Sebastian Vettel earned the win at the Monaco Grand Prix because of superior pace, pure and simple. Sky F1 commentators can speculate about intra-team politics all they want because quite frankly, Lewis Hamilton was irrelevant in this race, and they had to talk about something. Is Ferrari favoring Vettel over Kimi Raikkonen? Was this race confirmation of a driver hierarchy within the Scuderia? Crofty sure found a thousand ways to raise those questions for a better part of the race broadcast. So let’s cut through all the conjectures with Occam’s razor and stick to things that actually happened in the race.
But first, let’s set the background. The Mercedes’ handling looked twitchy all Saturday, during Qualifying. In Q2, Bottas had to wrestle his way into the top ten while Hamilton struggled to put together the usual smooth, fast, Lewis Hamilton brand lap. To make things worse, he was on his final flying lap before Q2 ended when the McLaren of Stoffel Vandoorne hit the wall, drawing yellow flags in the final sector. Lewis had to abandon his lap and ended up in 14th.
The top ten shootout was intense. Ferrari locked out the front row of the grid, with Raikkonen claiming his first pole in nine years. Vettel missed out on pole by just 0.043 seconds, while third-placer Valtteri Bottas missed it by just 0.045 seconds. Man alive, this is why Monaco is a great track for Qualifying, but not so much for racing.
At the start of the race, the top three stayed as is, while the two Red Bulls of Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo followed closely behind. This order maintained itself for almost half of the race: Raikkonen, Vettel, Bottas, Verstappen, Ricciardo.
And then we get to the fun part. Here are the critical events of the race, occurring in short succession:
(A) Verstappen, running fourth, gets called to pit. A lap later, Bottas gets called in to cover off Verstappen’s attempt to “undercut” him. Bottas re-emerges still ahead of Verstappen. Red Bull’s undercut didn’t work.
(B) Shortly after that, race leader Raikkonen was called in for his pit stop, theoretically to cover off Bottas and Verstappen. Seems like a fair, safe, and sensible decision for Ferrari. This however, is the turning point of the race. Raikkonen encountered traffic on his proceeding laps. People who were rooting for Kimi to win are debating if this was the right call.
(C) When Raikkonen pitted, Vettel and Ricciardo inherited the top two spots. The two of them deferred their pit stops by roughly a handful more laps and just took off with blistering pace. It also helped that they encountered little traffic from backmarkers. For added luck, the Sauber of Marcus Ericsson pitted just as Vettel was about to catch up to him. Here is a tweet showing Raikkonen’s and Vettel’s respective lap times during these crucial moments of the race. Notice how significantly faster Vettel was. Pretty simple. This was the point that Pat Symonds was stating, which pretty much made him the calm voice of reason among the Sky F1 crew last Sunday (actually, every time he’s there).
(D) Ricciardo pits and emerges comfortably ahead of Bottas and Verstappen. This is a successful “overcut”, since Ricciardo was able to leapfrog those who pitted earlier than him. Flash forward to later in the race during the restart from a Safety Car period, Ricciardo grazed the wall on the exit of Turn 1 but suffered no damage and kept Bottas behind him in check. The Aussie kept third place until the end.
(E) Vettel pits and re-emerges ahead of Raikkonen, retaining the overall race lead. The overcut worked because Vettel turned in those fast lap times right after his teammate pitted. Vettel would continue on in the lead until the checkered flag, while Raikkonen’s pace faded. The Iceman settled for second.
It’s never fun to be a victim of an overcut strategy. Raikkonen and Verstappen were highly disappointed with the outcomes of their respective races. During the podium ceremony, Kimi’s dejection showed through his ever icy poker face. Some people say (speculate) that he’s angry at his team for giving him a pit strategy that ultimately didn’t work, but it can also be said that he was quite simply disappointed at himself. Right? Kimi took pole, made a good start, was in line for the win after leading almost half the race but his teammate was plain faster. He was already losing pace a few laps before his pit stop, while Seb was visibly catching up.
As much as I like Kimi, I think he lost this race by himself. Conversely, Vettel earned this victory by himself. I think there’s nothing controversial about this result. If people want to talk about “team orders”, we can talk about Mercedes in Bahrain just last April. At least that one was blatant but to be fair, it was also reasonably necessary.
Are Ferrari prioritizing Seb over Kimi? Based on Championship standings at the moment, it’s reasonable of them to do so (with all due respect, Kimi).
Did Ferrari sabotage Kimi’s race? No, I highly doubt it. Kimi lost cleanly. Seb won cleanly.
Let’s stop overthinking and move on to Canada, a fortnight’s time. I heard the infamous Wall of Champions is getting re-angled for safety.