Monaco GP 2018: Sebastian 2nd and Kimi 4th in the dullest race of the season

Two weeks ago in Barcelona, Mercedes was the team to beat, but when the F1 circus arrived in the glamorous Monaco, the tables turned again. This time it was Red Bull who stamped their authority on the narrow streets of the Municipality right from the first free practice session. The third free practice session, however, had proved catastrophic for the Dutch Red Bull ace Verstappen, who crashed his RB14 into the barriers! The shunt had led into an unscheduled gearbox change, and there was no way the team could fix Verstappen’s car in time for the qualifying! And so, due to a mistake of his own, Max had to watch from the garage how his teammate dominated the qualifying.

Ricciardo was in a class of his own in the qualifying. He was the only driver to break into the 1m 10s, and the Australian took provisional pole by massive 0.45s to Hamilton. It was intensively tight between Hamilton and the Ferrari duo, as they were all within five thousandths of a second after the first runs! Sebastian improved enough on his second run to jump second. Hamilton had a purple-coloured first sector, but, in the end, the Briton’s last flyer was only good enough for 3rd. Kimi completed the second row for Ferrari, who proved to be Red Bull’s closest challengers in Monte Carlo. Bottas had to settle for P5, which was his lowest grid slot since the season-opening Australian GP. Ocon qualified in a stunning P6 for the pink Force India. This was only the second pole position for Ricciardo, who has conquered pole only in Monaco so far.

In the race, Ricciardo was hungry for redemption, as in 2016, having also started from pole, the team had messed up his pit stop, robbing him of victory. The start was surprisingly humdrum. The top ten all got a great start, and the pecking order remained unchanged. This time, there were no first-lap collisions, either! Not even Verstappen caused any questionable action, although the flying Dutchman started to the race from the very back of the grid. He gained two positions right away, and by lap 8 he had already made his way up to P14.

The Monaco GP was the first race to see the brand-new pink-marked hyper-soft compound in action. Hamilton was the first driver to be in trouble with the softest compound, and the Briton pitted already on lap 13 for a fresh set of ultra-soft Pirellis. At this point it strongly seemed like a two-stop strategy for Hamilton, as there were over 60 laps to go after his pit stop. Both Ferrari aces and the race leader Ricciardo also opted for the purple-marked ultra-soft compound. However, Bottas’ pace on the hyper-softs was everything but competitive, and the Finn opted for a fresh set of super-soft Pirellis. Bottas was absolutely flying on his fresh set of super-softs. Not even the pit stop roulette made any changes to the pecking order of the top drivers!

Around the halfway point of the race, the race leader Ricciardo was suddenly hit with a technical issue, which caused significant loss of power. Sebastian smelled his ex-teammate’s blood and made it easily within a DRS distance from the Honey Badger. However, Monaco is legendary for the impossibility of overtaking, and there was no chance for Sebastian to make a move on Ricciardo. Not even Ricciardo’s technical woes helped Sebastian to attack the redemption-seeking Australian.

As Ricciardo’s pace was everything but competitive, the top five drivers were all within five seconds, when there were 25 laps to go. The most dramatic moment of the race took place with only six laps to go. Suddenly Sauber’s Leclerc lost his brakes, and the Monegasque crashed into the rear of Hartley’s Toro Rosso! The crash destroyed Hartley’s rear wing, and both drivers were out of the race. As there was a lot of debris on the track, virtual safety car was deployed. I was amazed to see that, in spite of the virtual safety car, all top drivers stayed out on their extremely worn tyres.

After the re-start Ricciardo managed to pull out a five-second gap to Sebastian, who was struggling badly with his out-worn ultra-softs. Ricciardo got his redemption as the "Smiling Avenger" crossed the finish line as the race winner for the first time in Monaco! Sebastian drove to the chequered flag as the runner-up, which was an awesome job from the German. Hamilton completed the podium on the unbelievable one-stop strategy, and Kimi had to settle for P4. Kimi’s compatriot Bottas was fifth; this was actually the first time this season with no Finns on the podium! Force India’s Ocon and Toro Rosso’s Gasly stood out of the crowd by finishing 6th and 7th respectively. After a catastrophic Saturday, Red Bull’s Verstappen managed to make it in the points, as the Dutchman finished in the very decent P9.

Sebastian decreased the gap to Hamilton by three points in the drivers’ championship standings. Now Sebastian has 96 points to Hamilton’s 110. Thanks to his victory, Ricciardo moved third with 72 points. Bottas is now fourth (68 points) and the Iceman fifth (60 points). Mercedes’ lead shrank to 22 points in the constructors’ standings. With Ricciardo’s superb win, Red Bull strengthened their position as the third best team.

But who will be the team to beat in Canada in a fortnight? I hope it will be the dawn of a dominant red-coloured era! Forza Ferrari!

With passion for racing red, 
Iina Huhmarniemi

Jun 04, 2018