Conclusions From The Monaco GP

Date published: May 30 2011

Sebastian Vettel has a Champion’s luck to win, but Jenson’s unChampion attitude meant third was a fair result…

Sebastian Vettel has a Champion’s luck to win, but Jenson’s unchampion attitude meant third was a fair result…

Vettel’s Real Luck Was That Sutil’s Accident Wasn’t His
After a victory in Turkey that was the hallmark of a champion, a win for Sebastian Vettel in Monaco that was all about a champion’s luck.

Red Bull swung into revisionist mode immediately after the race, declaring triumphantly that Vettel had delivered a “champion’s drive” but it was no such thing. His pace was no quicker than moderate, his overtaking was non-existence, and his defence was never tested.

Only his good fortune was exceptional, with Jenson Button losing out because the Safety Car was deployed less than one minute after he returned to the track from his second pit-stop, and the race red-flagged less than thirty seconds after the BBC had publicised McLaren’s confidence that Vettel’s knackered tyres were about to fall off Beachy Head.

Monaco’s raft of casinos need hardly fret about a possible loss, but they could have been forgiven for closing the doors on Sunday night just in case the German opted to try his luck with their dice as well.

Only in electing to roll the dice on strategy did Vettel earn credit. The German is clearly a clear thinker even under intense pressure. Yet his supposed ‘gamble’ was hardly worthy of the description with the fourth-placed Adrian Sutil almost a minute down the road at the time Vettel decided to find out just how long his prime tyres – mistakenly, but luckily, put on in the confusion of his first stop – could last. Had Vettel pitted to change tyres, he was certain of finishing third. By staying out, he had a chance of victory with the insurance of sufficient time for an emergency stop still in reserve.

Yet while entirely logical, it seems not to have been noticed just how much of a literal danger Vettel and Red Bull took in staying so close to the cliff-edge and for so long.

Christian Horner’s reference to the red flag providing Vettel with a “reprieve” was tacit acknowledgment that the World Champion’s strategy was about to unravel, and the irony was that he was only saved because Sutil’s own attempt to complete the race on a one-stopper came a dangerous cropper. Reflecting on the Force India’s demise and the crash it set in very slow motion, Horner acknowledged that Sebastian was “lucky the accident happened ahead of him and he didn’t get collected”, but the real luck was that Vettel was spared the obvious potential of a similar repercussion when his tyres suddenly disintegrated after almost 60 laps of hard pounding.

At best, Vettel would have fallen to both Fernando Alonso and Button. At worst, he would have fallen off the track and into a barrier – and it was a 50-50 which outcome would have materialised if only the midfield runners hadn’t run into each other to deny the viewing public a titanic finish.

Whether or not the teams should be allowed to change tyres after a red flag in such circumstances is a moot point – the rule is there because red flags generally occur because of bad weather and it would unsafe to block them changing tread. The reality is that Vettel, by good luck rather than good judgement, had already escaped.


Hamilton Talks His Way Into A Personal Problem
Oh Lewis. But for the race-card joke – not funny, not clever, not true – it could have gone so well. The McLaren driver had good reason to feel aggrieved after the race but, due to the stupidity of his outburst, he can have no complaints if his aggrievement is swiftly forgotten. Which it will be.

No matter that his core complaint – that it takes two to tango when overtaking around Monaco and the inherent difficulty of passing around such a fundamentally silly circuit ought to carry some slack with the stewards – was a fair rebuttal to his accusers and the issue should have dominated Sunday night’s post-race discussion. Instead, by making it personal, the next two weeks will be devoted to diatribes against his driving style. Roll on the procession.

Hamilton’s personal and particular misfortune is that he least of all can afford such scrutiny. It is his aggression which makes him a special talent and he is short of friends who might be inclined to defend him. Pertinently, it was Felipe Massa, one of the very few drivers with whom Hamilton is pally, who made Sunday’s opening salvo.

A sustained attack is now sure to follow and, rather than draw strength from adversity, the fear must be that Hamilton will react with the sort of petulance and frustration that gave birth to such an ill-judged remark.


…And Hamilton Blamed The Wrong People
The other misjudgement committed by Hamilton was the inference that the stewards were to blame for his undistinguished result. In fact, all of his problems were the direct culmination of a litany of mistakes by his McLaren team.

To list them all with the use of commas would be too kind, given that they actually took the form of one continuous calamity, but as a respect for grammar is generally seen as a good thing, here goes: Failing to put in a qualifying banker, making Hamilton sit at the end of the pitlane on cooling tyres for four laps, being unprepared for his first tyre stop, neglecting to realise that a one-stop strategy was possible and worth risking.

And it certainly was. Hamilton’s second stop occurred eight laps after Vettel’s one and only refresh, and though McLaren team predicted that Vettel would require a second stop, their expectation was that the Red Bull’s tyres would degrade on around lap 52 of a 58-lap race. Ergo: Hamilton could, just, have made it to the chequered flag had McLaren put him on the primes at his second stop, in which case he would have finished fourth and possibly even third had Vettel been required to make a late emergency stop.