Saturday 25 May 2013

Monaco Qualifying: No one can rain on Rosberg's parade

Everything happens for a reason, particularly in F1 wherein everything is measured, analysed and (hopefully) accounted for. And there were lots of reasons to think in advance that Mercedes, and more to the point Nico Rosberg's Mercedes, would be hard to keep away from pole position today. Sure enough pole position is exactly what Rosberg claimed. And not even F1's ultimate googly of it being Monaco with rain around during the qualifying hour was able to avert Nico's fate.

Nico Rosberg starts from the front once again
Credit: Morio / CC
The Mercs have had Saturdays pretty much to themselves in 2013, this being their fourth pole in row as well as Nico's third. The car was several strides quicker than all others in the tight final Barcelona sector in qualifying there, viewed pretty much universally as a guide to Monaco pace. Monaco was markedly one of the silver cars' most competitive weekends of last year. And Nico has been faster than everyone seemingly since a wheel was turned in the principality on Thursday morning - the qualifying hour simply made it four sessions from four which he topped. Sometimes in F1 cause and effect are insurmountable.

As mentioned it rained in advance of the qualifying session, and to start with it was definitely a track for intermediate rubber. The drivers earned their money with some serious tip-toeing, facing the perpetual threat of missing the cut due to not being on the right tyres at the right time (as well as of ending their session against the scenery) while times tumbled and the timing screen as it often does at such moments resembling the display of a fruit machine. The track was good for slicks though by halfway through the hour, and in the event the biggest casualties of the elements were Paul di Resta in Q1 and Pastor Maldonado in Q2. And with a dry track and just about all the big names having survived the detour normality reasserted itself.

Thus again it was advantage Rosberg, and no one was able to rain on his parade. His stable mate Lewis Hamilton threatened oh-so briefly to snatch the pole from him, indeed dipped under his time at the last before Nico went even quicker almost immediately. While Sebastian Vettel - who bounced back after a difficult Thursday (something he does with such regularity that it shouldn't really surprise us) - very nearly did the unthinkable and plunder the pole for himself, but a small mistake at Mirabeau kept him starting from third.

Is Sebastian Vettel best-placed for tomorrow?
Credit: Morio / CC
But Seb may still be in a good place for tomorrow's race. To continue the chief theme of this season Mercedes may not be as potent then as in qualifying; borrowing from the words of Clive James in a similar situation, for them it's a pity that the race always has to come along and spoil it all. Some things tilt the balance back in the team's favour this time nevertheless: tyre wear is low around this track, and Ross Brawn described the Mercs' race simulation runs on Thursday as 'respectable' (Rosberg was more cautious though, saying that Mercedes still has 'some way to go'). And, oh yeah, this is Monaco, where overtaking is next to impossible. At the very least Mercedes should be in a position to control things, strategy aside. The Mercs may not win tomorrow, but their conspicuous race-day slumps of Spain and Bahrain should not be repeated.

On the subject of strategy some reckon that given everything and with Mercedes filling the top two positions there will be deliberate 'backing up' of the pack by whichever Merc is placed second so to allow their stable mate to make a break. Such things are possible, and indeed Ross Brawn used to enact such strategies regularly in his Ferrari days. But I'd be surprised if we see anything like it tomorrow, mainly because it's hard to imagine Lewis agreeing to it (I certainly wouldn't like to be the one who has to suggest it to him), while you'd imagine if Rosberg ended up second he would also be reluctant to sacrifice himself given he's been the faster all weekend (and may also be 'owed one' after Malaysia).

The grid still seems well-poised for an interesting race, as behind the Red Bulls we have Kimi Raikkonen and then Fernando Alonso on the third row, the two drivers who may have the strongest race pace. But as is often the case in Monaco, being able to take advantage of it and avoiding being stuck in traffic is much easier said than done. Some speculate about enacting a one-stopper, but doing so doesn't appear at all easy. Not for nothing Alonso's talking merely in terms of getting ahead of his championship rivals rather than of winning.

But still, for the first time in a long time we sit before a Monaco F1 race day with reasons to think that it will not be the usual procession. Thank heavens for those Mercedes.

1 comment:

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