Can the combination of a tight street circuit with hungry, hungry barriers and the skittish and torquey 2014 spec cars deliver a surprise result? The best of the best have come unstuck round these streets and a microsecond’s inattention can make the mightiest racer look small and foolish. With minimal run-off anywhere on the circuit and a short, twisting profile, Monaco offers drivers absolutely no respite.
Free practice appeared to confirm that the Mercedes package can deliver race-winning performance in all conditions. However, Red Bull Racing’s Ricciardo pushed Hamilton close in FP3 with the session throwing up more representative times.
With conditions perfect, there was early traffic with the soft tyre being the popular choice with teams saving their supersoft allocation for subsequent session. With a clean lap the priority, drivers had been warned prior to the session that there would be particular attention paid to drivers hanging back to create a clear slot in front of them and blocking cars on hot laps behind them.
Kvyat was an early victim of the barriers, failing to correct an early braking wobble coming out of the tunnel and losing his front wing in the barriers in the run-off. While not impeded, Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso had to weave his way around several slower cars under blue flags on his flying lap. Magnussen out on the supersofts for McLaren, made a good save as he outbraked himself in Turn 1 at the foot of the hill. With a minute left on the clock, Massa and Ericsson came together at Mirabeau, effectively bringing an end to the session and Massa’s qualifying.
The Mercedes duo led the remaining cars for Q2. Raikkonen’s Ferrari appeared to have an early encounter with the barriers: if he didn’t, there were millimetres in it. Vettel and Grosjean both reported ERS issues, possibly pointing up a common problem with the Renault power train. More disappointment for McLaren with Button unable to progress to Q3 due to a lockup at the tunnel exit compromising his final flying lap. Toro Rosso confirmed their improved performance by getting both cars in the final session.
With the mathematics suggesting that a front row start is the only possible winning strategy, there was early aggressive laps in Q3. It was the two Mercedes drivers trading fastest times, with Rosberg leading the early exchanges. Feisty laps from Raikkonen saw him perilously close to the barriers again but he couldn’t improve his times. With 30 seconds of track time remaining, Rosberg took to the escape road at Mirabeau – the resulting yellow flags effectively cancelling Hamilton’s final flying lap. The resulting exchanges between the drivers not recorded. Schumi-esque? You decide.