Given he has been one of Formula 1’s most outstanding talents in the past couple of years, it seemed odd that Daniel Ricciardo’s pole in Monaco on Saturday was in fact the first of his grand prix racing career.
The Australian’s stunning lap at the end of Q3 had been foreshadowed during practice when he led the way for Red Bull, yet to see the Mercedes duo of Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton soundly beaten still came as a surprise.
At a track where qualifying is arguably more important than anywhere else, the result was a welcome one for Ricciardo, particularly after his bitter defeat to teammate Max Verstappen in Spain two weeks ago.
Ricciardo was asked after the session what his pole position was down to: “The engine update, the chassis itself or the big Australian balls?”
If you know anything about Daniel Ricciardo, you’ll know what his answer was.
With a surprise qualifying in the bag, might we get an equally as surprising race? Here are a few things to watch for in today’s Monaco Grand Prix (live on NBC from 7:30am ET, F1 Countdown on NBCSN from 7am).
2016 Monaco Grand Prix – What to watch for
Strategy options aplenty for Ricciardo
Not only was Ricciardo’s charge to pole position a surprise, but the fact he will start the race on the super-soft tire is all the more impressive. Red Bull sent him out for a run on the middle-compound tire in Monaco at the end of Q2, and he duly posted his fastest time of the session, making it his starting rubber.
With the rest of the field on the ultra-softs, Ricciardo has the chance to go deep into the race before making his first pit stop. Although he will be at a pace disadvantage early on, with overtaking around Monaco being so difficult, relying he can hold onto the lead off the line, it may be his race to lose.
That said, the longer Ricciardo goes before stopping, the more time there is for a safety car or incident to scupper his plans – and that’s before we even factor in the weather.
Rain at Monaco – what dreams are made of?
Earlier this week, F1’s official weather forecasters UBIMET put out its regular pre-race update confirming that a wet race was on the cards in Monaco. Throughout the weekend, the percentages have not subsided, and with rain falling during the morning in the lead-up to the race, we look set for a damp affair today.
It will be fascinating to see how the top teams cut it in the wet, particularly given the lack of rain-hit grands prix in recent years. Red Bull will fancy its chances given the aerodynamic strength of the RB12, yet Mercedes cannot be written off as a threat.
Legends have been made in the rain at Monaco. Could another come to the fore today?
Hamilton looks to get his title race back on track
With his record reading 0-4 against Mercedes teammate Rosberg so far this season, Hamilton enters Sunday’s Monaco Grand Prix with a point to prove. He trails by 43 points in the drivers’ championship, and is fortunate to be starting even third after another engine scare in qualifying.
Hamilton’s record in Monaco won’t instill him with confidence either. His only victory came in 2008 and only thanks to a fortuitous safety car after he hit the barrier – but with rain on the cards today, he could come into his own once again.
Lewis needs to kick-start his season today. If the gap to Rosberg grows to over 50 points today, will there be any way back for him?
Mad Max set for a fight from the back
Max Verstappen suffered a big come down on Saturday. 13 days since becoming F1’s youngest ever winner at the Spanish Grand Prix, the Dutchman made a rookie error by crashing out at the Swimming Pool chicane, resigning himself to a pit lane start.
Verstappen has done a lot of good in his short time on the grid, but today might just be his biggest challenge yet. He does have a penchant for street circuits, and with arguably the quickest car this weekend, he could fight his way back up the order.
Keep an eye on Max today. It might be a race to remember for him.
Banking on a race of attrition
“If you line up between 10th and 16th, anything can happen, and providing we don’t get involved in any incidents, anything is possible,” Haas team principal Guenther Steiner said on Saturday after seeing his drivers qualify 12th and 15th.
It may seem a bit optimistic and upbeat, but he’s not wrong. Overtaking comes at a premium, but when mistakes are punished as brutally as they are at Monaco, it creates opportunities. The weather will only further them.
So keep an eye on the likes of Haas, Sauber, Renault and – why not – even Manor today. This will likely be their best chance of the season to spring a surprise.
Pirelli strategy prediction
A two-stopper is actually theoretically fastest in Monaco, but this doesn’t take into account the problems of traffic and overtaking: two of the biggest challenges in the principality.
So in actual fact, a one-stopper could be more likely for the race. The ideal one-stopper is: start on ultrasoft, change to soft on lap 18. The fastest two-stopper is: start on ultrasoft, change to ultrasoft again on lap 14, then soft on lap 28.
2016 Monaco Grand Prix – Starting Grid
1. Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull
2. Nico Rosberg Mercedes
3. Lewis Hamilton Mercedes
4. Sebastian Vettel Ferrari
5. Nico Hulkenberg Force India
6. Carlos Sainz Jr. Toro Rosso
7. Sergio Perez Force India
8. Daniil Kvyat Toro Rosso
9. Fernando Alonso McLaren
10. Valtteri Bottas Williams
11. Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari
12. Esteban Gutierrez Haas
13. Jenson Button McLaren
14. Felipe Massa Williams
15. Romain Grosjean Haas
16. Kevin Magnussen Renault
17. Marcus Ericsson Sauber
18. Jolyon Palmer Renault
19. Rio Haryanto Manor
20. Pascal Wehrlein Manor
PL. Max Verstappen Red Bull
PL. Felipe Nasr Sauber
The Monaco Grand Prix is live on NBC from 7:30am ET on Sunday, with F1 Countdown beginning on NBCSN at 7am.