The Formula 1 circus made its annual trip to Monte Carlo for the historic Monaco Grand Prix. It was Red Bull Racing’s one of two real chances to take home top prize at a circuit that complements their package: a high aerodynamic focus and less emphasis on engine capabilities.
The Milton Keynes squad was already a hot favourite before the weekend even commenced, opting to take the most sets of the fastest Hypersoft tyre compared to their closest rivals.
Its pairing of Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen opted for eleven sets of the pink-walled Hypersoft compound – at its debut event – and only one set of the other two mandatory compounds. The team were to put a lot of trust into the brand-new rubber. The only data they held was from the Barcelona test ten days prior, so it was really a make-or-break decision if they were to work or not.
|FREE PRACTICE SESSION 1||FREE PRACTICE SESSION 2|
|1.||Daniel Ricciardo||1:12.126||36||1.||Daniel Ricciardo||1:11.841||33|
|2.||Max Verstappen||1:12.280||25||6.||Max Verstappen||1:12.035||41|
As per the regulations, each driver must make a mandatory pit stop and run two tyre compounds during a race in dry conditions. With only one set each of the two other dry compounds, the Red Bull Racing pair of Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen had to run with the softest compound from as early as Practice 1 on Thursday morning.
The pair swapped spots at the top of the timesheets with Verstappen breaking the 1m13s hurdle first. Later in the session, Ricciardo put down the first of his banker laps posting a fast 1:12.126 and stealing the first leading lap of the weekend. Verstappen didn’t start his weekend as planned, locking up heavily at the first corner of Saint-Dévote and choosing to reverse back onto track causing the incoming Sebastian Vettel to take evasive action. The incident was investigated and cleared by the FIA Stewards, and Verstappen could continue his quest to pole on Saturday.
Practice 2 was similar proceedings with the pair running again on the pink-walled rubber. Verstappen again set the benchmark but Ricciardo, late in the session – after a red-flag period – dashed his way around the 3.337-kilometre street circuit to enter the 1m11s range and break the outright lap record.
By the end of Thursday, the Bulls had thrown down the gauntlet and led rival’s Mercedes and Ferrari by a whopping 0.572 of a second.
“This is a place I always love driving,” said Ricciardo on Thursday evening. “It helps when you’re fast but regardless it’s just so much fun driving an F1 car around here.
“Having the Hypersoft tyre gives us that little bit more grip and it’s pretty cool to be breaking lap records. I’m glad that was the fastest lap that anyone has ever done as it felt so quick, but I think on Saturday we will go even quicker again.
“The intention this weekend is to try and win and be dominant. Both cars today ran really well in the sessions and Max and I were fighting for the top spot all day. I think come Qualifying, the others will turn it up and I’m sure it will tighten up, but all we could do today was try and top the times, which is what we have done.”
“Today’s performance was good, and the car seems to be working really well around here,” added Verstappen. “It actually felt easy to drive with not too many setup issues which is nice, especially on a street circuit.
“We still have to improve but throughout the entire lap we seem competitive, the Hypersofts seem to have a lot of grip and they appear to suit the car so this is encouraging for Qualifying.
“Again, the other teams’ engine modes will make a difference on Saturday, but I think we can be a real challenger regardless and put ourselves in the best position to achieve a victory on race day.”
|FREE PRACTICE SESSION 3||QUALIFYING|
|1.||Daniel Ricciardo||1:11.786||23||1.||Daniel Ricciardo||1:10.810||17|
|2.||Max Verstappen||1:11.787||14||NQ.||Max Verstappen||no time|
As Saturday came, The Red Bulls were waiting for the others to arrive to the party and turn up the wick. With the traditional day off, teams up and down the pit lane were able to get their bearings a bit better as we learned it was Red Bull’s weekend to lose.
Drama at the end of Practice 3 saw Verstappen bin his RB14 into the wall at the second Swimming Pool chicane. In a carbon copy of his accident in 2016, the Dutchmen clipped the inside kerb before falling vulnerable to the large yellow kerb in the middle of the chicane that sent others and himself to the outside barrier.
The team predicted it to be a general repair of damaged parts but upon firing up the car before Qualifying, the mechanics found the gearbox had been damaged from the impact. With only a handful of minutes to go before the green flag, the team was unable to get the 20-year-old out and he subsequently received a five-place grid penalty for making an unscheduled gearbox change, although he was already starting from the back of the grid.
