Monaco Grand Prix McLaren

The Monaco GP offered up plenty of interesting titbits of info but in an utterly baffling season none of them seem to add up to a whole helluva lot, writes F1 journalist Justin Hynes.

So another Monaco Grand Prix is over and what did we learn from it? Well first off, we learned that it is probably not the best idea ever to eat pizza for dinner five nights in a row, especially when they’re washed down with copious carafes of local wine.

I have no idea what the association between Monaco and the Neapolitan staple is but there seems to be a pizzeria on every corner in the Principality and not feeling flush enough to dine in Alain Ducasse’s Louis XIII or even at the ever-lovely Maison du Caviar, pizzas tend to figure in the diet with carbo-loaded regularity. Having been rolled onto the plane home, perhaps a little detox is required...
 

nullRace winner Mark Webber celebrates after the race at the Red Bull Energy Station (Getty Images for Red Bull Racing)

   
We also learned that kicking off Red Bull Racing’s Thursday night media party with a glass or two of new partner Joraku’s plum sake is a pretty good idea as it’s absolutely delicious, but also a bad idea as it’s fairly lethal and a handful of glasses in I was found staring intently at a picture of Nino Farina on one of the eye-catching installations of photos and stats celebrating 70 Monaco GPs and muttering “legend, legend”. Oh dear.

 

Also worthy of mention was the set played by E-Rok, a Monaco regular for Red Bull Racing and a top bloke to boot. The Miami-based DJ had the unenviable task of trying to straddle multiple decades of music at the party but did so brilliantly. I’ll be needing a mix tape.

There were other parties and other places – the party later on Thursday on Vijay Mallya’s Indian Empress superyacht, Tag Heuer’s boat-based do on Friday, plus a bunch of others, but while Monaco is all about socialising, there is the small matter of a race being held somewhere amid the glad-handing and back-slapping and I’ll confess that I bailed on most of the later weekend parties in favour of quiet nights of pizza-fuelled madness close to my laptop.
 

nullWebber on course for victory in Monte Carlo (Getty Images for Red Bull Racing)

   
So what did we learn about racing from Monaco 2012? Well, Monaco’s normally an anomaly during the season, a circuit unlike any other that gives little away about the state of normal play in the sport. However, with Mark Webber becoming the sixth different winner in the six races (a first in F1), Michael Schumacher returning to pole position (briefly) for the first time in almost six years and McLaren once again wincing their way through a race to forget, we can safely say that Monaco is exactly like every other track we’ll race on this year, utterly unique and impossible to call.

 

In Australia, McLaren were in complete control, the pace they’d shown in testing translated seamlessly to the first race on the slippery, bumpy roads of Albert Park. A car that’s good there is usually good at Monaco, but this time out the slippery bumpy roads of the Principality utterly foxed McLaren and made it’s MP4-27 look decidedly second rate.

Lewis Hamilton moaned about changed clutch settings right before lights out on Sunday that gave him a poor start but he should have moaned more about the strategy glitches that saw him lose third to Fernando Alonso during their sole pit stops and then later lose fourth to Sebastian Vettel when the Red Bull Racing driver came in for his change from Softs to Supersofts.
 

nullIt's been another frustrating season for Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button so far (McLaren)

   
Jenson Button fared even worse. His timesheet-topping lap on Thursday was admittedly set in the dry before rain fell in FP2 but the 2009 champ professed himself happy with his progress through Friday and Saturday morning’s FP3. By qualifying, however, the car was a different beast and he limped to 13th in Q2, eventually starting from 12th following Pastor Maldonado’s demotion.

 

In the race he simply went backwards and again strategy let him down, his team releasing him into a battle for position with Heikki Kovalainen, which the Finn won, only to hold Button up until the McLaren driver lost patience, tried a move and sustained a puncture, which eventually forced him to retire. He’s now scored just two points in the last three races.

But I digress. Getting back to circuits: Malaysia is something of a benchmark circuit in that if your car goes well on its mix of high-speed straights and twisty bits it should go well at most venues. But there, the supposedly very poor Ferrari won in a wet/dry race, with Sergio Pérez second in his Sauber. Sure, Alonso has scored consistently since and leads the title race, but the car is still no world beater.

As for Pérez, he’s gone backwards since, notching three 11th places and a retirement. Team-mate Kamui Kobayashi has been similarly erratic with a run of sixth, retired, tenth, 13th, fifth, retired. This from a car that was supposed be a real contender after races one and two.
 

nullSauber and Sergio Perez have dropped off since the Mexican's brilliant race in the second GP in Malaysia (Sauber Motorsport AG)

   
China gave us cool temperatures, grey skies and a third race winner in Nico Rosberg. Hot and dry Bahrain gave us track temps six degrees higher than China and on the relatively slow track Sebastian Vettel suddenly popped up to win, but his other results have been 2, 11, 5, 6, 4. Maldonado blitzed super-normal Barcelona but otherwise has 13, 19, 8, Retired, Retired. The tracks and how the cars behave on them are massively unpredictable.

 

It’ll be the same in Canada. The weather is guesswork (either sweltering or freezing) and the long straights with heavy braking plus the Supersoft and Soft compounds will make it equally difficult to call. Valencia is a vast, scattershot selection of corner styles that make set-up very tricky but overtaking is still impossible. Silverstone is a flat-out blast, the Hungaroring a Monaco-like go-kart track.

You get the drift. With the quirks of every circuit now being massively accentuated by cars lacking in downforce and tyres that seem, on different cars, to have wildly differing operating ranges, it’s impossible to say who will be quick where.
 

nullKimi Raikkonen in action at Monaco - Lotus have been one of the more consistent teams this season (LAT Photographic)

   
One thing we can say is that Lotus should be good in Canada. They are genuinely the only team so far that has been quick everywhere – the drivers' qualifying stats over the opening rounds give the car an average grid slot of 4.5 so far. Their problem, however, is strategic.

 

Kimi Raikkonen’s race in Monaco was massively compromised by the decision to start him on used Supersoft tyres, which instead of degrading in a smooth arc, dropped off like a stone after about 10 laps. His pace waned, he pitted late while the team fruitlessly waited for rain, then emerged behind Charles Pic and that was that.

What else? The Mercedes seems to like the Supersofts and, weather permitting, could go well in Canada. Red Bull Racing are the only team to take two wins but both have come on tracks featuring predominantly twisty sections and Canada won’t be like that. The Lotus hates the used Supersoft but a strategic rethink in Montreal could benefit its drivers. McLaren are rolling backwards and don’t appear to have a solution and Ferrari (well Alonso) now look the most consistent team on the grid, but they won’t win in Canada – probably.

Any clearer? No, I didn’t think so. Perhaps, in the end, Monaco remains the mystery it’s always been. Now, where’s that takeaway menu. Pepperoni or Quattro Stagioni?

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