Race strategy? It wasn’t really possible at Monaco

1 Comment

The Monaco Grand Prix may not normally be the most thrilling, edge-of-the-seat racing, but no one can ever deny that it’s not short of incident. Sunday was no different. Despite the race doing nothing to appease the growing number of complainers of F1’s current format, it certainly managed to hold the interest until the end.

Monaco may be the most unlikely of settings for a race track. It’s a far cry from the wide, modern arenas designed by Herman Tilke, yet it is a very special venue on the calendar. Having been lucky enough to experience the winning feeling here on a number of occasions myself at McLaren with Coulthard, Raikkonen, Alonso and Hamilton, I can testify that it means something just a little different than at any other GP. The team feel it as much as the winning driver and unsurprisingly, the celebrations are unlike any other race of the year.

I spoke about the methods used to decide a team’s race strategy in my last entry, but in Monte Carlo it’s a different set of parameters that come into play.

Here, track position’s everything and as we’ve seen over the last few races, Mercedes have the current upper hand when it comes to qualifying. Their downfall, on a regular circuit, has been the inability to maintain that position throughout the course of a race as the tires lose performance and rivals are able to pass them during phases of the race when their cars are faster or when their strategies put them at a different comparative pace.

In Monaco a team’s race strategy is largely decided before even arriving at the event, as qualifying high up the order is key to a decent race result. Whereas at other circuits teams may establish cars to be quick in a straight line for example, the thinking being to avoid the threat of attack under DRS zones in the race, the streets of Monte Carlo are different. Here, there was no real need for Mercedes to be too concerned about tires going off or challenges coming from DRS attacks, as no matter what tools are deployed or strategies utilized, the actual act of overtaking is incredibly difficult. As a result, it was all about starting the race from the front row and getting off the line well … which this particular team did very well.

In terms of actual race strategies, there’s very little left to do. The teams outside the top 10 can opt to start on the prime tire, something which would put them onto the faster option, or super soft tire toward the end of the race when the cars were lighter, the track surface a little more grippy and the field a little more spaced out, but the theory still relies on drivers being able to pass slower cars later in the GP. That, unfortunately is the biggest problem here.

As it was, any strategies that were deployed by teams were largely nullified during the afternoon by the incidents bringing out the first appearances of the safety car, and just after midway through, the red flags and resulting restart. No matter what anyone had planned, the opportunity to stop under safety car conditions and not lose track position was there for all and to a certain extent made the rest of the race predictable. When the red flags came out late on and everyone was given the chance to fit new tires on the grid for the restart, it was almost a foregone conclusion to the end.

An excitable Sergio Perez was perhaps the most interesting car to watch on circuit as he muscled his way past his team mate, then Fernando Alonso, finally colliding with Kimi Raikkonen late in the race to take away the last remaining strategic gamble.

Raikkonen, the only contender to restart after the red flag on soft tires, could’ve caused an upset towards the end as the rest of the field on supersofts began to struggle after a long 32 lap stint. In the end Perez’ optimistic lunge caused a puncture to the Lotus and deprived us of the last remaining strategic battle playing out and it was a slightly predictable run to the finish.

This circuit, special though it is in terms of glamor, noise levels and history, never provides the best racing. All the data in the world gained from practice sessions can tell teams the theoretical quickest route from lights out to chequered flag, but ultimately it’s about starting in front and staying there. Mercedes did exactly that, Nico Rosberg drove impeccably, controlling the race and no one else was able to do anything about it.

Their domination here isn’t necessarily indicative of the team’s current performance and the coming races will show how much, or little, they’ve actually improved after their struggles in Spain a few weeks ago.

Marc Priestley can be found on Twitter @f1elvis.

Nearly 25 drivers already set for 2018 Indy 500… in mid-November

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Friday’s announcement that Danica Patrick would end her full-time driving career with a run in the 102nd Indianapolis 500, after also running the Daytona 500 in January, is another shot in the arm for the 2018 marquee event of North American open-wheel racing.

Surprisingly, it keeps the grid moving forward too to where nearly 75 percent of the 33 cars are already set… in mid-November, 2017.

Early confirmations of programs for the next year’s Indianapolis 500 aren’t new, but they’re seemingly coming earlier than normal this year, with a number of expected programs getting announced in the fall of 2017.

Coupled with the fact most of the IndyCar full-season grid for 2018 is set, it’s interesting to take a look at what’s already set for next year.

