The small sector: Monaco Grand Prix

Over the years Monaco has become known for a thrilling qualifying on Saturday but the buzz usually fizzles out by the time that Sunday comes around as the odds of this street circuit delivering an unforgettable weekend is always a roll of the dice. If the history of the Monaco Grand Prix has taught us anything, it’s that we will more often than not be in for a dull procession on Sunday without any real action or entertainment to get us through the race. However, this year we seemingly hit the jackpot as, with the Redbull dominance that has commanded this season, I don’t think any of us anticipated what would be in store as the weekend played out.

Heading into qualifying this year there was the usual suspense that’s come to be expected when watching Formula 1 cars qualify around the streets of Monte Carlo, but no one could’ve predicted exactly how intense and electrifying the session would become, despite Alonso dropping several hints that this may be the race in which he beats Verstappen to the checkered flag. We were treated to a nail biting shoot out in Q3 that saw Ocon take provisional pole, followed by Alonso and then ultimately Verstappen. When race day rolled around I think we had all accepted that Saturday was the star of the show and were prepared for another repetitive 78 laps around Monte Carlo, but three quarters of the way into the race the rain started to pour and chaos ensued.  The rainfall led to an onslaught of yellow flags late in the race which was swiftly followed by a melee into the pits as teams and drivers scrambled to switch to intermediate tyres with some nailing the strategy and others completely misjudging the unpredictability of Monaco.

As the Monaco weekend winds down, here are my small conclusions that I took away from the Grand Prix.

I think it’s safe to say that only 7 rounds in to the 2023 F1 season, the championship battle is officially over. Now this may sound like I’ve jumped to a rash conclusion considering how many races we still have left, but there was always a big question mark as to whether Checo could maintain a title challenge over the course of an entire season. At the beginning of the year Perez was looking to put up a more substantial fight than we saw from his last year but 7 races in, he’s managed to crash out of Monaco qualifying for the second year running and get lapped by his teammate twice in the race. I know that Monaco is somewhat of an outlier in the calendar and the results are not a real signifier of the car’s full potential but when you’re in a Redbull and your teammate finishes almost half a minute ahead of everyone else there’s not really any argument that can convincingly persuade me that Checo is in with a shot of keeping up with Max, let alone challenging him for a title over the course of a 22-race season. Many people have already expressed doubt over the security of Checo’s future at Redbull and it’s weekends like these that cause those rumours to run rampant as the gap between the two teammates continues to increase, driving them further and further apart in the standings.

Whilst the difference between the Redbull teammates is day and night, the midfield tells an entirely different story. Since the lights went out in Bahrain the midfield has provided a majority of the entertainment that we’ve seen this year. If we’re going by the numbers, Aston Martin have been comfortably in P2 but from there on out it’s been anyone’s guess as to what the actual pecking order is. With Mercedes bringing their upgrades to Monaco this weekend it looks as though something has clicked as they finished P4 and P5 and are now only one point behind Aston Martin in the Constructors’ standings. Alpine have also stepped up to join in on the midfield battle with Ocon bringing them their first podium of the year. Although he was extremely deserving of this result, I can’t see Alpine holding on to the top of the midfield in the long run, in fact I think Mercedes will be the ones to challenge Aston Martin the most and possibly out develop them as the year goes on. We’ll get a real sense of the current order of the midfield once we go to Barcelona as this track will provide us with a more realistic look at how well the team’s upgrades are performing relative to each other. Could Mercedes close the gap to Aston Martin? Or could Alpine leap frog Ferrari to bring themselves into contention with those at the top of the midfield?

Before we jump ahead to Barcelona, we have to address the final conclusion that Monaco highlights better than any other track, driver errors, specifically with Aston Martin and Lance Stroll. There’s no denying that Alonso is Aston Martin’s not so secret weapon, he’s managed to bring in the bulk of their points and whilst this yields a great result for him as a driver, I don’t think the pairing of Alonso and Stroll will be able to outdrive Hamilton and Russell over the course of the 16 races that remain. Based on their current cars, Aston martin should be miles ahead of Mercedes but instead their driver line up has been their Achilles heel and, as that’s not set to change for the foreseeable future, I think it will hold them back from being able to secure their spot at the top of the midfield. This became increasingly evident during Monaco with Stroll’s poor qualifying converting into a DNF during the race whilst Mercedes were able to bag P4 and P5 even with a mistake from Russell that may have cost him a podium. Looking ahead at the remainder of the season I think that the difference that we saw between the teammates at Aston Martin and Mercedes will go on to have a significant impact in how the races play out and it could possibly allow Mercedes to sneak in a P2 finish by the end of the season.

Over the years Monaco has become known for a thrilling qualifying on Saturday but the buzz usually fizzles out by the time that Sunday comes around as the odds of this street circuit delivering an unforgettable weekend is always a roll of the dice. If the history of the Monaco Grand Prix has taught us…

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