Monte Carlo is where the wheeler-dealers hang out, and when the Formula One circus comes to town it’s difficult sometimes to tell them apart. Both packs drip with riches, glamour, and excitement as they strut their stuff in the paddock, but how much of it is show?
As Martin Brundle said,
“I know there’s 52 billion chickens in the world, but I don’t know the answer to that question!”
The thing with Formula One is, there’s no hiding place – not even in secretive Monte Carlo. Once the cars are on the track, the stars take their clothes off and parade in front of the crowds…
So it was in Qualifying.
With no hiding place to go to to disguise their poor performance, some of the teams are beginning to implode under the weight of the performance of Red Bull. Ferrari is one such team, having got rid of their Technical Director, Aldo Costa and replaced him with McLaren’s Pat Fry. It’s always been the same at Ferrari, the team is only successful when the percentage of Italians in the team doesn’t go above a certain level, and when the percentage of Brits in the team doesn’t go below another level.
This year, Alonso is earning his rumoured €40 million per year salary (if anyone actually really “earns” that kind of money in reality) by putting the lacklustre Ferrari on 4th place at the last two GPs, and 5th at all those before that this year. For a team used to competing for the Championship itself each year, it’s been very embarrassing for the Italian team to be an also ran – especially when Ferrari must be one of the most common road cars people own in Monaco. This weekend’s 4th place though was only possible because of a most astonishing strategy mistake by McLaren.
McLaren are also showing signs of strain, especially when it comes to thinking on their feet. Not too many GPs ago, McLaren got caught out not sending Hamilton out early enough in a Qualifying session. Last time he didn’t make it into Q2. Hamilton said at the time that he had learned his lesson and would question the team’s decision if the situation occurred again. Well, it did, and he didn’t. So after Sergio Perez slammed into the chicane at the end of the tunnel in pretty much the same place as Nico Rosberg had done early in the day, the session was red flagged with 2m 26s to go. Unlike team mate Button, Hamilton had still not even posted a time in Q3.
Martin Whitmarsh seems to have ignored the fact that overtaking is even more unlikely at Monte Carlo than at any other track on the circuit (with the exception perhaps of the boring Valencia Docks GP). He also seems to have forgotten that classic race between Nigel Mansell and Ayrton Senna around the streets of Monte Carlo when Mansell on brand new tyres could not get past Senna on worn tyres – and Senna was driving for McLaren at that time too! In Monaco, track position is not only key, it’s essential. Monaco also has a reputation as a destroyer of cars, yet McLaren instructed Hamilton not to go out until the very end, giving him no opportunity to do a ‘banker lap’ to at least give him a time.
It appears they were running the type of strategy they have developed so far this year – that saving tyres for the race gives an advantage over the rest of the field on ordinary tracks. But Monaco is no ordinary track. Why they find it difficult to think on their feet I really don’t know. It’s like the team run the computer and do what it tells them. You can have too much faith in the infallibility of technology in my opinion, heck, even an Apple Mac computer can occassionally let you down if you forget to recharge its battery.
Button on the other hand, clearly the brainy driver in the outfit, put in a banker lap early on in Q3 to claim second place on the grid. Even though he could have gone faster, the stoppage stopped that but his banker lap time still stood and he remained on the front row.
Whitmarsh is a very nice guy, technically able, but he ain’t no alpha male and that’s what McLaren are missing now. Someone like Ross Brawn, Dietrich Mateschitz, or even Ferrari’s Montezemolo. McLaren really need to rethink their decision making at the top levels IMO. The problem for Whitmarsh though is that with one strategic mistake after another – or should I say, making the same mistake over and over) might bring some people to think that he’s just one of those 52 billion chickens out there, strutting his stuff through the hordes of female admirers, but a bit out of his depth when he has to think on his feet. Perhaps people will start calling him one large cock? Maybe Hamilton will start wondering about these cock ups and decide to get the flock out of there!
Fair play though, not necessarily a natural proposition for Red Bull according to some rumours due to Webber’s unending series of technical failures, but Vettel can place a giant feather in his cap for his pole here. A surprising pole, and one which the McLarens should have taken themselves, but they didn’t. Well done Christian Horner for a great strategy, and to Adrian Newey from a great design.
So now, Vettel’s record of wins predominantly without having needed to overtake at all (turning 10 poles into 12 wins) won’t be tested as he and Webber stride off into the distance, leaving this year’s poor starter of the season, Button, to slip on the least best part of the track.
By the way, thanks to the BBC clothes donkey (too short to be a clothes mule) for the Vettel stats! But OMG, do get rid of that shirt…