Log In | Subscribe | |

F1: Monaco Grand Prix 2017: tedium, confusion, secrets and tears

Publication: 
Nigel Morris-Co...
chiefofficersnet

If you are a fan of motor racing, don't bother with yesterday's Monaco Grand Prix. An utterly dull procession for almost the entire event was punctuated only by odd-ball happenings and intrigue. If you are a conspiracy theorist and find humour in the oddest places, there might be something for you. But first, this telephone call from Fernando Alonso waiting to drive in the Indy 500 to Button, in the car on the way down the pit lane to his own, personal, lonely, starting line.

It was almost impossible to think that Ferrari would let Raikkonen capitalise on his pole position and take his first win for several years. In the event, the slap down to put him in his place came as he was called into the pits for a tyre change that took almost three quarters of a second longer than Vettel's - and which brought him out into traffic while Vettel came out into clear air. All the talk before the race had been as to whether Ferrari would issue team orders but Ferrari's way is usually to be sly about things and then lie about them later. Any suspicion was reinforced when Vettel, as winner, did his usual screaming, then his gratitude in Italian then, unusually, gave what sounded like a prepared speech about how he had pushed extra hard when Kimi went into the pits and that created his opportunity. Equally bizarrely, that radio message was broadcast, almost as if he and the team were already preparing for the criticisms that would come their way.

Kimi was, even by his standards, taciturn. There were no pit to car messages broadcast after he pulled into the pits early in the race. Not one. And out of the car, he was furious and sad in equal measure, being polite to Nico Rosberg who conducted the post-race interviews but who was clearly entirely in Vettel's supporters' club. The fact is that Kimi drove a superb race, carving through back markers, creating opportunity and, by the end of the race, holding just far enough back from Vettel to avoid the dirty air. We can only speculate as to why he did not chase down Vettel and attack but given what had happened earlier, it is not hard to think that he had been given some kind of instruction - and told to keep quiet about it.

The irony is that there is nothing wrong with team orders. If the team wants to do it, they have the right. Spectators, who are often cultish followers of individuals, don't fully understand that F1 is a team sport first and a drivers' championship second. What is wrong is secrecy about it.

Aside from that, there were two other stories: one was Hamilton: the team worked out what was wrong with his car but, because it's in Parc Firmée between qualifying and the race, were unable to fix it. From P13, helped by pit strategies and retirements, he worked his way up to 7th and for several laps was the fastest on the track.

The other story is Button v Wehrlein & the stewards.

Button's weekend just kept deteriorating: McLaren needed to replace the floor on Vandoorne's car and, for some reason I don't understand, if they gave him a new one, he'd have had more penalties. So, instead, they gave him the floor of Jenson's car. That then meant that Jenson, already in P24 when there are only 20 places, was even worse off and ended up starting from the pit lane. He did that, and after one lap pulled in for a change of tyres. Wehrlein adopted the same tyre strategy but his pit stop was so much slower that Button had caught up the deficit from the pit-lane start,and had his tyres changed, and was rolling by the time Wehrlein was waved off. He pulled out in front of Button, presumably unaware that he was there. A five second penalty followed for unsafe release, which seems a little lenient for matters of safety. Equally, it meant that Wehrlein stayed in front of Button even though he was significantly slower for much of the race. Equally, because a five second penalty is served when a car comes into the pits for any reason or, if it doesn't pit before the end of the race, it is added to his race time, Wehrlein's pit crew were anxious not to pit him again unless they absolutely had to. That meant that, later in the race, he was in a position that he really should not have been in.

With 18 laps to go, JB had pitted for fresh tyres and had caught Wehrlein at a rate of several seconds per lap. As a Ferrari lapped Button, he tucked in behind it, waited until it lapped Wehrlein and then, because Wehrlein was off-line, on the dirty stuff and had created a gap for the Ferrari, Button went for that gap at the bottom of the hill, right before the tunnel. Wehrlein simply did not see Button coming (he later said "he was nowhere .. it was a silly move") but by the apex, the McLaren's nose was already in front of Wehrlein's cockpit. Wehrlein turned in on the apex, causing his rear right wheel and Button's front left to tangle. What then happened was a mix of scary but funny. It was scary because the Sauber lifted up, started what looked as if it was going to be a barrel roll, then it came to rest on its side, touching the tyre wall. Button's front left wheel was kept in touch by the tether but otherwise was disassociated from the car. The scary bit was because, with the car on its side, Wehrlein could not get out. His plaintive reply to the pit asking if he was OK was unintentionally amusing and dissolved the tension. He said, in an odd little voice "I'm OK but I'd be better if I could get out." Once his safety was no longer an issue, the replays could be enjoyed for the comedy-drama the accident presented: the whole flight and coming to rest happened in a form of slow motion. Run at full speed, the replays still seemed as if they were slowed right down. The eventual coming to rest looks (it probably wasn't) incredibly gentle.

Button, who it has to be remembered, had only avoided a pit-lane crash with Wehrlein by standing on the brakes, and was only racing him because Wehrlein had not served his penalty, was penalised with a three place grid place drop (if he does another race) and two penalty points on his licence. The stewards found him "predominantly to blame.. a move unlikely to have resulted in a clean pass." Button's comment on the incident was sanguine: "I got alongside him, well, I thought I was alongside him, but then I looked across and went "oh he hasn't seen me at all. ... So I tried to back out of it but it was too late and we touched."

Clearly, Wehrlein's team did not keep him up to date with Button's far, far better pace warn him and, equally, had the stewards imposed a more suitable penalty for Wehrlein's own safety infringement, he wouldn't have been there anyway.

This video was posted by our old Karting pals RJM racing: hey, guys - how's it going?