These are some of the races I’ve been watching.
- Formula 1: Monaco Grand Prix
- IndyCar – Indianapolis 500
How can two totally different races have the same hallmarks? Avoid the walls. Manage the tyres. The winner is the one who hustles it best. Difference being, at Indy it looked like they were going for it.
Formula 1: 76th Monaco Grand Prix
I love the ridiculousness of the Monaco Grand Prix. The test of the narrow track, the challenge and skill in pulling off an overtake, the closeness to the marina, the flashy boats, even all the hangers-on and famous types. I accept all of that at Monaco when I wouldn’t elsewhere. You can’t replicate it. People have tried. It isn’t the same, nothing like. And that’s why it should never be replaced.
Monaco is a test of endurance, as close as F1 gets to it anyway. It isn’t just about wheel to wheel racing, it is about the challenge of being the best around the streets, and occasionally there might be a pass. Either qualify well and hold on under pressure, or out-think your opponent on strategy while dodging Armco and drain covers. It isn’t always a riveting watch on TV, but I always admire the skill.
This is amplified by having been there for a race weekend. It totally changes your perspective. If you only watch from Lights Out to Chequered Flag, you don’t know the half of it.
Now. In order for it to be a challenge the drivers need to be flat out, fully concentrating on their task. That’s why it is worth watching. And there needs to be a chance the order might change. There needs to be one passing zone in the lap and in the modern era that has been at the chicane, sometimes Ste. Devote, sometimes Mirabeau, but mainly the chicane. With the current cars the chicane hasn’t seemed viable, the combination of shorter braking distances and horribly degraded tyres.
Pirelli brought their softest tyres including the new Hypersoft (not a joke). The Hyper was good enough to set a track record in qualifying, but could only run 15 laps of the 78. We had cars running 7 or 8 seconds per lap slower than in qualifying, visibly not being pushed hard, to get the tyres to last 30+ laps to make a one-stop race – nobody wanted to stop a 2nd time and get stuck in traffic.
That meant drivers were not challenged and so were bored. What is the point in that? The whole concept of the Monaco GP is to go like hell between the walls and may the best win. If everyone is cruising, why bother? If everyone is flat out and nobody overtakes, I understand that. If everyone is cruising and nobody overtakes, is that even a race?
Max Verstappen on new tyres struggled to overtake cars. That’s a problem. I’m not asking for slam-dunk DRS passes, I just want the chance of a pass.
All of that said, this was a tense race! Why? Ricciardo lost a critical component of his energy recovery system, he was significantly down on power. He put in a masterful drive just to get the thing to the end of the race, never mind win it. In normal circumstances, even in Monaco, the chasing Vettel and Hamilton would send it up the inside and set sail. Vettel attempted it, then held back to save the tyres. Tyres were the limiting factor, even more so than losing 150+ horsepower from the ERS.
That’s not to decry Ricciardo’s efforts. That car should not have finished that race. Even with dodgy tyres Vettel ought to have made it through – that he didn’t is testament to Ricciardo’s defensive driving.
It was a test of drivers managing three struggling cars. Could Ricciardo get his car to the end? Could Vettel and Hamilton keep their tyres alive and come back at him? Would they pit, go 5 seconds per lap faster and cut their way to the lead? Would a Safety Car scramble everyone into the pits?
Vettel and Hamilton could’ve pitted but they’d have lost position to Raikkonen and Bottas, the latter on the hardest available tyre and not going anywhere. And with a failing car ahead, Vettel stood to inherit a win by doing nothing but nurse the tyres home. Even when the VSC happened nobody blinked.
Ocon and Gasly pushed at the end to close a 40 second gap to a Mercedes (!). Verstappen started 20th and made it to 9th, lower than most expected, but not bad given the factors described above.
Williams had a terrible day, one of the worst I’ve ever seen from them. Not fitting wheels, fumbled stops, disheartened drivers, penalties. Awful. The only promise was that Sirotkin qualified well.
Daniel Ricciardo (Red Bull) 25 points;
Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari) 18;
Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) 15;
Kimi Raikkonen (Ferrari) 12;
Valterri Bottas (Mercedes) 10;
Esteban Ocon (Force India) 8;
Pierre Gasly (Toro Rosso) 6;
Nico Hulkenberg (Renault) 4;
110 Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) 2 wins
96 Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari) 2 wins
72 Daniel Ricciardo (Red Bull) [+2] 2 wins
68 Valterri Bottas (Mercedes) [-1]
60 Kimi Raikkonen (Ferrari) [-1]
35 Max Verstappen (Red Bull)
32 Fernando Alonso (McLaren)
26 Nico Hulkenberg (Renault)
178 Mercedes AMG;
156 Scuderia Ferrari;
107 Red Bull Racing;
46 Renault F1;
40 McLaren Renault;
26 Force India Mercedes;
Montreal, June 10th. Usually a good race, which doesn’t need the big DRS zone on the long straight, it was exciting as it was.
IndyCar: 102nd Indianapolis 500
Indianapolis, Indiana, USA
I’ll admit to being a little worried before this one. With much-reduced downforce the cars seemed harder to control, exacerbated by hot temperatures so the wings worked even less well. Skittish cars at Indy end up in the wall.
The new aero package was very different. Far from replicating the racing of the last five years, it sent it back in time a lot further. With the onboard cameras you could see how hard it was, everyone was backing out of the throttle just to avoid understeering into the wall. That put the car back into the hands of the driver – a great thing. Indy is meant to be a challenge, don’t just put your foot down and expect the wings to do it all.
I can appreciate this style of racing. It may not have been edge-of-the-seat exciting – except for a few laps at those wild restarts! But if you got it right, you got it right. Power and Carpenter were fast all day, so was Kanaan, so was Rossi working his way up from the back. And you knew those up front had earned their way there by doing a better job on setup and wheeling it.