CONFIRMED FULL-SEASON (19)

The only things to add here are Dale Coyne Racing’s second driver in the No. 19 Honda, the road and street course driver for Ed Carpenter Racing in its No. 20 Chevrolet who may or may not be able to get an Indianapolis 500 extra seat in a third car, and the expected confirmation of Carlin’s graduation into IndyCar after three seasons in Indy Lights.

  • Team Penske (3, Chevrolet): Josef Newgarden, Simon Pagenaud, Will Power
  • Chip Ganassi Racing (2, Honda): Scott Dixon, Ed Jones
  • Andretti Autosport (4, Honda): Ryan Hunter-Reay, Alexander Rossi, Marco Andretti, Zach Veach
  • Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing (2, Honda): Graham Rahal, Takuma Sato
  • Schmidt Peterson Motorsports (2, Honda): James Hinchcliffe, Robert Wickens
  • Ed Carpenter Racing (2, Chevrolet): Spencer Pigot, Ed Carpenter (ovals)
  • A.J. Foyt Enterprises (2, Chevrolet): Tony Kanaan, Matheus Leist
  • Dale Coyne Racing (1, Honda): Sebastien Bourdais
  • Harding Racing (1, Chevrolet): Gabby Chaves

CONFIRMED PARTIAL SEASON/INDY ONLY (4)

  • Team Penske (1, Chevrolet): Helio Castroneves
  • Andretti Autosport (1, Honda): Stefan Wilson
  • Juncos Racing (1, TBD): Kyle Kaiser
  • Team TBD (1, TBD): Danica Patrick

Here’s where it gets interesting. Castroneves is Team Penske’s confirmed fourth, and Juan Pablo Montoya could be a hypothetical fifth if the stars align – but it’s not in the immediate plans at this moment.

Patrick also makes her somewhat surprising Indianapolis comeback and with Penske, Andretti Autosport and Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing not fielding her, the stars are aligned for her to drive with Chip Ganassi Racing in what would be a third car. Neither Patrick nor Ganassi said it’s happening today, but Ganassi acknowledged discussions, via NASCAR Talk.

Wilson finally gets his Indianapolis 500 shot with Andretti a year later as its fifth car. The team ran six last year, with the two Indy-only entries coming in separate partnership efforts between McLaren and Honda (Fernando Alonso) and Michael Shank Racing (Jack Harvey).

Jack Harvey is a very intriguing story for how he’ll be racing next year. NBC Sports understands a working relationship is being hatched between Shank and Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, and with Harvey bringing a program on behalf of AutoNation/SiriusXM to grow his role into a third-to-half season of racing, this could slot in nicely as SPM’s third car. While not “officially” confirmed, it would not be a surprise to see news revealed from the concerned parties in December.

How could Harvey become SPM three when SPM three was already announced, you ask? With the Calmels Sport with SPM program reportedly on thin ice after negative press, the unlikely union of the French team owner Didier Calmels, one-time open-wheel driver turned-sports car veteran Tristan Gommendy and SPM appears set to join the “announced and dropped before ever turning a wheel” club.

Kaiser’s four-race program with Juncos Racing was announced last month and the Indy Lights champion will likely have Chevrolet power, given the team’s existing relationship from 2017.

WHAT’S STILL TO COME

Playing it out a bit with the usual, “how many engines can each manufacturer provide” story, we know Honda ran 18 cars this year and was stretched to capacity, leaving Chevrolet with the remaining 15.

Work the math from here. Provided Carlin officially announces its entry (it still hasn’t to this point, but is known to have hired IndyCar personnel) and with Honda already stretched between its 12 previously announced full-season cars (4 Andretti, 2 Ganassi, 2 RLL, 2 SPM, 2 Coyne), with a 13th engine available at some races, Carlin would have to be at Chevrolet.

For Indianapolis, Honda already begins to work its car count further beyond those 13 (if SPM 3 gets added for more races) with Ganassi 3 (a TBD, but would be Patrick if confirmed here) and Andretti 5 (Wilson) to get to 15, which leaves just three leases at play to get to 18… again, this is in mid-November.

Provided Pippa Mann can work towards her annual appearance with Coyne, factor in a possible sixth Andretti car and an 18th Honda lease – perhaps a third car at RLL or fourth at Ganassi, SPM or Coyne – and suddenly the Honda inn would already be booked up.

Chevrolet would have the rest, and you can figure out the math from there.

It may only be mid-November, but the race to secure a berth on the grid for next May is already well underway.