As yet another two practice sessions conclude on the Formula One calendar, we are left with a sense of déjà vu. Two Mercedes cars on top with the Ferraris, lotuses and Red Bull lurking the the shadows. We have gotten used to the silver arrows shining on the Fridays and particularly Saturdays this season, only for them to dishearteningly falter on race day. All the signs, however, suggest that this could be the perfect weekend for Mercedes to really shine.
As we all know, overtaking is virtually impossible, and most changes of position are largely the result of crashes. This leaves Mercedes in an advantageous position. Their domination in qualifying gives them the perfect opportunity to hold up the field to a pace that works with their particular tire wear characteristics and potentially take home a hard-fought win.
For all of their struggles in previous weekends, the Mercedes is not a bad car. It’s certainly is not the best, but the fact that they have been so overpowering in qualifying suggests there is a fundamental part of the car that makes them fast. Could their ability to hear their tires quickly contribute to their poor showing on Sunday? Undoubtedly, yes. But this doesn’t mean the problem is unsolvable. They’ve had ample time to solve this issue, as since the team emerged form the ashes of Brawn GP, they have struggled with tire wear, but there are teams who have taken even longer to regain competitiveness. Baring 2012, Williams have struggled to maintain consistent competitiveness.
So not all hope is lost for the team. Things are clearly much more positive for the silver arrows this weekend. The streets of the prosperous principality offer a very smooth platform on which their toe drivers can control the issues that currently plague them. All they need to worry about is locking out the front row. If they do that, I personally can see a Mercedes 1-2 come Sunday.
This is not a guarantee. Their tire wear is still not the best of the field, even on this unique track. The Ferraris look fast and consistent and the Red Bulls, as usual, are keeping their arms close to their chest but hint at a one-lap pace deficit.
The team to keep your eyes on, however, is Lotus. They always seem to emerge from the shadows of others’ misfortune to snag great results each weekend. Not counting Australia, they haven’t had the best race car for the weekend, but remain in the fight thanks to their relentless consistency and ideal tire consumption. Keep a particularly keen eye on Romain Grosjean. He showed particularly well in FP1 where the “green” surface offers up many confusing variables. He was demonstrating prodigious pace in FP2 before a slight mistake cost him the rest of his practice session. The 11 laps he did complete, though, highlight the Frenchman’s innate ability to eke out every last bit of a car’s potential in the tight confines of the principality.
Those are the front runners. From my (at the moment of writing) limited knowledge of everyone’s problems and successes during the practice sessions, it seems Mclaren have managed to make a slight step forward. They were disappointed their upgrade package in Spain failed to make much if a dent in their performance pitfalls, and subsequently went into Monaco with the mindset of more damage limitation. Particular concern was placed on Mclaren’s performance in slow corners and over bumps, fundamental characteristics of the Monaco circuit.
It was a shaky start for them, but both Jensin and Checo managed to eke out some marginal improvements throughout both practice sessions. Jenson was particularly surprised with the car’s long run pace, but less so with the one-lap pace. The latter will be heavily emphasized in the final practice session.
Monaco specialist, Pastor Maldonado, showed extremely promising signs in the first practice session, putting the recalcitrant Williams in 6th spot. Normality returned, however, in FP2 with the car’s fundamental issues relegating him back to 14th. Don’t count him out on making a surprise appearance in Q3, though.
Will the race be boring? It’s not fun to admit, but probably. Like the sculpted and lifted faces of the Monegasque women, underneath the glitz and glamour lies just another race, but one which will remain integral to the sport for as long as it is around.