Fortune or favour at Ferrari?
Kimi Raikkonen gave every impression he believed he had been sacrificed by his team to boost Sebastian Vettel’s world championship chances after Ferrari’s strategy worked in the German’s favour at the Monaco Grand Prix. Hamilton believed it was clear the Scuderia had chosen their No1 driver but Vettel and his team countered by saying it had been accident rather than design. Raikkonen had been losing pace towards the end of his stint on the ultrasoft rubber and the decision to pit him to cover Valtteri Bottas and Max Verstappen was expected. What was not was the sudden performance improvement Vettel then found, having stayed out on the same rubber. He had been struggling with the grip on his rears, as had Raikkonen, but having stayed out found it came back to him. “There seemed to be a second tyre somehow,” Vettel said. “You can say it worked out well to stay out longer but if you were looking at it before the race you couldn’t predict it.” Daniel Ricciardo benefited from the same extra life in his rubber to take third. Equally, Ferrari dismissed suggestions they had purposely fed Raikkonen back into traffic, with a team spokesman saying: “It’s totally unfair and crazy and stupid to slow him down deliberately because you risk losing the one-two.” Raikkonen is aggrieved but the jury is still out on whether it was plain bad luck rather than a conspiracy.
Mercedes struggle with their ‘diva’
Mercedes have built an extremely demanding mistress in their new car and need to find ways to ensure she is happy if they are to take the fight to Ferrari. The team’s director of motorsport, Toto Wolff, stressed how difficult the new model was. “It seems to be a bit of a diva to get it into the right window,” he said of their difficulty in finding the correct temperature for the tyre operating window that cost Lewis Hamilton in qualifying in Monaco. Wolff returned to the theme after the race. “We have a fast car but she doesn’t like the tyres and that is something we need to understand,” he said. It is specifically the ultrasoft rubber that Hamilton is struggling with and he acknowledged the problem: “It is not a happy car, that’s for sure. It’s the most unusual way the car has felt in all of the years I’ve been with the team.” Of most concern is that he has had two races with similar problems and the exact causes are still not clear. “Whether it’s multiple laps, whether it’s backing off, utilising the fronts more than the rears, whether it’s making a more understeery car, an oversteery car, brake balance, all these different things, we need to start looking into,” Hamilton concluded. For Wolff at least, Monaco had definitively closed one debate – that of which team has the advantage this season. “I like the notion of underdog because the underdog is the one people want to see win,” he said. “Ferrari put the car on track in Barcelona testing and they were quick from the get go, so yes we are the underdog and yes we need to catch up.”
Our survey says …
In a survey of 215,000 fans commissioned by the Motorsport Network and the FIA, Hamilton proved his pulling power by topping the most popular driver poll. He received more than twice as many votes as he did in the last survey, held in 2015, and took 20.7% of the votes, pipping Fernando Alonso, who had 18.3%, into second. The Spaniard’s popularity is strong, despite an uncompetitive car and his decision to race in the Indianapolis 500 also went down well, so it would seem that F1 should be trying to keep his services. Ferrari remained the most popular of the teams, with Mercedes, whose recent dominance many have been considered a negative, moving from fifth in 2015 to second this year. They were only marginally ahead of McLaren, however, proving that the Woking team’s rich heritage still offsets their poor performances of the past three years. Most interesting was the general rejection of gimmicks such as ballast or sprinkler systems and only minimal support for proposals that would alter the current weekend format in terms of length and timing of races. Whether Liberty Media pays any heed to the results has yet to be seen but as change is in the air perhaps now would be a good time to do so.
Button’s not so fond farewell
There was scepticism about how keen Jenson Button was to take part in Monaco when McLaren drafted him in to replace Alonso. Button was talking the right game but there was a flippant air about it all, picked up on by other drivers such as Verstappen, that suggested the 37-year-old would rather be anywhere else. What was clear was that he intended to enjoy at least one part of the weekend – actually driving at Monaco again – and he did to an extent. Having not driven the new cars before he was solid in first practice and up to speed by the second session, only three-hundredths off his team-mate Stoffel Vandoorne. Qualifying in ninth had been special, Button said, but by then the sheen had gone. Honda’s travails continued as he took a 15-place grid penalty for power unit component changes and, forced to start at the back, his afternoon was effectively over. There was at least a mood-lightening exchange with Alonso before the start. “I am going to pee in your seat,” joked the British driver to his team-mate, who replied: “Please don’t do that.” But after which it was a trawl around at the back until his ill-timed attempt on Pascal Wehrlein up the inside of Portier put them both out. It was a move that earned him a three-place grid penalty for his next race – one he is no doubt keenly intent on never having to serve.
Honda’s gloomy forecast
Alonso, meanwhile, must have been wondering how far he has to go to find a reliable Honda engine after the one powering his McLaren-Andretti at the Indy 500 gave out with 21 laps to go. Beforehand Bruce McLaren’s daughter, Amanda, said she felt sure her father would have approved of him taking part. “I’m sure it would have pleased him,” she said. “Because he was involved across the genres of motor racing and he drove because he wanted to and Fernando is very much enjoying being at Indy. Dad would have patted him on the shoulder and said: ‘Good on you – you are doing what you love.’” However, there was no joy in it for McLaren’s executive director, Zak Brown, who was blunt about the failure at the Brickyard. “It’s gone up in a puff of smoke, which is something we see all too often,” he said. “To be let down again as we have been is just shocking – but not surprising.” It was an end to a weekend that had little but woe for the team, with Brown warning against “high expectations on track anytime soon”. It was an ominous prediction that backs up the expected delay in Honda providing its updated engine, while the manufacturer also said in Monaco that the current design of its MGU-H is only strong enough to last two races – a remarkable admission. Brown insists the situation is in hand but the celebrations that accompanied Alonso’s seventh place on the grid in Spain are unlikely to be repeated anytime soon. “The team won’t be really celebrating again until we have won world championships,” Brown said. “And that party will go on longer then 15 minutes.”