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?