Processions or races: why Sergio Perez should keep it up

It’s impossible to overtake at Monaco.

That was the general consensus going into last weekend’s Monaco GP. It’s the same every year. Yes, there is the occasional overtake – it’s not like it just never happens – but due to the tight and twisty nature of the track, it’s not as common as it might be on other tracks. On Sunday we saw many drivers driving a strategic race, with maintaining the tyres being the main goal. This led to a somewhat processional ‘race’ around the streets of Monte Carlo. But a couple of drivers didn’t seem to get the memo and instead Sergio Perez and Adrian Sutil made brazen overtakes. McLaren driver Perez found himself under fire after the race and not for the first time this season – but is the criticism just?

During the race on Sunday the 23 year-old went wheel-to-wheel with team-mate Jenson Button. It was Bahrain all over again, where the pair banged wheels and ran each other off the track. In Monaco Button once again got onto his radio, telling the team that Perez needed to stop turning in on him. When Perez eventually got past, he cut the chicane and was advised to give the place back. But that wasn’t the end. On the run down to the Nouvelle chicane, Perez dove down the inside and made a clean overtaking move, one that was later praised. It was a move that made some hold their breath but for the right reasons. With Button cleanly disposed of, Perez continued on his way and tried the same move on Fernando Alonso and Kimi Räikkönen.

These times were different, however. Alonso was forced to take avoiding action by running across the chicane, leading to radio communications between both drivers and their respective teams. Ferrari argued that Alonso had avoided a collision by taking the escape route while McLaren deemed him to have gained an advantage, like Perez himself had earlier in the race. In the end, Alonso had to hand the place to Perez and did so at the restart after a red flag period. Räikkönen was Perez’s last target.  The Mexican once again went for the inside but this time there was contact as Räikkönen pulled across onto the racing line. Perez’s front wing was damaged and Räikkönen pitted with a rear puncture. After the race, it was very clear that Räikkönen felt Perez was 100% to blame for their clash, suggesting “maybe someone should punch him in the face”.

But why? One could argue that it was a racing incident and that Räikkönen was as much to blame. There was still a gap when Perez made the move, and as Martin Brundle pointed out, it probably wasn’t just a spur of the moment occurrence, he would have committed from the exit of the tunnel. In the end Perez retired with brake failure from a solid points paying position – some might consider it to be karma. Despite having to pit, Räikkönen fought his way through to finish tenth, and if anyone knows how crucial one point can be it is him – in 2007 he won the championship by just that, a single point.

Fans of Formula One are particularly harsh critics on the sport – there are complaints if races are processional, but there are also complaints when a driver actually attempts to add some excitement by overtaking. Overtaking is a risk – drivers have to trust that the other driver won’t turn in on them or shut the door completely. Sometimes passes go wrong and drivers can end up missing an end-plate on their front wing, with a puncture, or in the worst case scenario, retiring from the race.  Remember back in 2009 when Kamui Kobayashi stepped in for an injured Timo Glock? He won over thousands of fans with his banzai driving, going wheel-to-wheel with championship contender Button in Brazil. As spectators, we enjoy the ‘ooh and ahh’ moments when we wonder if drivers are going to survive a battle. Some moves are just plain stupid, there’s no denying that, but would you rather a driver tried instead of holding back, maintaining position and not wanting to fight with someone because they’re in the championship battle? Even the best have their off-moments – in 2011 Lewis Hamilton couldn’t seem to stop getting mixed up in incidents with Felipe Massa.

At the start of the year, Perez was publically urged by McLaren to get his elbows out and not be so passive in the races, and he’s done that. He’s proven to be a match for Button, out-qualifying him on two occasions this season and racing with him. In Bahrain, as mentioned earlier, the pair of them were gung-ho as they fought to get ahead of each other.  However, while Perez took most of the flack, Button was just as bad at times.

Perez should be applauded for taking the initiative and not settling. Hopefully the constant media scrutiny and tough words from his fellow competitors will not lead to him losing his flare, as unfortunately sometimes happens. At the start of the season, Perez was subdued and seemed to hold back with his driving. You have to give him the benefit of the doubt though – he was plucked from a small mid-field team, where he impressed, and put in one of Formula One’s most iconic and successful teams. Perez has proven he’s fast and, if he can reign in his aggression just a bit, he could really go far. He shouldn’t stop going for the gaps, though. Because when he pulls it off, as he demonstrated with his move on Button, he can be pretty darn impressive. I’d rather see the Perez we’re seeing now, than start-of-the season Perez. Give him a car that is capable of doing so, and he could join the elite in becoming a race-winner in Formula One.

