Howdy everyone! First off, apologies for not getting a BackmarkersF1 cast out in time for the Monaco GP. As some of you know, since returning to Blacksburg I’ve been battling a wicked case of food poisoning. While I now have that somewhat under control, having to run from your computer in regular intervals is not conducive to a good podcast. Instead, we’ll do a Spain/Monaco uber-cast with Pete or someone else along for the ride.
But enough of my gastrointestinal woes. It’s Monaco time baby! Last year we had an exciting race for the most part. The midfield was fluid, we had a three-way battle shaping up between Vettel, Alonso, and Button, Hamilton was putting Felipe/Maldonado/almost-Schumacher/Brundle’s Granny in the wall, fun times all around. Sadly, a red flag caused by Petrov put an end to the most exciting battle of all, since all the teams were able to change their tires, and Finger Boy bolted on the restart. Even with the following two catching, Sebastian had a nearly flawless race with the only issue of note was a tire screw up in the pits. Maldonado showed some uncharacteristic pace, running eighth until Lewis Ali-G’d his way past, and Kobayashi had a stellar result, finishing fifth.
Fast forward to 2012, and everything is in place for one hell of a race. This could be the most exciting Monaco Grand Prix, if not the most exciting GP period, if everything pans out. The midfield is closer than ever, and has effectively been halved. I would consider Lotus a sharp end team now, Sauber and Mercedes in a tier below, with Williams in a no-mans land between the midfielders and the higher echelons. Yes I know, a Williams just won in Spain, but if you look at their performance up until then, they were fighting it out with Force India for points in the lower midfield. Maldonado had a total of four points to his name before his win. True, it’s twice that of Felipe, but it’s not what Williams would have hoped for. Monaco is going to have to be where Williams make their stand. If they don’t perform here, and in Canada, you can chalk the win up as a fluke. A deserved fluke, but a fluke nonetheless.
But let’s not fret about Williams. It’s Monaco baby! Predictably Pirelli sent the Super-Soft and Soft compound tires, with the Super-Soft compound being identical to last year. I think this will pose a bit of a problem, as we saw drivers going half the race on a set of SS tires last year. This will be mitigated somewhat by the lack of EBD systems. No EBD means less grip, means more sliding, means more degradation. However, with a softer soft than before, we may be looking at two tires with fairly similar performance. This will lead to a fairly stable strategy pool among the teams, which to some is a welcome change from the ‘Relli Roulette that’s been at work for most of 2012. Expect to see everyone start on the Options, and either go Option-Prime or Option-Prime-Prime.
As for the field itself, it depends on the weather. Forecasts for Saturday point to everything from sunshine to pouring rain, but most tend towards the wet stuff. Even with tires being a gamble, a few trends seem to be emerging that can lead to general predictions of form.
Red Bull: Funnily enough the team that dominated 2011 so heavily is the biggest unknown in all of this. More than anyone, they seem to have pace one weekend, only to fall off the radar come next race. You know something is wrong when, in the process of writing this, I honestly had to pause and think, “did Vettel win yet?” While this is a track that has been kind to both RBR drivers in the past, I don’t think their car is up to the challenge. The team really relied on the diffuser for their grip last year, and while they seem to have recovered some of the downforce, looking at the steering wheel movement shows neither driver is too happy with the balance. Rain would even further dampen their hopes of success, as we saw Vettel light up the track in a hot Bahrain. Cooling rains will do nothing to help the Bull win.
McLaren: Ah Macca. What have you become? While last year we all had a go at how terrible Williams was faring, this year all the laughter is directed squarely at the McLaren garage. I can’t think of another time where a team’s crew has thrown away so many points this early in the season. Both drivers have been nearly faultless, and yet wheel gunners, fuel pumpers, and men on the wall keep making an utter mess of the team. Still, things can be put right in Monaco. Both Jenson and Lewis perform well here, and the McLaren seems to like the cooler conditions. Pit stop fuck ups aside, I’d say both drivers have equal chances here in the dry. If the race changes weather mid-race, advantage Jenson. If it rains start to finish, advantage Lewis.
Fernand…. err… Ferrari: The Prancing Horse seems to have regained a bit of lost pace following the Mugello tests. Alonso had a chance at victory until a long dance with Pic and a rare Ferrari screw up in the pits cost him position to Maldonado in the final stint. Fernando is awesome around Monaco, and I could see him doing quite well here rain or shine. Somehow, that man will find a way to drag that car beyond its potential. Felipe will crash somewhere.
