How genuine does Ferrari’s title chance now look?
Well, when you consider that Sunday’s Monaco Grand Prix was the team’s first win in the Principality AND their first 1-2 finish since 2001 – when they were building the most dominant period in Scuderia history – and that Sebastian Vettel now leads the championship by 25 points (equal to a race victory), the chances of a first drivers’ title since 2007 are increasing by the week.
Even before Sunday, Vettel had finished first or second in every race this season. This in itself isn’t unprecedented, as Nico Rosberg did it as recently as 2014 and still lost the title, but Vettel had not won Monaco since 2011, nor had he even led a lap there since 2012. By winning the race he extended his current run of podium finishes to 7 in a row, the longest he’d had since winning the 2013 championship.
Ironically, his principal threat in the race came from his own teammate. Ferrari had locked out the front row in Monaco on Saturday for only the second time since 1979. The other occasion had come in 2008, courtesy of Felipe Massa and Kimi Raikkonen. Raikkonen took pole position at Magny-Cours later that season, but had not sat on pole again until this weekend.
That 128-race interval is a new F1 record, surpassing Giancarlo Fisichella’s 107-race gap between the 1998 Austrian and 2005 Australian Grands Prix. It was also the 50th pole position for a Finnish driver in F1 history, the fifth nation to get there after Britain, France, Brazil and Germany.
This weekend was the first time Raikkonen had led the first lap of any race since that last pole at France 2008, and also the first time he’d led more than 10 laps of a race since his last win in Melbourne back in 2013, yet he had to settle for second – not necessarily bad, as he had not previously been on the podium in Monaco in this decade.
Compared to the heartbreak of losing last year’s race, Daniel Ricciardo might well be happier to have been third in 2017 compared to second in 2016. It was the third time Ricciardo has been on the podium in his adopted home in the past four years, although the win continues to elude him. On the bright side, it means he’s scored back-to-back podiums at the last two Grands Prix, having scored none in the opening four races (curiously, something he’s done in every year of his F1 career).
We don’t often get this deep into a Stat Wrap article without mentioning Mercedes, and not without reason. Sunday’s race was only the fourth time there were no Silver Arrows on the podium since the start of the turbo hybrid era in 2014 – the others being Hungary 2015, Singapore 2015 and Spain 2016.
For Valtteri Bottas, fourth on Sunday was actually a breakthrough, scoring his first-ever points in the Principality, the last circuit on the current F1 calendar on which Bottas had never previously scored. Similarly for Max Verstappen, fifth was not only his first points in Monaco, but also the first time he’d raced in a Monaco Grand Prix without crashing out of it. Behind him was another of the Red Bull stable, Carlos Sainz.
For the fourth time in his career, Sainz tied his career-best finish in sixth, and gave Toro Rosso their best result of the 2017 season, on a circuit on which they’ve shown consistently above-average performance in recent years, without yielding the result.
How unusual that we get this far down the finishing order until we reach Lewis Hamilton, in a frustrated seventh. There was an amazing coincidence at play involving Hamilton and Raikkonen in Monaco this weekend. Raikkonen had taken his first pole since France 2008, a race in which Lewis Hamilton lined up 13th on the grid. NEITHER of those things had reoccurred until this race!
Not that Hamilton will be too bothered about that. Of greater concern was Vettel’s 19-point gain on the Englishman in the championship, but on a minor note he did at least finish in a different position to where he started, something that hadn’t happened since Australia. He also maintained his 100% finishing record in 11 Monaco Grand Prix starts.
The second-year Haas team have had some ups-and-downs already this season, but the Monaco Grand Prix was arguably the zenith, as Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen gave the team their first-ever double-points finish. Both drivers matched their previous best finishes in Monte-Carlo, both previously set in 2014. Grosjean has now scored in consecutive races for the first time since Australia and Bahrain last year, notable as the first two Grands Prix in Haas F1 history.
Felipe Massa was the meat in that Haas sandwich, with the Monaco-based Brazilian scoring his 11th top ten finish in 15 Monaco GP starts, consolidating sixth place for Williams in the Constructors’ Championship.
There were also notable stories outside the points this weekend. Jolyon Palmer has endured a torrid early season, but the Renault driver claimed 11th place on Sunday for his best result of the year so far. It means he’s now the highest driver in the championship who is yet to score in 2017.
Force India’s superb start to the year hit its first bumps in the road on Sunday. Going into Monaco they were the only team to have scored points with both cars in every race, so of course neither driver scored in his one!
Esteban Ocon maintained his remarkable distinction of never having retired from an F1 race in his 15 starts so far, but Sergio Perez saw his 15-race points streak end. However, he does extend his finishing streak to 36 in a row, and is only 5 short of Nick Heidfeld’s record of 41.
Sauber had a rough day, seeing both cars retire in Monaco for the second year in a row. Marcus Ericsson somehow managed to shunt the car during a Safety Car period that had been caused when teammate Pascal Wehrlein met the scenery at an angle that might have caused his assailant Jenson Button to honour his pre-race promise to Fernando Alonso to pee in his seat.
Fernando: "I'm sure you wanted to hear my voice. Best of luck, take care of my car!"— Channel 4 F1® (@C4F1) May 28, 2017
JB: "I'm going to pee in your seat! Stay safe" pic.twitter.com/ST1Mi6euiD
Ahh yes, McLaren. You can’t fault them for effort can you? The weekend was filled with optimism as they commenced their “Race Of Two Worlds”, as Agent Alonso was dispatched on his mission to America, leaving regular driver Stoffel Vandoorne to be paired with one-off returnee Jenson Button.
In keeping with the team’s fortunes all year, all three drivers suffered retirement, but only after showing a significant chance of a great result. For only the second time since renewing their partnership with Honda, both McLarens reached Q3 this weekend, and Vandoorne – who had been the last man this season to be eliminated in Q1 at every race – was 6th fastest in Q1 and 7th in Q2.
For his part, Button was sensational for a man who had not driven any F1 car since last November, and for whom this was the first time ever driving a “wide-track” F1 car, even with 17 previous seasons of experience. Alas, as is so often the case with McLaren of late, the optimism was once again drowned out under the weight of grid penalties. Button received a 15-place demotion, essentially rendering his qualifying irrelevant, and Vandoorne – even before stuffing it into the barriers at the swimming pool – had a 3-place penalty from the previous race for a collision.
The crumb of comfort is that Fernando Alonso (who AGAIN suffered a Honda failure in a race on Sunday, albeit in Indianapolis) will at least be returning to a team that has proved it has the pedigree to get to Q3.