Given Formula One’s current state, in terms of tyres and drivers having to drive conservatively, could the sport not do with people who are willing to take the risk and actually race?

The Monaco GP in Numbers

Statistics from the Monaco GP weekend

Total number of laps completed (by driver)

Lewis Hamilton 208
Nico Rosberg 208
Mark Webber 197
Jean-Eric Vergne 196
Jenson Button 195
Nico Hulkenberg 194
Kimi Räikkönen 193
Sergio Perez 192
Valterri Bottas 192
Fernando Alonso 192
Esteban Gutierrez 189
Adrian Sutil 183
Sebastian Vettel 180
Paul di Resta 179
Max Chilton 175
Giedo van der Garde 171
Daniel Ricciardo 163
Pastor Maldonado 149
Jules Bianchi 142
Romain Grosjean 120
Charles Pic 112
Felipe Massa 98

Total number of laps completed (by team)

Mercedes 416
McLaren 387
Sauber 383
Red Bull 377
Force India 362
Toro Rosso 359
Williams 341
Marussia 317
Lotus 313
Ferrari 290
Caterham 283

Number of race laps: 78
Number of safety cars: 2
Number of race starters: 22
Number of times race lead changed hands (includes pole sitter): 0
Number of different race leaders: 1
Number of classified drivers: 16
Number of retirements: 7
Number of drivers on lead lap at chequered flag: 15
Number of teams scoring points: 7
Most places gained: 8 (Max Chilton 22nd  – 14th and Paul di Resta 17th – 9th)
Number of visits to pit-lane: 31
…of which were pit-stops: 30

Fastest lap: 1:16.577 (Sebastian Vettel  on lap 77)

2013: Monaco GP: Race Preview

It’s time for the glitziest, most glamorous race of the season as drivers take to the tight and twisty street circuit in Monte Carlo. Two weeks ago Fernando Alonso was victorious at his home race – the Spanish GP – finishing ahead of Lotus’ Kimi Räikkönen and Ferrari team-mate Felipe Massa. Pole sitter Nico Rosberg went backwards in the race as Mercedes once again showed impressive pace in qualifying but struggled come race-day. Championship leader Sebastian Vettel finished in fourth place, and saw his lead trimmed to just four points.

Monaco GP Stats

Circuit Name: Circuit de Monaco
Number of Laps: 78
Circuit Length: 3.34okm
Lap Record: 1:14.439 M Schumacher (2004)
2012 Results: 1.Mark Webber 2. Nico Rosberg 3. Fernando Alonso

There are six previous Monaco GP winners still on the grid: Mark Webber, Sebastian Vettel, Jenson Button, Lewis Hamilton, Fernando Alonso and Kimi Räikkönen.

  • Pirelli are bringing the soft and super-soft compound tyres – this is only the second appearance this season for both compounds with super-softs used at the Australian GP at the start of the season and softs were used at the Chinese GP
  • Esteban Gutierrez, Giedo van der Garde, Jules Bianchi and Max Chilton have all raced at Monaco before in a range of series including GP2 and Formula Renault 3.5. Valterri Bottas has never raced there before
  • McLaren are the most successful team around the streets of Monte Carlo with 15 wins.
  • Mark Webber and Fernando Alonso have won twice each making them the most successful current drivers
  • Fernando Alonso could make history this weekend by becoming the first driver to win the Monaco GP for three different teams. He has previously won for Renault (2006) and McLaren (2007).
  • Tom Kristensen will be the driver steward this weekend

After the Spanish GP, which is traditionally where teams start bringing their big upgrade packages, the Monaco GP is where a number of drivers will run special commemorative helmets. Kimi Räikkönen is once again wearing a tribute to James Hunt while Fernando Alonso’s helmet is gold and depicts a jigsaw featuring his career wins. Jean-Eric Vergne’s helmet is a tribute to François Cevert who died in a qualifying accident at Watkins Glen in 1973. These are just a few drivers who have changed their helmets, while others including Paul di Resta, Jules Bianchi and Sergio Perez also have tweaks. The Circuit de Monaco has the slowest average speed of any track on the calendar (160kph) with teams focusing on having as much downforce as possible. A lap around Monaco sees engines at full throttle for just 35% of it.