And if you got it wrong, you really got it wrong, as Davison proved when he couldn’t maintain pace, slowed in the middle of the track and got rear-ended by Sato. There were several who were off pace all day. It was like a race from years ago.
A leader who earned his position got to keep and defend it, though it was clearly too difficult to pass the leader this year – just as with Monaco you need to have the possibility. In the last 5 years if you led the race you were a sitting duck unless the guy behind actively chose to stay behind.
But it must be said: For a race billed as ‘The Greatest Spectacle in Racing’, the 2014-2017 style of racing was the bigger spectacle.
The question boils down to this: What race should the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race be?
- Should it be cars passing and repassing, a test of car position, working the traffic, team-mates drafting their way around?
- Or, should it be a test of car control, right foot versus grip, get it wrong and you crash out?
And do you know what? I can’t decide! I appreciate both. One is more exciting, one is more cerebral. Maybe the answer is to change it every few years.
What I like is the man who pushed so hard for IndyCar to go this style of racing on ovals, loves it, started to do so well at Fontana and Texas when they made cars harder to drive there, won this race. Will Power came alive on ovals when they had to manage the throttle, get up on the wheel – rather than the IRL-style of pin it to the boards and daring the other guy not to crash.
And that’s why I think Power is a worthy winner. He maximised his skill set. The bonus too is that he has now ticked all the boxes. The man who joined Penske as super-sub while Castroneves was defending himself in a tax trial, Will Power now has a championship and an Indy 500 with Roger Penske’s legendary team. That’s a story in itself. I wouldn’t bet against him to take the 2018 championship.
Ed Carpenter put in a tremendous performance, both in qualifying and in the race. I was pulling for him to win too.
Can’t not mention Danica Patrick’s last race. Qualified well, dropped back at every restart but was in the top dozen, which is where you need to be. Was on course for a solid but unspectacular final race, which is all anyone can ask for, until she was one of many who got caught out by a twitch at Turn 2 and hit the wall. A sorry end. I wonder if she’d have preferred the 2014-2017 cars, as I bet many other drivers do.
Twitchy cars caught out drivers all day. It is this I was worried about. Bourdais, Jones, Patrick, Castroneves, Kanaan, Karam – all ended up spinning or hitting a wall. It looked like they couldn’t do a thing about it. That’s a worry. I suppose they could’ve backed off, but the margins were so small. What’s the limit between driver skill and the car spinning from under you? Was it too far to the latter? Do they need a touch more rear wing or just to take the edge off? All questions I’m sure IndyCar will ponder before 2019.
Other standout performances came from Zachary Claman de Melo, in what would’ve been Pietro Fittipaldi’s ride, but it was a shared deal and ZCDM has been driving it on the road courses all year anyway. He seriously impressed with his on-track demeanour, a 19th-place finish not representative.
Oriol Servia, Stefan Wilson and Jack Harvey made the ‘Rossi 2016’ play, running on fumes at the end and leading until falling 4 laps short. Wilson made a fantastic pass for the lead on a restart. At the time, Power had enough fuel but couldn’t get through traffic quick enough, but he did close them down just before they pitted.
And saving the best to last: Alexander Rossi and Oriol Servia making some incredibly bold moves at those wild restarts. The rest of the race might’ve been largely single-file – at least that’s what TV showed us, back in the pack I’m sure more happened – yet at every restart it was a total free-for-all. Tony Kanaan is famous for the outside line, I think Rossi took it to another level. It was all the spicier knowing how hard these things were to control this year!
(Double points, plus points for top 9 in qualifying)
1 Will Power (Penske Chevy) 108 points
2 Ed Carpenter (Carpenter Chevy) 92
3 Scott Dixon (Ganassi Honda) 71
4 Alexander Rossi (Andretti Honda) 65
5 Ryan Hunter-Reay (Andretti Honda) 61
6 Simon Pagenaud (Penske Chevy) 65
7 Carlos Munoz (Andretti Honda) 53
8 Josef Newgarden (Penske Chevy) 55
9 Robert Wickens (Schmidt Peterson Honda) 45
10 Graham Rahal (Rahal LL Honda) 41
243 Will Power (Penske Chevy) [+7] 2 wins
241 Alexander Rossi (Andretti Honda) [+1] 1 win
233 Josef Newgarden (Penske Chevy) [-1] 2 wins
218 Scott Dixon (Ganassi Honda) [+1]
186 Ryan Hunter-Reay (Andretti Honda) [+4]
183 Graham Rahal (RLL Honda)
178 Robert Wickens (SPM Honda) [+1]
168 Sebastian Bourdais (Dale Coyne Honda) [-4]
155 Simon Pagenaud (Penske Chevy) [+3]
144 James Hinchcliffe (SPM Honda) [-5]
The Dual in Detroit: Two full length two-hour Grands Prix, one Saturday and one Sunday. Standard points for each, so another 100 points available plus bonuses.
Also be sure to watch Saturday’s IMSA race at the same venue, it is often the best race of the three. Castroneves is back in his sports car and you know how well he runs there.
Hugely busy week and that’s just Belle Isle. Just take your pick and do what suits you. Me? I may have commitments that mean I record a lot of this, but my focus will be MotoGP, IndyCar and hopefully IMSA. Next week’s blog may be delayed while I catch up.
- 2 x IndyCar, the Dual in Detroit at Belle Isle on Saturday and Sunday.
- IMSA also at Belle Isle on Saturday – watch Castroneves.
- MotoGP at Mugello – a highlight!
- Blancpain GT with the 1000km into the night at Le Castellet.
- DTM at Hungaroring.
- Formula 3 Europe at Hungaroring.
- NASCAR at Pocono;
A bigger preview to follow Thursday/Friday.