By Carol M. Creasey
During the free practice sessions at Monaco, it was clear that Sir Lewis Hamilton was having problems with the setup of his car. Valtteri Bottas wasn’t doing much better, as they finished FP1 in P5 and P6 respectively.
By the time Free Practice 3 had taken place, it was clear that the track definitely did not suit the Mercedes, although Bottas seemed to manage to get to grips with his car a little bit more easily.
Qualifying was no better, in Q3 Sir Lewis was down in seventh, while Bottas managed to snatch third, but both drivers didn’t get the chance to finish their final hot laps, as after getting pole postion, Charles Leclerc put his car into the barrier, and the whole session was red flagged. Max Verstappen held onto his second place on the grid.
When race day arrived, we heard that Charles Leclerc would not be taking part in the race, as his car needed to be repaired, and it could not be done in time for the race. This was a huge blow to him after getting pole position for the first time this year, and at his home track. This leapfrogged Verstappen up to first on the grid, so when the lights went out, he was the first one away.
For the first fifteen laps, Bottas stayed within touching distance of the Dutchman, but after a while he dropped back a little to save his tyres. In the meantime, Sir Lewis was stuck in P6. He could not overtake Gasly or anyone else for that matter, as it is almost impossible to do in Monaco. One has to wonder why this race is still on the calendar. It may well be a historic circuit, but now that the cars are wider, it is impossible to overtake, so it is more of a procession than a race.
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Mercedes knew their only chance of helping their drivers would be with strategy, but unfortunately on this very rare occasion (because in my estimation, they are usually the best team when it comes to strategy) they messed up big time. Sir Lewis had been told to save his tyres, and they were still good, but they brought him in too early in an effort to undercut Gasly. Unfortunately it did not work, as he not only failed to undercut Gasly, he was also leap frogged by both Sebastian Vettel and Sergio Perez, after the pit stops. Then when Bottas went in for his pit stop, the wing nut on his front-right wheel became stuck, and eventually, after a lot of time spent trying to free it, he had to retire from the race.
This left Sir Lewis as the only remaining Mercedes in the race, and he was running in P7. Now, Sir Lewis loves to cut through the field, but it is just not possible at Monaco. He has to sit behind much slower cars for the remainder of the race, but he did have the opportunity to pit again for soft tyres and get the fastest lap. This was a new track record, so there’s another record he has set.
Verstappen won the race, so congratulations to him, Sainz was second, and Norris was third. Well done to all of them. Sir Lewis will be the first to say it was not his weekend, and personally I cannot get any thrill out of watching a race which is just a procession, so one has to wonder whether any alterations will be made to make it possible for cars to overtake before they return next year. Undoubtedly it was a frustrating day for Leclerc after his superb pole position, and a very lucky day for Verstappen to be vaulted up to first place. But, that is how motor racing is – sometimes very unpredictable.
I am sure Mercedes are aware that today they let both of their drivers down, and they will work even harder to correct any failings for the next race. Everyone is allowed to make a mistake sometimes, it’s how they respond to the challenge and rectify it that counts. I have every faith that Toto will be cracking the whip, and Sir Lewis will be inspiring them to do better next time.
So it’s onwards and upwards for team Mercedes from here. It’s not about the mistakes you make, it’s about the way you pick yourself up and move on. Verstappen is now leading the championship by four points, which will motivate Sir Lewis and the team even more. Time to fight back.
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