Lotus: Kimi is another driver who is a beast around Monaco, and given a car with steering he likes, he will be a strong contender. Grosjean followed up his strong performance in Bahrain with another strong finish in Spain. Showing good pace two races in a row is not a characteristic I normally attribute to Grosjean, so who knows what he can do. Lotus haven’t seemed to have issues in the rain, but they do favor warmer weather. While the rains of Malaysia were still quite warm, Monaco will be a different story. Their best chance will be in dry conditions. Another key will be strategy if the race stays dry. We’ve had three races in a row now where Kimi was cost great opportunities (two could have resulted in victory) due to calls from the wall. If Lotus can lock that down, they could be in for a nice haul of points.
Mercedes: The Double DRS will not be very effective here, and the bumpy surface at Monaco makes me worry about flow reattachment. If the car hits a bump whist disengaging the DRS and flow doesn’t reattach to the front wing immediately, we could see a Silver Arrow spear its way into the Armco. Hopefully that doesn’t happen, but it gives us something to look for in practice. Compare how Mercedes drivers disengage DRS compared to other teams. If they do so much earlier, you know why now. As for performance, I think they’ll have a fairly anonymous race. Schumacher will beat Rosberg, but it won’t be anything spectacular. That is, unless it rains. If the wet stuff comes down, look for Schumy to punch well above his weight.
Sauber: I expect a strong performance from Sauber here in Monaco, but like Mercedes, in an anonymous sense. They will be fighting in the upper midfield, but won’t challenge for the lead. Since I predict many teams will go for one-stop races, Sauber’s conservative tire usage won’t play as much of a factor.
Williams: It all depends on whether their performance in Spain was luck or a sign of resurgence. If they are truly on the pace, I expect Maldonado to
finish with solid points bin it somewhere (just read up on his new-found attitude). Bruno will be useless and ram someone into T1.
Force India: Meh.
Torro Rosso: Bleh.
Caterham: Respectably Slow.
So for my predictions, will all my knowledge and infinite F1 wisdom which… hasn’t produced a good result yet…
Matt’s prediction Steve’s Prediction
1. HAM 1.HAM
2. RAI 2.PER
3. ALO 3.ALO
1. RAI 1.KOB
2. HAM 2.HAM
3. ALO 3.PER
ninja edit with Steve’s predictions
While I havent been spending my week running to and fro the toilet I still had a lot of shit to contend with at work as well. Anyway a lot has been made of Maldonado’s win in Spain and the William’s very strong performance in the slow third sector of Catalunya, combined with Pastor’s impressive record in the municipality (that is, if you disregard the time he almost killed a marshal there when he ignored yellow flags) make the hitman a prime candidate for many people’s predictions. However I’m going another way this time. As I mentioned in my live on twitter review, the performance of the Sauber was overshadowed by the William’s triumph and Perez’s puncture on lap 1, but that car has clearly also kept on improving handily. With Kamui and Perez definitely no slouches around the track – Kamui scoring his career best 5th place which he just equaled in spain and Perez who looked mighty in qualifying before he crashed heavily in 2011 – they are on for a good result and in line with this season’s madness I’m predicting a Sauber triumph: Kamui for the win! Hamilton will put it on pole but get screwed by a bad pitstop – yea not so unpredictable anymore – while I think Pastor will be my cucumber. Perez will slot in nicely in third to complete the triumph and make everybody go ‘Williams who?’
For Qualifying I’m still putting Hamilton on pole as the man is also superb around Monaco and the Mclaren does seem to have the one lap pace nailed, if not the race pace and strategy. Hamilton will also be out for revenge after the teams’ cock ups and with the mindset he’s at this year and the top quality of his drives, I still believe he’s on for the WDC in the long run. He will be followed in 2nd by Perez while Alonso completes the top 3. Pastor will overcook it in q2 and miss out on q3 while Senna picks up the challenge to show one bad (or good) weekend does not make a season.
Why am I betting against Pastor after the Catalunya win and the Williams looking set to be a strong car in Monaco? While it’s good to see Pastor enjoying the attention his first shock GP victory brought, I don’t feel he’s been handling the whole thing very well. The day after Spain he was already talking about becoming world champion, how this year ‘the driver can really make a difference’ and other quotes which made me think he probably needs to tone it down a bit before he starts thinking of himself as the best thing since sliced bread. While he has been impressive around the track, I believe his newfound superstar status will make he will overdo and crash sometime during the race from a promising position, thereby earning my cucumber.
ninja edit for Matt’s cucumber
Once again I forgot to predict my Cucumber of the Race. I actually agree with Steve 100% on this one, Maldonado will be the cucumber. This isn’t to take anything away from him, he did a great job in Spain and got a well earned victory. However, he is not WDC material. This year’s Williams is leagues better than last years, and still Pastor is coming up with new ways to crash it. I’ve never seen anyone else bin it where he did in Australia. I think if you combine his typical performance with a hot-headed “I’m the shit now” attitude, we are going to see blue and white carbon littering the track. Combine that with Senna going Banzai Brazilian in the first corner, and Williams will follow up their Spanish victory with a big 0 in Monaco.