Thursday, 26 May 2011

Dramatic Start to Monaco Grand Prix

The Grand Prix weekend in Monte Carlo got the excitement underway nice and early by providing some news before any of the cars had even turned a wheel. A maintenance truck caught fire in the middle of St. Devote and blazed away nicely before being bought under control. This lead to some damage to the tarmac which required emergency repairs less than 24 hours before the cars were due to take to the track. The pre-Grand Prix excitement didn't stop there however. Jenson Button had to take avoiding action from a fork lift truck whilst on foot in the pits, but avoided getting hit. The FIA settled another mystery as they announced that the DRS would not be used in the tunnel at any point during the weekend. The activation zone for the race will be on the start/finish straight with the detection point immediately after the swimming pool complex.
Photo Courtesy of Team Lotus

The first free practice sessions, as usual, start a day early in Monaco so the drivers took to the track today. Free practice 1 started slowly as the top teams waited for the backmarkers to clean up the track and start putting down some rubber for them to run on. Seemingly from nowhere water started to appear on the start line, running across the track towards the pits. This bought out the red flags for a while as water supply was turned off to allow the cars to complete the session safely.

Mark Webber had a start to forget as he suffered gearbox problems early on and had to sit out most of the session while it was repaired. Towards the end of the session the drivers started going out for faster runs. Except Schumacher who lost grip on the way into turn 1. He tried to save it by heading down the escape road but slid sideways into the tyre wall damaging his car. The session ended with Vettel quickest followed by Alonso and Rosberg. The McLaren's should have been closer but traffic stopped Hamilton at least from showing his full pace.

Free practice 2 later on in the day allowed the drivers to really start attacking the track. There were a few front wings lost, and a few hairy moments for several drivers. Massa was one showing his car control skills as he fought a very loose Ferrari inches away from the barriers. An exciting display, but not fast enough to worry the top spot on the scoreboard. Alonso was the driver who took that place with Hamilton chasing hard just one tenth behind. Rosberg and Button both got faster times than Vettel, with Massa and Schumacher squeezing in front of Webber.

The super-soft tyres seem to be lasting longer than the teams had feared which means there could be as little as two stops per driver in the race. But so far predictions have been a bit unreliable on that front, so we will have to wait and see. Red Bull, for once, don't seem to have the advantage as they have at all the other races this year. Were they running high fuel? Or is it possible that the lower speed here really isn't suiting their car? Whichever way it turns out, this must be giving Ferrari, McLaren and even Mercedes hope that they may not be invincible come sunday. Not to mention the hope that we won't see the wonky finger that gets on Jenson's nerves so much again this weekend.

The Drag Reduction System is the other unknown here. On a track that is famous for being a procession, anything that can be done to shake things up is a good thing. But is the straight long enough? The cars are coming from a very low speed as they open the flap, and the deciding factor for getting a pass done is going to be rear grip rather than top speed. There isn't a lot of space to play with either, so the chances of seeing a safety car are probably at their highest for the whole season. This could be the most exciting Monaco Grand Prix for years or it could be a damp squib in the middle of an awesome season. I can't wait to find out which!

Predictions are much more tricky than usual. I'd love to think that Jenson could do well here as he seems to have a safe smooth style that suits this track. I just don't think he has the raw speed though, so lets go for Alonso on pole, with a mistake in strategy spoiling his Sunday. Hamilton first, Button second and Vettel third. What do you think?

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