonen set a 1:12.296 at the 8:18 mark in Q3. The Iceman had not achieved pole since France, 2008 — 128 races gone by. At the 1:06 mark, he ran a 1:12:178. By the end of the session, Vettel was only .043 behind his teammate to create a Ferrari 1-2 on the race grid. Raikkonen was typically reserved during the press conference. “It’s been a bit tricky, and it definitely wasn’t easy this weekend…. The car was good, so it was very good fun.”
Vettel noted that Bottas put in a very fast lap, so he was uncertain what Hamilton’s problem was to fail to move into Q3. He acknowledged that Monaco is “one of the highlights of the season. But hard to get it right.”
Bottas, in the final podium position, acquiesced to Ferrari’s dominance but was looking ahead to tomorrow’s race. The two Red Bulls followed in positions four and five on the grid.
Will Trends of Monaco Qualifying History Repeat Itself?
According to F1, of the current top six drivers in the standings, the champions and multiple Grand Prix winners have all achieved P1 in Monaco qualifying. Kimi Raikkonen has always driven at the top of the Formula 1 game. We’ll see if the past predicts the future once again at Monaco.
Other photo credit: Foter.com