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Monaco 2010 GP: wheels of confusion

It was certainly a Black Sabbath for McLaren when the Monaco GP kicked off. But they weren’t the only team making a mess of things, they just seemed to have been the only ones to have suffered from their errors. Red Bull on the other hand made worse errors, but remembered one vital fact – a fact that even Martin Brundle is confused about, although DC clearly isn’t – and remembering this fact is what won Red Bull the race.

There are many things to remember at Monaco. Not only do the cars make over 4,000 gear changes in one race, but with the new regulations bringing in new buttons for KERS and DRS on the already crowded steering wheels, confusion in the minds of the drivers could be a factor, but it’s worse when the team’s themselves get confused.

Commentators are fond of telling us that there had been 11 safety cars in the last 10 races at Monaco. They tell us it’s a car breaker. They tell us it’s almost impossible to overtake. They often refer to the classic 1992 race in which Nigel Mansell had been way out in the lead with Ayrton Senna’s McLaren being a distant second. Mansell felt his tyres going off, and worried he had a puncture so pitted for new tyres. While he was in the pits, Senna steamed past the pits on his old tyres and with three laps to go Mansell was all over the back of the McLaren. Mansell had by far the faster car, but Senna had track position, and track position won out, as it usually does at Monaco. Martin Brundle had this the other way around, but I guess he was driving in the same 1992 race, not spectating, so will only remember Mansell leading much of the race and assumed the rest. DC did correct him, but Martin was having none of it! Still, DC has a problem remembering how to say Heidfeld, and I can’t fit in a F1 car so we all have our weaknesses.

But assumptions can be dangerous things, both when you follow them, and when you don’t.

The first 40 laps were very entertaining, and the commentary – particularly from Martin Brundle – was excellent and at times had me in stitches, but from there on the confusion grew more and more – in the minds of nearly everyone it seems! At McLaren the confusion had started yesterday when they clearly forgot they were at Monte Carlo and assumed there would be no crashes, thus leaving both their drivers without their best laps.

McLaren didn’t really remember about safety cars on race day either, although Jenson Button had some terrible luck. Starting 2nd he managed to lead the race for quite a lot of the first half of the race, but then the safety car came out. Sadly, the team pitted him just before the safety car came out, allowing Vettel to pit at the time when he lost far less time than Button lost. More bad luck came when Button caught Alonso and Vettel when Vettel was driving around on 60 lap old tyres. It could have been Mansell v Senna all over again. Except the leading three drivers caught up with a caravan of about 7 mid placed drivers all competing with each other. Carnage. Sutil went wide, Hamilton overtook two cars, then slowed as Sutil rejoined just in front while Alguersuari went into the back of Hamilton – or rather , climbed all over the back of the McLaren and on into the armco. That trapped Petrov on a path directly for the barriers too and then bits were flying everywhere. With Petrov and the cars stuck, it was clear we had a problem.

The three leaders all negotiated this multiple pile up without damage, but then the safety car was replaced with the Red Flag. With 72/78 laps run, officials could have declared the race over, but decided to restart it instead (behind the safety car). This allowed all the runners with bumps and knocks to fix their cars, and all those on knackered tyres the chance to change them. Lady luck really smiled on Sebastian Vettel here as his worn out tyres could be replaced, saving him ten laps on 60 lap old worn out tyres with Alonso and Button climbing all over the back of him. Red Bull had clearly remembered their F1 history.

A good job too, because Red Bull had ruined their pre-race strategy with two awful pit stops. Red Bull’s normal standard for a pit stop was 3 to 4 secs station, but at Monaco the stops were awful: Vettel (6.9 secs stopped) and even worse for Webber (15.6 secs stopped) when they were called in. Well, it wasn’t quite like that. Webber was called in for tyres, but it seems Vettel dived in in front of him without the team expecting him. Webber’s tyres had to be replaced with Vettel’s, while Webber had to queue for his. Confusion reigned. After that, the team had to keep Vettel out and hope there was an accident, which there was. The communication within the team was awful.

McLaren’s problem was of course that they called Button in too early. Yes, he exited in space with no traffic, but he went from first to third, and finished there too.

Hamilton on the other hand just tried too hard. Too angry perhaps after the team’s messy strategy in Qualifying yesterday – as well as being cross at himself for meekly doing what he was told and not questioning the decision more forcefully. Starting from seventh he ran into at least two cars at Loews Hairpin (yes, I know the name of the Hotel has changed, but “Loews” is so much more charismatic than “Fairmont Hotel”). Hamilton did make up a few places, but he was never going to get onto the podium.

So, the fastest car on the track could only manage 3rd, the second slowest car finished 1st and the third fastest car finished 2nd. Confused? Join the queue… I’m still dizzy from having to try and follow the action myself, and if I got things out of order I apologise. Let’s hope that Canada is less confusing.

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