2014 Monaco GP analysis: Delving into the detail and strategies from the race
Assessing Monaco's recent trend, Hamilton's strategy frustration and what Marussia's points breakthrough says about their pace
By James Galloway and William Esler
Last Updated: 27/05/14 3:41pm
When was the last time we saw an overtake for the lead in Monaco?
By winning the Monaco GP for the second consecutive year from lights to flag, Nico Rosberg became the first driver since Monte Carlo master Ayrton Senna in 1990-1991 to win back-to-back races without being headed at the front of the field - that's 156 laps of racing. Rosberg's latest success from pole also continued the trend which has now seen ten of the race's last 11 polesitters triumph in F1's most prestigious race.
Conversely, in the nine years before Jarno Trulli started that run by winning from pole for Renault a decade ago, the pole/victory conversion rate was only one in nine - McLaren's Mika Hakkinen in 1998 the only driver to win from the head of the grid between 1995 and 2003.
What hasn't changed across either contrasting period, however, is the dearth of changes of lead occurring via direct wheel-to-wheel combat on the circuit. Discounting the lead changing hands, briefly or otherwise, during one of the race's pitstop phases - such as in 2011 when Jenson Button led the middle phase of the race after undercutting Sebastian Vettel - or when the leading car retires - Michael Schumacher when miles clear in 2000, for instance - it's hard to remember a single occasion over the last two decades of the Monaco GP when a driver has properly overtaken the leader on circuit. In 2008's wet thriller - which was ultimately won by Lewis Hamilton - polesitter and early race leader Felipe Massa was passed by Robert Kubica on the road but only when the Brazilian driver ran straight on at Ste Devote.
Even in the years around the turn of the century when the polesitter was rarely converting on race day, the change of lead usually happened directly off the start into Ste Devote (David Coulthard on Juan Pablo Montoya in 2002 and Schumacher on Hakkinen and Heinz-Harald Frentzen in 1999 and 1997 respectively) while the former stalled on the grid when on pole in 2001. While Monaco's narrow confines naturally make the task of overtaking a car more difficult than anywhere on the calendar, Sunday's race showed again that passing isn't completely impossible - just, yet again, apparently not when it concerns the lead.
So can you remember the last time a driver overtook for the lead of the Monaco GP on the circuit (discounting the start)? Let us know in the comments!
Why was Lewis Hamilton so irked by his strategy?
With his post-qualifying demeanour and comments indicating he was far from convinced that Nico Rosberg hadn't committed a professional foul to secure pole, Lewis Hamilton was clearly simmering with frustration in his interviews post-race after a second opportunity to beat his team-mate in Monaco failed to present itself through the sole pitstop phase.
"Unfortunately [at Mercedes] we have one overall strategist, and he's amazing, but unfortunately the role in the team is that he has to look out for the number one [driver in the race] and the guy in second has to come second," Hamilton told Sky F1. "I knew from the get-go that I had a lesser opportunity to win the race and I needed a miracle to win at a track like this."
Barring a slip from his team-mate, unreliability or, most likely, a superior launch off the grid into Ste Devote, Hamilton knew that winning the Monaco GP for the second time was going to be a near impossible task, particularly with the prospect of a one-stop race narrowing his strategic options. However, running around a second behind the sister W05 through the opening stint, Hamilton clearly saw a glimmer of that 'miracle' occur mid-way round lap 25 when he and Rosberg encountered yellow flags at the harbourside chicane between five and ten seconds after Adrian Sutil had crashed his Sauber into the barriers. As Hamilton's later radio messages confirmed, with a Safety Car phase likely, he felt he should have been pulled in immediately in order to try and jump Rosberg.
As it was, the Mercedes pitwall waited for confirmation of the pace car from Race Control, which arrived by the time their drivers were approaching Portier on the next lap (26), before telling both drivers to pit at the end of that tour. As Toto Wolff himself admitted afterwards, from that point on "it was clear that the race was finished".
Mercedes' hierarchy made it explicitly clear after the race that their in-house policy is for the lead car to get priority on pitstops, meaning Hamilton's hopes of stopping immediately were never going to be realised anyway, even if he had demanded to come in during the 24-second period which elapsed between him reaching the scene of Sutil's accident and the pit entry.
