2017 Formula One Monaco Grand Prix: Pit Strategy Pays Off

Sebastian Vettel took Ferrari’s first win around Monaco in sixteen years.

The most prestigious race of the Formula One calendar was won by Sebastian Vettel, as his team mate and pole sitter Kimi Raikkonen lost out on strategy. But were there some secret team orders at play from Ferrari?

Kimi pitted first on lap 34, but Vettel stayed out and took the provisional lead of the Grand Prix. Sebastian started pumping in some very quick lap times and by the time he pitted on lap 39, he retained his place at the head of the field. This is known as the “overcut”. The opposite is the “undercut” where the driver that comes in first gets the benefit of fresh rubber and usually track position. However, due to the 2017 Pirelli tires lasting longer than years past, the “overcut” can sometimes become the optimum strategy.

Whether Ferrari swapped the drivers on purpose will remain a mystery. The team issued no clear team orders over the radio. Ferrari massaged Vettel past Kimi with strategy rather than a direct swap on the race track. Did the team know ahead of time that Vettel’s strategy was the optimum one or was it simply a coincidence?

A dejected Kimi Raikkonen on the podium with winner Sebastian Vettel.

Whatever the case, the swapping of the drivers was for the good of the Championship. Vettel is the driver fighting for the World Championship — not Kimi. Ferrari has to make sure the pressure is constantly being applied to Mercedes (notably Lewis Hamilton). While this has angered many Kimi Raikkonen fans, winning a World Championship is likely higher on Ferrari’s list of priorities than pleasing Kimi fans in this situation.

Predictably, the main action during the race was in the pit stops. With some exceptions (notably last year) the Monaco race is quite the procession. The appeal of the race is often more the setting than what actually occurs on the race track.

During the pit stop phase, Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo followed the same path as Sebastian Vettel and stayed out longer, taking advantage of the “overcut” strategy. After all was said and done, he was promoted two places up into third place and onto the podium. All at the expense of his team mate Max Verstappen and Mercedes ace Valtteri Bottas.

There is an eighty percent chance you’ll see a Safety Car around the streets of Monaco and on lap 60, we got one.

Pascal Wehrlein’s Sauber was launched into the barrier at Portier.

The Sauber of Pascal Wehrlein ended up on its side against the barriers just before the entrance to the tunnel. Jenson Button dove up the inside at Portier and clipped Wherlein’s car into the air. Button’s front left suspension snapped and he ended his 306th Grand Prix with an regrettable retirement. Jenson had said he’d be taking risks at this race as he had nothing to lose, but maybe he went too far with the move on Pascal.

With Stoffel Vandoorne also crashing out, McLaren walk away from another Grand Prix pointless. Perhaps Fernando Alonso will have better luck and judgement as he gets set for the Indy 500, also taking place today.

The turbulent air caused by the extra downforce of the cars makes it difficult to get close and pass. It’s already nigh on impossible to overtake around Monaco and the turbulent wake adds to the frustration of the drivers. This was evident when the field was bunched up after the Safety Car came back into the pits.

Sergio Perez of Force India crashed into Daniil Kvyat’s Toro Rosso as he tried to squeeze past through La Rascasse. This ended Kvyat’s race and put Perez out of the points. Max Verstappen was stuck behind Valtteri Bottas until the end of the race; similarly, the Toro Rosso of Carlos Sainz held up Lewis Hamilton.

Lewis Hamilton had made it up to seventh place from his starting position of thirteenth after playing the long game. He would end up pitting on lap 47, some 10 laps later than those around him. Damage limitation for the Briton today, but he remains 25 points and a full race victory behind Sebastian Vettel in the Championship.

Sergio Perez set a new lap record through the tight and twisty streets of Monaco with a 1:14.820. The lap records have been tumbling this year with the new, faster 2017 mean machines.

A superb Sebastian Vettel victory was Ferrari’s first at the principality since 2001. A sixteen year drought has finally come to an end for the Scuderia. Vettel has finished in the top two places at every race so far this year. We’re a quarter of the way through the 2017 season and Vettel’s lead at the top of the Championship looks rather ominous. Ferrari has also overtaken Mercedes in the Constructor’s Championship.

The next stop for the Formula One circus is Montreal for the Canadian Grand Prix. The nature of the track favors a car that goes well in the corners. Something Ferrari showcased well throughout this whole weekend. Mercedes need to get their act together if they’re going to halt Ferrari’s momentum in this year’s Championship.

The official classification of the 2017 Formula One Monaco Grand Prix.

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