Monaco GP: the Top Gear preview

ImageTomorrow morning then, the Monaco Grand Prix weekend, the atypical, anachronistic antidote to all Bernie’s new world circuits kicks off and, almost despite ourselves, we are quite extraordinarily excited. So the cars travel more slowly than anywhere else in the world (30mph around the hairpin); so overtaking is rarer than a shirt buttoned anywhere above the chest; so you’ll not find another race where the spectators spend more time looking at each other than at the cars.

None of it matters; the climbs, the drops, the bumps, the barriers — stuff F1 drivers don’t see from one year to the next make it the greatest spectacle in racing and unquestionably the greatest challenge of a driver’s talent.

And let’s face it in a year when races have been won (as we have said more than once this year) on a strategist’s laptop on a Saturday evening, it will be good to see the right stuff come once more to the surface.

One hell of an argument has broken out since the Spanish Grand Prix and Fernando Alonso’s win of the back of a successful four stop strategy. Seems you either believed that Ferrari gambled on Fernando Alonso being able to go like stink in each of his five stints and that such a move should be applauded because others failed to see the opportunity or didn’t have the machinery to make it work.

Or you believed that, just as we have seen before, too many drivers, too many cars were circulating well below what they/it could do. And when that group includes Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel then Alonso’s victory was a hollow one.

Martin Brundle (@MBrundleF1), typically, brought the two arguments together with one tweet: “Some people missing the point. Multi-stop F1 strategies used to require banzai qualy style laps and unassisted overtaking to make them work” The point being that it’s not just about the capricious nature of this year’s tyres (which Pirelli has said it will upgrade from the next race, Canada, onwards).

Ferrari and Alonso’s race in Spain would have been audacious if it had asked rather more of Alonso’s genius. Sure, he drove brilliantly, but only because he drove to a program. So long as he stuck to it here was little or no jeopardy. If you could hack the teams’ laptops of a Sunday morning, you could make a killing at the bookies.

Monaco of course throws a spanner in the software however because even with DRS it is so bloody hard to get past the car in front. It’s why some folks are wondering if Mercedes can actually convert Saturday pace to Sunday podium. At the very least it’s going to mean every team will need to be as quick as Red Bull in the pits (cramped, crowded pits don’t forget) and likely some controversy around the pit exit. It will also mean that the “banzai qualy style laps” of Brundle’s tweet will need to be in evidence, if at all possible.

Qualifying on Saturday will be extraordinary. Using the above argument and assuming Hamilton and Rosberg again find themselves going backwards from the front row, third might be good enough for the win, assuming the track is clear once the Mercs have made their first stop and, rather more optimistically, Mercedes doesn’t have a obvious team strategy in place where the pole car stops a considerable number of laps before the second placed car. Well, that’s one theory.

It will be interesting to hear the take of Gary Anderson — officially now our über-analyst. It will have to be ‘hear’ since the BBC TV aren’t live this weekend, so make sure you can find Radio 5 Live Sports Extra. The two 90min practice sessions are at 0900 and 1300 tomorrow so you might want to plan your day around that. What’s happening in F1 right now is complex maybe rather than plain exciting, but that’s all the more reason to get in deep. Anderson’s your man for that, especially if you don’t have Sky/can’t possibly think of reason for missing work tomorrow.

Now, can you come up with a winning strategy for your favourite team?

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