What a curious race. Daniel Ricciardo won in a car which in any other test, practice or qualifying session would have been parked up and an army of mechanics would have opened up the toolboxes.
Missing 160 of his normal 900+ racing horsepowers, and lapping sometimes nine seconds slower than his impressive pole position qualifying lap, Ricciardo went into crisis management mode, and with all the mental agility of a Heathrow air traffic controller lining up jets while learning to juggle, he coaxed his Red Bull to the chequered flag first.
What surprised me was not so much that the likes of Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton couldn’t get past him in their two-metre wide heavily aero-laden Ferraris and Mercedes on the narrow streets of Monte Carlo (let’s not forget Nigel Mansell trying to pass Ayrton Senna in 1992), but that they couldn’t catch him, or even ultimately keep up with him.
Watch the moment Daniel Ricciardo returned to the Red Bull Energy Station to cheers and high-fives before he embraced his family
Pirelli had three tyre compounds at the race, Supersoft, Ultrasoft, and Hypersoft. Yes, I’m fed up with the names and the whole dominating tyre thing too. While the Hyper was mighty in qualifying to generate a sub-71 second lap on the two mile series of corners, none of the compounds turned into a proper race tyre. Almost everyone was struggling with ripping the surface of their tyres and floundering for grip.
There is a phase of that race I’m really not proud of. Drivers calling in to say how slow the pace was, shortly followed by Force India drivers lifting off the throttle of their Mercedes-engined cars to give way to a recently pitted works Mercedes car, for position. Now I accept there’s often no point in losing time to your real race rivals by fighting against an inevitable pass, but that was just too blatant.
There was the inevitable cry of ‘get rid of Monaco’ post race, but during the 103 minutes we did not struggle to find things to commentate on, and I found the whole thing intriguing as to whether Ricciardo/Red Bull would push and spread the field, or keep the pack closer to manage his tyres and stop Ferrari and Mercedes splitting strategies given they were two against one. And whether he could somehow hold on.
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It’s clear that if Max Verstappen hadn’t have started last, and if Ricciardo’s race had been trouble free, such was the Red Bull’s advantage in keeping the tyre surface largely intact in a very fast car, they would have absolutely dominated the race.
And it was this advantage which meant that Ricciardo could still win despite having to manage an underpowered car. He was so down on power that he didn’t even reach seventh gear (of eight) in the tunnel.
The Motor Generator Unit Kinetic is like a dynamo which charges the battery while helping slow the car down. It’s actually attached to the engine rather than the rear wheels, but it’s similar to pulling the handbrake on in a road car.
This ‘brake by wire’ system means that in true F1 style the rear brakes can be made much smaller thereby saving both weight and drag inducing cooling. The problem is that when the MGU-K fails the rear brakes quickly overheat. The driver can move the braking bias and therefore stopping power to the front to protect this, but then it’s very easy to lock the front brakes and retardation is generally compromised.
Ricciardo had to further protect the car by lifting off the throttle early and use aerodynamic drag to slow the car. The problem will have created many incidental side effects such as his tyres cooling down through lack of braking energy, and not using up his fuel so the car being heavier than desired at the end of the race.
He was slow down the pit straight, the only DRS zone on the track, and it seemed inevitable that Vettel and Co would be cruising past. Except they didn’t, and couldn’t because of the inherent Red Bull advantage on the day and Ricciardo’s calm determination that Monaco would not rob him of a deserved victory once again. He thoroughly deserved that.
When Verstappen threw away victory back in China whilst running into Vettel, I mistakenly thought it would be the turning point for him to begin to play the percentages better and choose his battles more carefully. By hitting the barriers in free practice three on Saturday morning he threw away yet another glorious chance of victory, and for the first time his team bosses publicly demonstrated that even they are running out of patience with their golden boy.
Max told me on the grid that his only focus was to finish the race, and he drove a well judged race to ninth from 20th. He got punchy with Carlos Sainz in the works Renault when necessary, and the rest was smart driving.
He mustn’t waste his amazing talent by brazenly brushing off so many incidents as unimportant or not his fault. Watching Ricciardo on the podium and in the post race celebrations must have dented even his supreme self confidence. We need him on peak form and with all four wheels pointing in the same direction, he’s F1’s future along with some other fast boys.
Talking of the future, I had a long sit down interview with Fernando Alonso pre-race and he gave me a distinct impression that he likely wouldn’t be on the F1 grid next year. That wouldn’t have been helped by his retirement in the race, and post-race he publicly criticised Monaco and applauded the Indy 500. You never know with him, he could retire then un-retire very quickly, but I think even his relentless energy and motivation is fading.
Hamilton had an unremarkable weekend and was particularly grumpy about his tyres through the race, but only losing three championship points to Vettel humoured him a little.
It’s going to be fascinating now for Ricciardo moving forward. He is out of contract for 2019 and if he leaves Red Bull he can only sensibly move to Mercedes or Ferrari. And those teams appear largely focused on Verstappen, Hamilton and Vettel respectively. But the Aussie is the man of the moment, getting the job done and just coming into his peak years, and so presumably on speed dial at most teams. Or is he?
Red Bull reckon they will be on the pace in Montreal in two weeks too, so hopefully normal F1 service will be resumed in a six-way fight with great supporting acts.
See the final word on all the Monaco GP action and latest F1 talking points on the next edition of the F1 Report – make a date with Sky Sports F1 on Wednesday at 8.30pm Get Sky Sports F1.