Meanwhile, out on track, Ricciardo was untouchable throughout the one-hour Qualifying session topping all three parts and taking his second pole position again around the streets of Monaco with a blistering 1:10.810, two-tenths faster than front row partner Sebastian Vettel.
“I’m pretty delighted, but I will be even more delighted if I’m on the top step tomorrow,” urged the Australian. “I’m trying to keep things pretty chilled now, but I’ve done everything I need to do up until this point, so I’m pleased with that and everything the team have done.
“At the moment, I feel like I have done half the job I came here to do, so we will try and finish it tomorrow and I’ve made life easier by putting myself on pole.
“I just kept building up and putting the laps together and then in Q3 it was very important to maximise everything at the right time and I was able to do that. I had confidence in the car which started on Thursday and then it was about finding the rhythm, which is very important around here.
“I knew the car would be strong and it’s great to get the best out of it. Everyone came into the weekend saying that we were favourites and I thought they were trying to take some pressure off themselves, but I thought, let’s prove them right!
“Finding the balance even with a good car still isn’t easy. I think if we are smart and do the race we know we can do tomorrow, then we are in with a good chance for the win.”
“I got a little bit caught off guard passing the slow car [Sainz Jr.], which isn’t an excuse, and clipped the inside barrier before hitting the wall,” explain Verstappen while he sat out Qualifying.
“It happened so quick after getting a bit distracted and perhaps I turned in a bit too early.
“Before Qualifying I was ready to get in the car, but it turned into a bit of a rollercoaster. They fired up the engine and only then could we see the leak, at that stage, it was too late to make it out.
“It makes it a bit more painful knowing this is a track that we genuinely had a shot at pole and the win.”
|FORMULA 1 GRAND PRIX DE MONACO 2018 – FINAL CLASSIFICATION (78 LAPS)|
|Driver||Team / Entry||Laps||Result|
|1.||Daniel Ricciardo||Aston Martin Red Bull Racing TAG Heuer RB14||78||1:42:54.807|
|9.||Max Verstappen||Aston Martin Red Bull Racing TAG Heuer RB14||78||+ 25.317|
Sunday opened with plenty of clouds blanketing the harbour-side city and spots of rain falling onto the track, although no rain threatened the race.
At a track where track position was key, the race start was crucial for Ricciardo so he could lead into Saint-Dévote and pace the field to his liking due to the Circuit de Monaco barely promoting any overtaking opportunities.
Ricciardo did just that, placing his car in the middle of the track to check up Vettel and lead up the hill. By Lap 7, the Australian held just under a two-second lead to second-placed Vettel with promising pace on his Hypersoft tyres.
After Vettel and the two Mercedes boxed for new Ultrasofts, Ricciardo did the same and pitted on Lap 17 as he continued to lead the field upon re-joining the circuit. Calculated to be only a one-stop race, Ricciardo already held advantage over the rest with fresher rubber bolted on.
Meanwhile, down the other end of the train, Verstappen was busy slicing his way through the field, reaching the points paying positions by Lap 25. The three-time race winner picked off Lance Stroll with a fantastic move out of the tunnel into the Nouvelle Chicane and jumped others while they pit for new tyres. Verstappen, who started on the Ultrasoft compound, planned to run as long as possible on the purple-walled set so he could hold track position later in the race and effectively hold faster, fresher tyres compared to others in the closing stages.
Back on the other side of the garage, the tension exploded when Ricciardo reported a loss of power on Lap 28.
Ricciardo: “Losing Power, let me know if I can do something.”
Simon Rennie (Ricciardo’s Engineer): “OK, we can see what’s going on, you just need to keep it smooth, keep focussed.”
DR: “Yeah, I got no power though!”
The problem revealed post-race was an MGU-K failure, one of five key components of a current Formula 1 power unit. The MGU-K component converts kinetic energy generated under braking into electricity rather than escaping as heat. It returns approximately 160bhp power to the drivetrain from the Energy Store thus proving Ricciardo had to race with 160 less horsepower than Vettel and co. behind.
Also revealed after the race, Ricciardo explained he had to dramatically move brake bias forward 6-7% rather than the usual 1-2% needed during a standard race to manage rear brake temperatures where the MGU-K collects energy. With the loss in power, Ricciardo only raced in six of the eight gears as he was unable to reach maximum speeds with his depleted power unit.
Of all the races he could lead, Monaco was the only track where he could still hold to best chance to salvage victory. Ricciardo had the best chassis around him and held fresher tyres than rivals who suffered from severe graining on the loaded, right front wheel.