The Monaco GP has some unique factors including the tunnel and the fact the streets run alongside the harbour. It’s a prestigious event and one that every driver will want to add to their list of wins. Unlike previous races this season, the Monaco GP will feature only one DRS zone and the activation zone is just after Turn 19 and on the pit straight. There have been a number of improvements made to the track since 2012 including resurfacing and improvements to barriers.

What came before?

Mercedes locked out the front row in Spain but their race pace let them down once again and both Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton spent a lot of the race being overtaken. After being overtaken by Pastor Maldonado, Hamilton displayed his frustration over the team-radio at even being overtaken by a Williams. It was Fernando Alonso who won the race, his home GP, ahead of Kimi Räikkönen and Felipe Massa. Rosberg ended up in sixth while Hamilton finished outside the points in 12th. McLaren got another double points finish with Jenson Button finishing ahead of his team-mate, having been out-qualified by him. Paul di Resta took another solids points finish with Daniel Ricciardo taking one point.

What’s to come?

Nico Rosberg dominated both free practice sessions on Thursday, with Lewis Hamilton backing this up in free practice 2. Mercedes have demonstrated impressive speed when it comes to qualifying but this disappears over a race distance as they struggle to maintain their tyres. Monaco could provide them with their best chance of winning yet as it is difficult to overtake around the twisty street circuit. If they can lock out the front row like they did at the Spanish GP then this could play right into their hands come race day. Red Bull admitted that they struggled with one lap pace during practice so this could compromise them when it comes to qualifying. Kimi Räikkönen showed a glimpse of more good race pace from Lotus while team-mate Romain Grosjean compromised running time after getting too close to the barriers and damaging his front suspension. Fernando Alonso has it all to play for as he aims to be the first to win the Monaco GP for three different teams. His team-mate Felipe Massa had a strong showing in Spain and had it not been for his three place grid penalty after qualifying for impeding, it could have been a case of what might have been for the Brazilian with his team-mate winning the race. McLaren will be hoping to score more consistent points with Force India also looking to continue their recent good form.

There have also been no safety cars yet this season, and Monaco could well be where we see the first one.

How to win a Formula One race in 2012

The 2012 Formula One season is proving to be unpredictable and incredibly difficult to call with six different winners from the first six races, not to mention ten different drivers on the podium from seven different teams. Considering only five drivers won in the whole of 2011 with Red Bull, McLaren and Ferrari dominating the podium (apart from two secured by Renault) the two seasons are already incredibly contrasting even though there has only been just over a quarter of 2012. Already a number of pundits are stressing that “consistency” in a year like this is key, and that it is – Fernando Alonso has consistently scored points in every race so far and leads the championship. Lewis Hamilton is the only other driver to score at every round, but a couple of eighth place finishes and no wins, mean that he sits in fourth place and lags behind Alonso in the championship by thirteen points at this stage. But, how do you go about winning a race in this crazy season? The answer is simple: keep a low profile. Don’t believe me? The evidence is all there.

Race winner: Jenson Button

Pre-season testing as usual presented the F1 world with a number of questions about the form of the teams. Who would come out on top? Who would struggle? McLaren certainly seemed like the team to beat going into round one and they started the season with a front row lock-out in qualifying with Lewis Hamilton on pole position. All eyes were on Hamilton to take the first win of the season but it was his team-mate who availed with Sebastian Vettel rising from sixth on the grid to take second while Hamilton slipped to third. It was the right team that won, but not necessarily the expected driver.

Race winner: Fernando Alonso

After a strong showing in Australia, McLaren were definitely the favourites going into the Malaysian GP. The Ferrari on the other hand looked to be a real handful, despite the fact Fernando Alonso finished the Australian GP in fifth. If anyone predicted the race result for this race, well they should be playing the lottery, because that is exactly what it was.    Alonso won with Sergio Perez in second. A Ferrari and a Sauber on the top two steps of the podium, with Lewis Hamilton (who was once again the lead driver in a McLaren front row lock-out) in third. No-one saw that coming!

