Everything I know is wrong.....
One of the joys of Formula 1 this year has been the unpredictability. 6 winners from 6 races, perhaps that could be believed. But Pastor Maldonado in a Williams? Surely this seemed as likely before the season began as a Monaco victory for Olivier Panis would have seemed in 1996. Two real surprise winners in 16 years. The press is now questioning whether Maldonado really is a pay and display driver, which was his reputation despite winning GP2 in 2010. I think the reality is probably exactly what m'learned friend Winston Darcy has been saying for some years - there are no longer any drivers in F1 who are less than "very good", and apart from the 3 poor little lame puppies desperately limping after the pack, the cars are all superb. With this year's set of rules (some stability, some changes), a few small random events can give rise to big unexpected results.
But unexpected victories aren't the only thing I've been surprised by. On the morning of Monaco practice I read in the Guardian about the $180m facilitation fee (I think that's what my lawyer told me to say instead of sweetener) payable to the F1 teams to sign a new Concorde agreement, which would allow the Singapore stock exchange 30% float to proceed. There was a description of the split of prize money, where the teams were planned to get around 47.5% of the profits ($1.17bn in 2011) with the top 3 from the past 3 years getting an extra 7.5%. However, to ensure everything is fair, I was pleased to read that Ferrari rightly get an extra 5%. To save you reaching for the calculator, (or for those mathematical geniuses who understand the Ferrari hillclimb scoring system, doing it in their head), that's $58.5m. Twice the total HRT budget, and before anything based on results, or sponsorship. The surprise came in the days between the race and this write up when the floatation was delayed from its expected June date to that well known date, "later". Though in view of the imminent collapse of Capitalism and the Economic Fundamentals of the Western World, maybe this isn't a surprise after all.
At least this year the rules have been set clearly and there can be no silliness..... In the week after the race it was revealed that the Red Bulls have a hole on the floor which sorts out the air that gets squashed forward by the rear tyre as it rotates and upsets the underfloor flow. Actually, so do other teams, but their holes have a tiny, paper thin crack running from the edge of the hole to the edge of the floor, so although their "hole" does the same job, it isn't a hole, it's just a strangely shaped edge to the floor as the edge is then continuous. Although Red Bull's "enclosed hole" is illegal, they won't be penalised.
The final surprise for me was the early arrival of the silly season. We usually have to wait until around August before there's speculation on replacement drivers, but, especially for tifosi, the silly season is now. Massa was, in the week before Monaco, thoroughly written off. Top pick to replace him was Sauber Ferrari driver Perez, who has always impressed me, but looked at coldly he has not truly delivered on results any more than Maldonado. Another tip was Paul DiResta, also slated for Mercedes. I can't resist the obvious line that when Raikkonen heard that DiResta's grandfather was an ice cream maker he wanted him as a team-mate at Lotus.
Qualifying was a little bit influenced by 3rd practice on Saturday morning. There was a debate whether or not Maldonado deliberately pulled over on Perez or not. The stewards decided he did, and docked him 10 places, which seemed harsh compared with Schuey's 5 for knocking Senna off in Spain. 4 minutes into Q1, Perez planted the Sauber into the wall. The videos looked as though something broke before he hit ad there was speculation that the Maldonado bang caused it. I was pleased to see that Perez was taken routinely for a medical after the bang – a procedure the UK MSA should adopt for racing at all levels, but don't.
The once again hapless Jenson Button failed to get into Q3, languishing in 13th. He would regret that. Ferrari, on the other hand, were doing rather well in Q2 with Massa heading the times a minute from the end of the session, unfortunately not repeated in Q3. Despite brushing the barriers, Massa qualified only 7th, with Alonso 6th. Fastest qualifier Schumacher was, of course, demoted 5 places and so Alonso was promoted. With only 0.1 seconds separating the team-mates, Massa showed he still had the drive required.
Mark Webber had pole for Red Bull, whilst the World Champion was 10th, through not appearing in Q3 to save his tyres. Incidentally, we had another piece of the tyre jigsaw in TV qualifying. Apparently, the Pirellis don't like forces in two direction at once, which must be a nightmare in somewhere so tight that some drivers had the wheel turned through 180 degrees. In itself, the drivers' hand movement was interesting to watch as some (noticeably Raikonnen) clearly had a preference for greater movement and therefore slower racks but, presumably, more precision.
Elsewhere, Grosjean confirmed his practice form with 4th on the grid, and Nico Rosberg kept up the honour of Brackley's best race team with 2nd, the charismatic [note to Ed:irony font here please] Hamilton being 3rd.
Webber and Rosberg had a clean start. Thereafter, trouble ruled. Both Hamilton – who later grumbled about the launch - and, even more so, Grosjean, had relatively slow starts. Neither Alonso nor Schumacher will let a chance to gain a place so early fall through their hands, so as Alonso went to the right, Schuey went left. They were not quite 4 abreast, and something had to give. It was Grosjean, who bizarrely first moved into Alonso, making contact, and then moved away to tangle wheels with Schuey – a rear off, he slewed sideways in front of the pack into St Devote, to be collected by Kobayashi who leapt into the air. Schuey brushed the Armco, but appeared to be OK. Further back in the field Maldonado rammed De La Rosa, both out.