The Australian played a strong tactical game with his energy store, harvesting it through the tunnel and the rest of the lap and using on the main straight where he was most vulnerable to Vettel behind.
The team thought to retire their stricken driver in order to preserve the engine, however, Team Principal Christian Horner urged him to push on.
Ricciardo managed the gap to Vettel ranging between half a second to nearly two seconds from lap to lap. His pace on the timing screens was visible. From Lap 28, Ricciardo was lapping nine seconds slower than his pole time.
The critical point of his race came six laps from the finish when an incident between Charles Leclerc and Brendon Hartley deployed the Virtual Safety Car. McLaren’s Stoffel Vandoorne pitted for a second time and slotted in between Ricciardo and Vettel and upon the restart, Ricciardo gained a better jump than Vandoorne – who had to warm up his Ultrasoft tyres – and Vettel who suffered from severe tyre graining.
In the closing stages, Ricciardo rose to a seven-second lead to cross the line and take his seventh Formula 1 victory and his second for the season.
“Wow, it still hasn’t sunk in. It was a perfect weekend but a crazy race,” described Ricciardo post-race in the Paddock.
“It’s such a long week and because I get so excited for this race, I find it hard to control myself and I just couldn’t wait for the lights to go out today.
“The start went well, and I thought, I’ve pretty much done the hard part so let’s just finish this race.
“Then on lap 28 I exited a corner and felt like I pretty much had no power. When it was clear that it was an MGU-K issue I wanted to close my eyes and start crying as I thought the race was over and I wondered just what I have to do to win here.
“I spoke with my engineer on the radio and we changed a lot of things that didn’t fix the problem, but we just had to survive with the problem and keep Seb behind. Fortunately, it’s a tight track and we had a good car so I could make up enough time in the corners not to be vulnerable on the straights [with less power]. On any other circuit, there was no way I would have won today.
“It wasn’t fun driving like that and I’m pretty exhausted but very, very happy. We finally got some redemption, and this is the sweetest feeling. It wasn’t easy but now I can say I’m a winner here and it’s great to win the team’s 250th race.”
“Although we knew it was going to be damage limitation I still really enjoyed myself out there today,” added Verstappen, who came home in ninth from last on the grid. “I was able to race other cars and be competitive pretty much from start to finish.
“Deep down, of course, I am still disappointed as we could have had a much better result if I hadn’t made the mistake in practice, but on the other hand, I made the most of the race.
“The car handled well, and we got the strategy spot on and finished in the points so I think that is a good day’s work all things considered.”
“It’s difficult to describe the performance Daniel put in today,” furthered Christian Horner.
“From Lap 28 when the MGU-K expired – which creates all kinds of issues with cooling, with brake and tyre temperatures – he managed it in the calmest of manners while defending with Sebastian Vettel, and I never believed with approximately a 25% loss of power that he would hold the lead for another 50 laps and win our 250th Grand Prix.
“From the back of the grid it’s always going to be a tough afternoon for Max, but he made good progress with some good overtaking which is very difficult to do here, and he benefitted from some good teamwork and strategy and managed to get into the top ten.
“Of all the races to win on the calendar, Monaco is the highlight because of that rich heritage and history; this one especially so for Daniel after the disappointment of 2016. To achieve that victory today was testimony to the great car that the guys and girls in Milton Keynes have produced and Daniel’s ability behind the wheel.
“The day and the entire race weekend has belonged to Daniel with a phenomenal performance.
Horner was right, it was Ricciardo’s weekend from Thursday morning and ultimately his race to lose.
While the win equals the number of victories both rivals Mercedes and Ferrari each have, it still doesn’t cement them as a championship contender for now.
The race in China was fair with a great cut-throat strategy during the Safety Car period, but in all fairness, a Monaco win – with a mechanical issue – doesn’t do much good on a track that barely promotes overtaking.
For Ricciardo, it’s a memorable win and earns him a stack of points to promote him to third in the championship race among Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel.
Positives can still come out for Max Verstappen having an incident free race and taking home two points from the back of the grid. His approach needs to be different from Canada onwards if he were to match Ricciardo’s game in 2018.
It was a fantastic way to round out Red Bull’s 250th Grand Prix with a win around the streets of Monaco, let’s hope for another great 250 Grands Prix in the future.
Images via Aston Martin Red Bull Racing