But, in a purely hypothetical world where Hamilton pitted on lap 25 and Rosberg continued for that extra lap, would a pre-emptive stop have made much difference anyway? Barring a significantly faster pitstop, it's tough to see how it would have been a sure-fire certainty given Hamilton would have been driving to a delta time for the majority of his out lap whereas Rosberg, by staying out, would have been able to run full speed until the start of the middle sector when the Safety Car was called. A more conventional pitstop phase would have been a better chance for Hamilton, but then, with the leader still getting pit priority, another long shot pit calamities aside.
Possession is invariably ten tenths of the law in the Monaco GP and, by converting that controversial pole into the race lead by the first corner, Rosberg was always unlikely to be toppled.
How did Massa's strategy 'risk' pay off?
As the only driver in the last decade not to convert Monaco pole into a race win, Felipe Massa has never had the best of luck in the Principality - as evidenced by his bizarre pair of identical crashes at Ste Devote last year. That run seemed set to continue last weekend when Marcus Ericsson came careering into the side of his Williams at Mirabeau at the end of Q1, consigning Massa to 16th on the grid.
However, 78 laps of racing later and Massa was taking the chequered flag in seventh place - his joint-best result of 2014 - in no small part to a roll of the strategy dice. "I took some risks when I changed strategy at the Safety Car and had to make my tyres last, which they did," the Brazilian explained. "I made the most of the opportunities I had with other cars making mistakes or retiring." That equated to a mammoth 45-lap opening stint on the supersoft tyres which, while initially gaining Massa track position while everyone else pitted under the Safety Car on lap 26, ultimately meant he was always going to return to the track down the pack when he did stop, albeit with the grip advantage of fresher soft tyres.
For the umpteenth time this season, Massa enjoyed a profitable first lap and gained three places to run behind team-mate Valtteri Bottas from the first corner onwards. That became 12th when Sebastian Vettel retired on lap four and 11th when Daniil Kvyat dropped out. Having tracked Bottas through the first stint, the race's second caution period for Sutil's crash meant Williams would have to stack their drivers, however as the second car in the order, Massa may have been vulnerable to Button and Gutierrez behind, who had pitted the lap before. Any chance of defeating his team-mate would most likely have evaporated too.
So, Williams threw the dice and kept Massa out, meaning that when the restart happened he was fifth on the road. Although initially able to open up a five-second lead over Nico Hulkenberg and setting a personal-best lap time 40 laps into his supersoft stint, Massa's tyres eventually began to fade and Williams finally pulled him in at the end of lap 45 as the Force India closed right in. That dropped him back to 11th again, eight seconds behind Bottas who was beginning to come under pressure from Gutierrez and Kimi Raikkonen, but five successive mid-1:20s laps meant Massa was soon right with them.
That's when Massa's Monaco luck finally turned: in the space of four laps both Bottas (power unit) and Gutierrez (crash) retired to promote him into the points before Raikkonen and Magnussen's lap-73 tangle at the hairpin gifted the Brazilian that seventh place. Fortunate, certainly, but in the Principality of high stakes you invariably make your own luck and Williams' strategy call was rewarded.
How big a step forward have Marussia made?
Marussia scored their first F1 points after 83 races on Sunday, but how much of a jump in competitiveness did the team make following the two-day test at the Circuit de Catalunya?
Of the 11 teams on the grid, the Banbury outfit recorded the fifth-fastest lap time during the race with Max Chilton's 1:20.579 placing him seventh overall on the list. That, on the face of it, represents a dramatic improvement on being the tenth-fastest team and 18th on the timesheets in Spain. However, it is clear that Marussia did not have the fifth quickest car and like Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen, who set the fastest lap of the race despite Mercedes dominating again, both drivers were on fresher tyres than most into the closing laps.
What was more noticeable, then, was that with Marussia having been little more than backmarker fodder since joining the sport in 2010, Bianchi was able to hold off the Lotus of Romain Grosjean in the closing stages, without having to resort to overly defensive driving. It will also have been a boost to the team that the Frenchman was close enough to Raikkonen and Kevin Magnussen's McLaren to take advantage of their coming together in the closing laps.
"A lot of this weekend's clear step stems from the progress we made at the recent Barcelona test," admitted team boss John Booth. "We were cautiously optimistic about our performance increment, but we really needed to see it translate into a good race here in Monaco before we could feel too confident."
We have crunched the numbers and converted lap times to a percentage to negate the differences in track length and you can see from the table below just how much Marussia's single-lap pace has improved.