As the cars approached the Station/Loews/Fairmont hairpin Alonso made a great dive to pass Hamilton, but on this occasion Hamilton defended intelligently and cleanly and proceeded to lap faster than Alonso. This had me worried, until much later when it became obvious who had the big right foot and who had the big brain. Not much happened to the first pit stops, Petrov retired with electrical failure/battery (16) and Kobayashi as a result of the start collision. The most significant element of the pitstops concerned Alonso who stayed out a lap longer than Hamilton. It was enough with Alonso's preservation of the tyres, the slow warm up of the new Pirellis and his determination to gain him enough to rejoin ahead of Hamilton. There was talk that he could have stayed out another couple of laps and also taken Rosberg and even Webber, but if the tyres had gone off and Alonso had joined them, we would be criticising, so it's just a might have been.
Having started the weekend thinking Perez could be the next number 6, I was already having some doubts. These got worse when he turned straight across the bows of Raikkonnen as he pitted, and incurred a drive through a few laps later. As it put him behind Pic in a Marussia, it was a short lived penalty, but an eventual 11th didn't do much for his candidature.
Around this time Hamilton enhanced his reputation as the current most creative F1 whinger when he complained that people were dropping things from the pitwall onto his head.
Vettel stayed out through all the pit stops and inherited a lead, but the gamble failed when despite what looked like a little bit of teamwork by Webber (later denied) as he held up the rest of the field, Vettel moved back to fourth after his stop, slotting in just in front of Hamilton in a move which was assertive and brave, but fair. It was a novel, interesting and entertaining strategy to sit out Q3 and go 45 laps without a tyre change, and I hope that contrary to rumours the FIA continue to allow people to sit out Q3 if they want to.
After the race, Button complained that Kovalainen held him up, and that he was “much faster”. Whilst Kovalainen definitely had a very wide Caterham and used interesting parts of the track, I was rather put in mind of 2 heroes, David Purley and Lauda (Purley, 1977: ”If an ace in a Ferrari can't pass a rabbit in a LEC, maybe he isn't quite the ace he thinks he is”). Actually, the Caterham seems to be developing into a decent car.
There was little action after the pit stops, until lap 63 when Schuey dropped out with engine problems. It had been both strange and a little bit sad to see him passed by Vergne in a Torro Rosso and the Force Indias. Pic and Ricciardo joined him shortly afterwards.
Throughout the race the pit to car radios had been warning about imminent rain. Whilst this might have been a bit of gamesmanship, there were a few spots around laps 38-48 and then they expected no further rain, so sure enough down it came again around lap 65, sufficient to slow the cars by 6 seconds a lap. This helped bunch the cars up a bit and make things a bit more exciting, though in reality none of the leaders was ever going to move to a greasy off-line to overtake, as they were all dependent on Webber's wheel tracks. As if to prove this point the frustrated Button went to pass Kovalainen and spun at the swimming pool, somehow managing to attract a puncture and other damage, and to retire. Kovalainen was quite the provider of entertainment in the last few laps as he found Perez alongside him and spent so long squeezing him off the road he almost forgot to take the corner. Kovalainen's front wing got damaged in the carnage, and he later had another kiss with Perez. They looked as if they'd seen “Bullitt” a few too many times.
At the finish after 78 laps, the first 6 were in the same order as after the pitstops – Webber, Rosberg, Alonso, Vettel, Hamilton and Massa. 6 winners from 6 races. With the 2 Force Indias impressively filling the next places, Raikonnen a bit disappointed in 9th, and Senna a solid 10th, it still wasn't quite the top ten we expected. Webber and Rosberg must be praised for doing nothing wrong, which sounds like damning with faint praise but around Monaco is almost the highest praise you can have. I say almost, because Alonso deserves the ultimate praise. Not only did he make no mistakes but he drove that storming lap to gain a place on Hamilton. Come the end of the season, that could prove to be the lap of the year. He has once again consolidated his position as the most complete driver out there.
As for the Scuderia's number 2, I feel it's almost like greeting an old friend after he's been away. Massa's back, and I now hope he stays back. Though I'm still going to keep an eye on Perez and DiResta.
Click here for FIA lap chart.
Stefano Domenicali: “We managed to limit the damage, at least as far as the Drivers’ championship is concerned. Now we must look to the future and make a step up in terms of quality which should allow us to fight for the podium and not just a points finish. That’s what I have been asking our engineers for several weeks and by Barcelona, I expect to already see the results of the effort we are expending in every area.”
Felipe Massa: ““It was definitely not a very easy race, but in the end, we managed to do a good job and, for the first time this year, finish in the points. It’s a nice result at this time, but we are well aware that it is not Ferrari’s style to be happy with a ninth place. Having said that, it is a performance that gives me confidence for the rest of the season.”