Race winner: Nico Rosberg

For the first two rounds Mercedes looked fast in qualifying, but their race pace seemed to disappear. Fernando Alonso had won last time out, and despite the fact that Ferrari felt the damp conditions had flattered their car, there was still talk of whether or not they could do it again. McLaren were still there or there abouts with Lotus threatening to be quick, but it was Nico Rosberg who snatched pole position and lined up beside his team-mate (because of a Lewis Hamilton gearbox penalty). Rosberg went on to win the race, despite rumblings of dismissal from people who thought that once again Mercedes’ form would fade.

Race winner: Sebastian Vettel

With three different race winners from three races, predicting the next winner became increasingly difficult. After a win for Nico Rosberg in China he was the prime candidate to make it two wins. 2010 and 2011 world champion Sebastian Vettel was languishing a bit further down the order than he was used to and had been beaten by his team-mate in qualifying. He took a surprising pole and went on to win the race to make it four different winners from four races – not an entirely unexpected win, but not exactly the driver that had been touted for Bahrain.

Race winner: Pastor Maldonado

Lotus secured a double podium in Bahrain, with Kimi Räikkönen coming close to a race win, but not quite close enough. During free practice for the Spanish GP, Sky commentators David Croft and Anthony Davidson confidently stated that Lotus were the fastest car in terms of race pace and would be the team to beat, for sure. What happened? Pastor Maldonado took pole (after Lewis Hamilton was sent to the back of the grid) and he won the race – despite assumptions that Fernando Alonso would easily jump him and win. Räikkönen  was on the podium but it wasn’t a win.

Race winner: Mark Webber

After his win in Spain and because he stated that Monaco was his favourite race, people were touting Pastor Maldonado for a second win of the season. Other names in the frame included Lewis Hamilton, Kimi Räikkönen, and Romain Grosjean. Red Bull had won the last two Monaco GPs but it was generally reckoned that it would probably be a Lotus or McLaren victory. Who won? Mark Webber. Grosjean and Maldonado failed to complete a lap, Hamilton slipped to fifth, and Räikkönen finished a disappointing ninth. Once again the victor was not who everyone expected.

Race winner: ???

Not long after the chequered flag fell in Monaco I saw a headline stating Jaime Alguersuari had said Lotus were the team to beat in Canada – that’s them out then. Lewis Hamilton has won twice here before (including his first ever F1 win) so he probably won’t win. Michael Schumacher has won in Canada seven times, drives car number seven, has seven world championships and this is round seven – yeah, he probably won’t win either. Red Bull’s floor was deemed to be illegal so they’re changing it – they’ll probably win amidst the controversy. Or not now that I’ve said it. Who knows?

So there you go – don’t become a ‘favourite’ for the win and it seems that you then win. Don’t get me wrong, I am not taking anything away from the six drivers who have won already. All of their wins were great in their own ways. This is just a general observation, and really a little bit of fun. The season has been thrilling so far and it would be great to see more drivers win!

The Monaco GP in Numbers

Statistics from the Monaco GP weekend

Total number of laps completed (by driver)

Fernando Alonso 165
Bruno Senna 162
Daniel Ricciardo 158
Jean-Eric Vergne 158
Felipe Massa 158
Nico Hulkenberg 158
Nico Rosberg 157
Sebastian Vettel 157
Mark Webber 153
Kimi Räikkönen 153
Heikki Kovalainen 148
Paul di Resta 148
Lewis Hamilton 148
Timo Glock 144
Narain Karthikeyan 139
Jenson Button 137
Sergio Perez 136
Michael Schumacher 133
Charles Pic 132
Vitaly Petrov 91
Kamui Kobayashi 86
Pastor Maldonado 84
Romain Grosjean 81
Pedro de la Rosa 57

Total number of laps completed (by team)

Ferrari 323
Toro Rosso 316
Red Bull 310
Force India 306
Mercedes 290
McLaren 285
Marussia 276
Williams 246
Caterham 239
Lotus 234
Sauber 222
HRT 196

Number of race laps: 78
Number of safety cars: 1
Number of race starters: 24
Number of classified drivers: 16
Number of retirements: 8
Number of drivers on lead lap at chequered flag: 10
Number of teams scoring points: 7
Most places gained: 12 (Sergio Perez 24th – 11th)
Number of visits to pit-lane: 31

