GP MONACO: race analysis

Who could have forecasted, after the Spanish GP, this outstanding one two of Ferrari in MonteCarlo?

We could have expected a SF70H in good shape in the tight streets of Monaco but what we saw on track in the last weekend has been a dominant car. The one two on Saturday (quali) and on Sunday (race) are only consequences of what stated above. Going straight to conclusions, we are afraid for Raikkonen who, after the pole position and the 1st position out of turn 1, surely was quite confident of having the win in his hands. A better strategy was sufficient to ensure him the win. It is for this reason that at the end of the race he was everything but happy notwithstanding the 2nd position and the points gained on Mercedes (now Ferrari is ahead also in the constructors’ standing).

With a quite stable weather it was pretty obvious that the weekend would have not been a surprising one considering also the difficulty of these cars in the overtakes. The mechanical grip on the rear and mostly the reduced braking areas have unabled the attacks at the Nouvelle Chicane and at the Saint DevoteWe consequently witnessed a boring grand prix with few things to analyze but the strategic choices of the teams and especially those of Ferrari and RedBull that have definitely advantaged Vettel and Ricciardo.

MONACO GP: Hamilton went on a conservative strategy
In the hours before the race in Monaco there were two main discussions in the paddock: will Ferrari favor Vettel in the case in which the German driver hadn’t gained the position at the start? And what will be the strategy devised by Mercedes in order to be sure that Hamilton recovers as much positions as possible?

If we already knew the answer of the first question, so that many inside the paddock were sure that Vettel was already the virtual winner of the Gran Prix, the second question was not so obvious. There were two possible strategies for Lewis Hamilton: start on SuperSofts, pit in the first two laps, and then hoping for a Safety Car in the first 15 laps. This strategy could have helped Hamilton in getting in the first five positions; conversely, if it wouldn’t have worked (so without SC at the start) it could have ruined Hamilton’s race leaving him outside the points. The second strategy, the one chosen by Mercedes, was instead more "conservative" because it would have guaranteed the 7th position even in the worst case. Hamilton can so be satisfied after the terrible qualifying on Saturday.

MONACO GP: the 2 vs 1 of RedBull against Mercedes has been decisive for the 3rd step of the podium
Let’s now focus on the fight for the 3rd step of the podium between RedBull (Ricciardo and Verstappen) and Mercedes (Valtteri Bottas).

It’s been a very good RB13 the one of Monaco that, due to a lack of engine power with respect to Ferrari and Mercedes during Quali (-40 CV) when Ferrari and Mercedes unleash their aggressive mapping, hasn’t been able to get the first three positions even by being quite close to the best car of the weekend (Ferrari). The 4th and 5th position at the start (Ricciardo has been penalized by the traffic during his warm up lap) hadn’t allowed to the Austrian team to show its real race pace during the Grand Prix since it’s been impossible for them to pass the W08 of Bottas who in the two main straights was always gaining few meters even if his car was then slipping out of corners. The real advantage of the RedBulls was given by the fact that they had 2 cars against 1 that were fighting for the podium, thing that turned out to be critical when coming to talk about strategies. Max Verstappen has been for sure penalized by the strategy (remaining anyway competitive). His strategy provided for an anticipated pit stop at lap 32 to try the undercut on Bottas, who stopped during the following lap knowing that it was impossible to keep the position on both RedBulls. An Undercut that in this season, with the Pirelli 2017, is less effective than it was in 2016 and the reason is clear: the new tires need, mainly in tracks were the tarmac is not so aggressive (for instance Sochi and Monaco), more laps to warm up and unleash all their potential.  In addition to this we have to consider the fact that the decay is minimal also on the softest compound even after many laps. These two factors are useful to understand why in Monaco an overcut has been more effective than an undercut.

MONACO GP: Vettel wins thanks also to a better strategy than his Raikkonen
Let’s go in more in depth now in what probably has been the most interesting part of the Grand Prix, the strategies of Ferrari. We can definitely see, by analyzing the race pace, that Kimi Raikkonen pushed very hard in the first part of the race in order to create a gap between him and his teammate and to manage in the best way possible the race and the strategy. This advantage however, has never exceeded the 2 seconds-2.5 seconds, thanks also to a very good pace of Sebastian Vettel.

The gap between Raikkonen and Vettel has gradually decreased in the following laps, due to some lapped drivers which favored the cars that were chasing them, particularly Bottas and the two RedBulls. The Finnish driver of Ferrari didn’t manage correctly the tires in these laps and so his rhythm, even after he passed Button and Wehrlein, has not been good.

Notwithstanding this, talking about Raikkonen struggling on tires is exaggerated given that the tires could have performed well again in a few laps, as also explained by Sebastian Vettel at the end of the race:

In the phase in which we found ourselves stuck behind some lapped drivers the front tires were losing temperature, worsening my performance. But after few laps I started to feel my car better and I improved again my lap times.

But the Italian team decided to pit Raikkonen in any case, (not upon his explicit request), opening in this way for Vettel the window to try the overcut on his teammate, who came back to the track in the middle of the traffic; these overtakes resulted in a loss of more or less 1.5 seconds, thing that will turn out to be fundamental for the overtake of Vettel.

Was that pit useful to protect him from Verstappen and Bottas? Analyzing the lap times, the two drivers were slower than the two Ferraris, and so the pit stop had no sense yet for the two Men in red.

It’s important to point out that Vettel did three very important laps with clean air, also thanks to the famous surplus of power (there is a very clear Team Radio in these regards between Vettel and his engineer) used during the race also by the Italian Team. The following graph is quite eloquent.

With a Raikkonen who progressively picked up his pace (substiantally quicker than Vettel during his first laps on SuperSofts), the German driver gained in the lap before the pit only 3 tenths. What does this mean? This means that if Kimi Raikkonen had not found himself stuck in the traffic, and that if he didn’t lose those two seconds, gaining the position would have turned out to be much more difficult for Vettel. In this case, 5 more “super” laps would have been needed to get ahead of him after the pit stop.

Once Vettel took the leadership, the race virtually finished, with Raikkonen who worsened his times of more than 2 seconds per lap, sign that the Finnish driver wasn’t so happy about the decision of his team. This has been quite evident after the race.

Could Ferrari have decided to pit Vettel the lap after Raikkonen? If they wanted to equate the strategies, yes; but there was a problem: Daniel Ricciardo only 5 seconds behind Vettel. He would have gained the leadership and he could have exploited a VSC (hypotetically) to gain 6-7 seconds on Vettel and enter the fight for the 1st position.

Concluding this analysis of the Monaco GP, we can say that Ferrari didn’t do nothing wrong by giving the best strategy to its first driver Sebastian Vettel; it’s something pretty logical given that he’s the leader of the drivers’ championship. It is as logical as the fact that Mercedes used Bottas to block Vettel in Spain. And here comes the crucial point: the consistency of the fans. This means avoiding to insult Mercedes when they use Bottas for these kinds of things, whilst claiming that what Ferrari did was all normal. This because Ferrari deprived Raikkonen of a potential win in Montecarlo while Mercedes sacrificed a 2nd position for Bottas in Bahrain. The decision of Ferrari, is part of a sport that is much more complex than it seems.

Now the red Team has only to hope that Raikkonen won’t feel bad for this decision in the future because with this SF70H the two championships could be decided also by his performances. And if they will lack for what happened in Monaco (Kimi hasn’t a strong character), how much will the 7 additional points count for Vettel if Raikkonen will allow both Mercedes to gain more in the next races?  

Written by @Smilextech e @Spontonc (ORIGINAL)- Translated by Federico Marchi

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