Talking points from Monaco 2013

Sunday’s Monaco Grand Prix was won by Nico Rosberg in the Mercedes. The German controlled the stop-start affair from beginning to end and was able to hold off the challenge of firstly his team mate and then the Red Bulls, converting Mercedes’ qualifying form into wins for the first time this season. Hugh Podmore looks at the talking points from the weekend.

1) Tyres…yawn
It seems no one can tweet, discuss or write about F1 any more without discussing tyres. It really is very dull. In essence, they are black objects that go on racing cars to facilitate contact with tarmac, but if you’d just touched down from space, you’d be forgiven for thinking they were as important as the cars or the drivers. Ok, they are playing a centre stage role in F1 this year, probably too big a performance for what should be bit part players. But it says volumes that Pirelli went to the lengths of hushing up their controversial Barcelona test with Mercedes because of politics – they knew it would never happen if they made it public. All the noisy chatter, you sense, is making Paul Hembery and his lads and ladettes a bit cheesed off. And they did such a good job last year. The teams and the fans should politely ask if Pirelli can possibly try to make the tyres just a little bit more resilient to discourage fifteen stops in a race and reward driving talent and racing, and then leave the rubber people alone.

2) That test
Tsk, Mercedes. If it weren’t enough that you have a Galactico team in terms of team principals, engineers and drivers, you now go sneaking about testing tyres when you’re not allowed to. (Though I don’t know how the other teams didn’t notice they hadn’t packed all their stuff up after Barcelona. “You going for a beer before the airport, Ross?” “Nah, just gonna…go over here…just…what still needs to be done? Ah…anyway, see you later.”) It isn’t really a surprise Red Bull and Ferrari are miffed, either. The FIA should give the Brackley outfit a fine big enough to have to phone Stuttgart, which will make them think a bit. But no more. Soon as you start docking points or suchlike, the season becomes a rancorous farce. Which is not what anyone wants or needs, particularly with the sport in its current politically precarious position.

3) Bad driving at Monaco
As much of an anachronism as a race round Monaco is, the streets of the Principality do tend to show you up if you’re not very good. Felipe Massa seems to have crashed a lot here, although the team are saying today that at least one of them wasn’t his fault. Max Chilton needs to look in his mirrors a bit more before moving back onto the racing line and Romain Grosjean is edging ever closer to the last chance saloon. Monaco is maybe the worst place to drive an F1 car badly, and it is great news that Maldonado, Ricciardo and Massa are safe and well this evening. In future, the sport might not be so lucky.

4) Good driving at Monaco
Sergio Perez is exciting, dynamic and fun to watch, if a little unrefined. In their opposition to his antics, Kimi Raikkonen and Jenson Button are fulfilling the elder statesmen’s curious brief to decry young talent as foolhardiness. This betrays a concern that he might be good enough to beat them, which he may well be. But Perez did very little wrong on Sunday. If we’d had it Button’s way, it would have been a markedly duller race than it already was. Also spicing things up were Adrian Sutil, Jean Eric Vergne and Sebastian Vettel with his insistence on setting the fastest lap in the denouement of the race.

5) An off day for Alonso and Hamilton
Fernando Alonso did not have the best of weekends, and by his 2013 standards it was notably lacking. Some technical problems have been reported to have slowed him, but he still looked as somnolent as a TV viewer on Sunday afternoon. Maybe that’s because he knows not much can be gained at Monaco, but a lot can be lost. A lot was indeed lost by Lewis Hamilton, whose mystifyingly slow in-lap for his pitstop meant two places were surrendered to the Red Bulls. As his team mate waltzed to the win, Hamilton was left to reflect on what he can improve to stop Rosberg becoming the de facto number one at Mercedes. And – yep – we’re back to tyres. He’s got to adapt his driving style to be less hard on the rubber, has Lewis – easier said than done, even for a driver of his calibre.

6) Tempestuous times ahead?
Much worried conjecture this weekend about the financial future of the sport. A new Concorde Agreement yet to be signed, a power vacuum at the top if Bernie is ‘otherwise engaged’, an understandable jitteriness from investors and sponsors. And the news confirming the rumours in this month’s F1 Racing magazine that at least one well-known team (and quite feasibly others) have an exceedingly precarious balance sheet. Difficult to see this being resolved easily, frankly. Big money is still talking and with no FOTA prefect in town the bigger kids are dominating the playground. The resurrection of the RRA would be a start, but who of the big four (Ferrari, Red Bull, McLaren, Mercedes) will take the lead?

Reflections on the Spanish GP 2013

Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso vanquished the opposition at the Spanish Grand Prix at the Circuit de Catalunya yesterday. Hugh Podmore looks at the biggest stories from the weekend’s action.

Alonso in charge and with momentum
Fernando Alonso has looked like a man possessed with one ambition this season – to win the world title. Whether it was winning commandingly in China, charging back to eighth in Bahrain after his DRS failed twice, or even carrying on death-or-glory-style with no front wing in Malaysia, he looks almost psychotic in his pursuit of the championship this season. But Spain is out front in terms of performances – that wondrous move round the outside of Raikkonen and Vettel at turn 3 on the first lap. He found grip where no one else would dare look, and thereafter had speed in his pocket to cover off the chasing Raikkonen. If he can continue in this vein he will be fearsomely hard to beat.

Ferrari and Lotus kinder to tyres than the others
Tyres are the story of this season so far, even more so than in 2012. Catalunya’s periods of soporificity has again opened Pirelli to charges that they have gone too far, and that strategy and preserving rubber has become the name of the game in place of racing one’s rivals. Whatever the truth of the matter, these are the circumstances; and it’s who plays the cards they are dealt best that counts. At the moment, that’s Ferrari and Lotus, with even the famous Red Bull seeming less happy.

As for Mercedes…
Has there ever been a team with such a wide discrepancy between qualifying pace and race pace? Hopes had been high that they had solved their Sunday degradation and graining issues, but what transpired could not have been further away from that. Lewis Hamilton, who these days does a creditable imitation of a man who has suddenly been put in a formula he is totally unfamiliar with, is worst affected. His style rinses tyres at the best of times, but seeing him battle with lowly Williamses is the nadir. He had always had his eyes on 2014, though…

Punching above their weight
…were Nico Rosberg, Daniel Ricciardo, Paul di Resta and Jules Bianchi. Rosberg did very well in a car that, as has been noted, cannot be easy to drive. Ricciardo was outstanding and although Vergne has now retired twice in two races, the Australian is beginning to get his nose in front. There’s pace in that Force India and a little more dynamism from di Resta would have seen a big haul of points. Bianchi does a fantastic job at the back of the grid. Evidence? His hanging on manfully to the race leader (granted, after having been lapped) Fernando Alonso, when no one else could. Watch that man – Ferrari seat next year?