2012: Monaco GP: Qualifying

* Michael Schumacher will take five place grid drop
** Pastor Maldonado will take ten place grid drop

Michael Schumacher has qualified on pole position for the Monaco GP, however it will be Mark Webber who starts there after Schumacher takes a five place grid penalty for his incident in Spain. Webber qualified second ahead of Schumacher’s team-mate Nico Rosberg, who will line-up on the front row for the second time this season. Sergio Perez and Jean-Eric Vergne’s sessions were ended after contact with the barriers while everyone (bar Perez who set no lap) qualified well inside the 107% rule. Big name drivers such as Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Räikkönen found themselves on the edge between Q2 and Q3 but eventually made it through. Jenson Butt0n once again failed to make it through to the pole position shoot out while Felipe Massa had his strongest qualifying of the year to finish up under a tenth of a second behind his team-mate.

Charles Pic and Jean-Eric Vergne were first out on track at the start of Q1. Most of the lap times were set on the soft compound tyre but some drivers felt the need to use the super softs in order to guarantee their place in Q2. Sergio Perez was unable to set a lap time as he lost control of his car and crashed into the barrier, losing his rear wheel in the process. He appeared to have problems turning into the corner and went straight on. His accident brought out a red flag as his car was retrieved from the track. This compromised drivers who were out on track at the time. Nico Hulkenberg pulled a fast lap out of the bag to top Q1 using the super soft tyres. Kimi Räikkönen was right on the bubble as Heikki Kovalainen improved his time for Caterham, however, it was both Caterhams, both Marussias, both HRTS and Perez who dropped out. Pedro de la Rosa managed to out-qualify Pic and was not far off the time of Timo Glock.

Q2 was an equally exciting affair with Paul di Resta the first driver out on the track. Sebastian Vettel, Jenson Button and Kimi Räikkönen looked to be struggling as they hovered around the bubble for most of the session. Felipe Massa continued his strong form to become the first man to set a 1:14 lap-time while Vettel complained to his race engineer that his car was “jumping like a rabbit” – he then pitted for adjustments. Jean-Eric Vergne became the next driver to get caught out by the barriers as he lost control of his car coming   out of the tunnel and damaged his front wing. He caught it under his car and was able to drive slowly back to the pits, bringing out white flags to warn drivers of a slow moving car. Massa was nearly caught out by this but he was able to sweep past both Toro Rossos on his way around the lap. As the chequered flag fell Räikkönen managed to complete a flying lap which was good enough for the top ten while Button was knocked out for the second race in a row.

The pole position shoot out featured two Mercedes, two Red Bulls, two Lotus’, two Ferraris, one McLaren and one Williams. Nico Rosberg was first out on track followed by Lewis Hamilton and Pastor Maldonado. All of the drivers completed their first runs apart from Sebastian Vettel who chose to abort his run and will start tomorrow’s race in ninth place (after penalties are applied). Rosberg set a lap time enough for provisional pole position but it was Mark Webber who went fastest of all. He was soon beaten by Michael Schumacher, who took his first pole position since his return in 2010. Hamilton qualified just ahead of a fast Romain Grosjean, while Felipe Massa was only just pipped to fifth by his team-mate Fernando Alonso. Kimi Räikkönen will start the race in eighth place alongside Vettel, after Maldonado is sent back to 19th having qualified in ninth. It should be a good race tomorrow with many drivers out of position and Monaco notoriously difficult for overtaking.

2012: Monaco GP: FP3

Free Practice 3

The third and final practice session took place in dry conditions once again as drivers carried out their final preparations for qualifying. Kimi Räikkönen was the first man to set a lap time of a 1:18 but the times continued to drop through the session as normal to a 1:15 with Nico Rosberg topping the times in his Mercedes. A number of drivers including Kamui Kobayashi and Lewis Hamilton  had moments as they locked up and some drivers, such as Sebastian Vettel and Sergio Perez touched the ARMCO barriers. Pastor Maldonado had a less than pleasing session as he cut across Perez, clipping the Sauber – a move which has picked him up a ten place grid penalty. He then brought out a red flag as he hit the barrier and lost his rear tyre meaning the team will have a big job on their hands to prepare his car for qualifying.