Image source: Matthew Riley
It might be fair to say the Monaco Grand Prix is one for the drivers. Almost every F1 pilot loves the circuit and for many it is the highlight of the season.
This is the race where they get to have fun, but also where their skills are highlighted at close quarters in a breathtaking way - Daniel Ricciardo’s record-breaking qualifying lap yesterday being a fine example.
But for fans who have long been told this race is the pinnacle of the sport, the final product has often failed to live up to the blurb on the packaging. As a result, the Monaco Grand Prix is now consumed with a huge pinch of cynicism.
In an era where overtaking on such a narrow street circuit is almost impossible, aficionados have had to look to qualifying for the bulk of the action, while race day is only livened up when rain, driver error, bungled strategy or safety cars are brought into the equation.
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This is the backdrop against which the race now plays out and the 2018 edition seemed to follow suit as Saturday qualifying provided some serious thrills along with a few surprises. But once the clock stopped at the end of Q3, it was assumed that much of Sunday’s script had already been written. And all that were left were the formalities of the race.
The rain that had been forecast earlier in the week arrived in the morning but had eased off by the time the cars lined up on the grid.
For some drivers, the opening few seconds at Monaco represent the best chance to gain track position, but the race to Turn One saw no change in the running order amongst the front runners.
At the back of the grid, Max Verstappen found a way past the Haas pair of Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen, while Lance Stroll further enhanced his reputation as a strong starter by squeezing past Marcus Ericsson.
By Lap Eight, Verstappen had gained another three places, while a stop/go penalty for Sergey Sirotkin promoted the Red Bull driver up into 14th place. While the procession played out at the front, the Dutchman provided the entertainment, carving his way cleanly through the field.
Early stop for Mercedes
Mercedes surprised everyone by pitting Lewis Hamilton early on Lap 12 but the Silver Arrows’ strategy was not clear at this point. Vettel pitted four laps later followed quickly by Ricciardo and both drivers kept track position. A flurry of stops followed and by Lap 25 most of the field had pitted.
Vettel kept Ricciardo in his sights to keep things interesting at the front while back in third, Hamilton had Raikkonen looming in his mirrors.
Ricciardo loses power
On Lap 29, Ricciardo’s car developed a battery issue and was down on pace. Within moments, Vettel was right on his tail. Over the next few laps, conversations between the leader and his garage revealed that the problem would not improve. The Australian now set about managing his car and defending track position.
Meanwhile, Max Verstappen had made his way up to tenth place but was one of three cars (Gasly and Hulkenberg the others) yet to stop. Toro Rosso finally pitted Gasly on Lap 41 from which he emerged in tenth place behind Verstappen while Hulkenberg stayed out in sixth place.
Verstappen eventually stopped on Lap 48 and re-joined the race in 11th place - a top ten finish now looked likely for the Red Bull man. Remarkably, Hulkenberg stayed out until Lap 51 and emerged in tenth behind his teammate Carlos Sainz.
On Lap 54, Fernando Alonso reported a gearbox problem and was forced to park up and retire from the race. Both Renault’s were now in the top ten and had an aggressive Max Verstappen bearing down on them. Pierre Gasly was up into seventh in the Toro Rosso.
Despite his lack of power, Daniel Ricciardo was still leading the race, Sebastian Vettel glued to his gearbox.
Max on the move again
Verstappen was frustrated at being held up by Sainz and made his move. He dived to the right on the tunnel exit and just squeezed past on the curb at the next turn. Within minutes he had recorded a new lap record but was still several seconds adrift of Hulkenberg. However, the Renault driver was held up by Gasly which allowed Verstappen to close the gap. The three cars lapped in formation, the front two defending as the Red Bull waited for a moment to pounce.
In the race to be ‘best of the rest,’ Force India’s Esteban Ocon was going well in sixth and gaining on fifth-ranked Valtteri Bottas.
With just five laps remaining, Charles Leclerc lost his brakes and ran into the back of Brendon Hartley’s Toro Rosso prompting a virtual safety car. It took just a single lap for the debris to be cleared and the race was back on. Vettel looked in trouble and was losing time but was far enough ahead of Hamilton to hang on to second place.
Despite running for nearly 50 laps on reduced power, Daniel Ricciardo put in a princely performance to secure a remarkable win and gain (in his own words) “Redemption.”