F1 Monaco GP: To Pit or Not to Pit

f1-2015-monaco-rosberg-victoryFor the first 64 laps, Lewis Hamilton dominated the Monaco Grand Prix. Unfortunately for Hamilton, the race was 78 laps, not 64. An ill-advised call to the pits under safety car took Hamilton from the lead to third place on a circuit where passing is next to impossible.

Instead of Hamilton taking home the dominant race victory, it was his teammate, Nico Rosberg, who won his third-straight Monaco Grand Prix. Whether he actually earned this one is a matter of debate.

As per usual for the streets of Monte Carlo, it seemed as though the race was going to be determined by the outcome of qualifying crossed with a little bit of luck. At the front, it was Hamilton, Rosberg and Vettel who led the field. The 4th and 5th starters swapped position with Daniil Kvyat jumping Daniel Ricciardo.

f1-2015-monaco-verstappen-crashFurther back, there was the typical first lap trouble. Nico Hulkenberg ran into Felipe Massa on the exit of Turn One that broke the front-right wheel of the Williams and compromised any hope he had on the day. Hulkenberg got a receipt of sorts when he hit the barrier at the exit of Mirabeau coming together with Fernando Alonso. Alosno got a five-second penalty for avoidable contact which just goes to show that the FIA is trying to regulate all non-DRS passes out of the sport.

The race stayed fairly steady and uneventful until Lap 64 when Max Verstappen ran into the back of Romain Grosjean heading into Ste. Devote. The collision between the pair sent Verstappen into the barrier and brought out the Safety Car.

At this point, things went mental for Mercedes. With Hamilton reportedly sounding concerned about his tyres and the team believing they had a sufficient gap to get him onto fresh tyres, Mercedes called Hamilton in for a pit stop. The problem was that he didn’t have the gap. He was probably about a second too slow to get back out into the lead. If the race went to Virtual Safety Car or directly to Safety Car, maybe he would have safely won the race.

f1-2015-monaco-podiumInstead, it was Rosberg who scored his second win in a row and third-straight Monaco Grand Prix victory. Sebastian Vettel crossed the line in 2nd for the first time this season though it was the second time he beat a Mercedes this season. In unlucky 3rd was Lewis Hamilton.

Daniil Kvyat finished in 4th ahead of teammate Ricciardo in 5th. After the Safety Car, the team had Kvyat release Ricciardo to chase the lead cars. When Ricciardo was unable to pass after catching them, he ceded the position back to Kvyat on the final lap. Kimi Raikkonen had a terrible weekend that included getting bumped out of the way by Ricciardo en route to 6th. Sergio Perez finished in 7th to bring driver #11 a total of 11 points. Jenson Button had the next biggest day after Hamilton. He finished 8th to score McLaren’s first points of the season. Felipe Nasr scored Sauber’s first points in six weeks with a 9th. And Carlos Sainz rounded out the points in 10th after starting from the pit lane and doing the last 63 laps on the prime tyres.

The big story prior to the start of the weekend was Lewis Hamilton’s contract status. The defending World Drivers’ Champion’s contract was due to expire at the end of the season and his dominance was going to earn him with a pretty penny from whichever team landed him.

f1-2015-monaco-mercedes-teamWhat is will cost Mercedes to keep Hamilton in the fold is £33 million per year over the next three season which will make it the richest contract in Formula One and one of the richest in professional sports (Floyd Mayweather likely being the only person who could command more while doing less). Hamilton’s current contract is worth an estimated £21 million per season. That big chunk of change is likely excluding performance bonuses for race wins and championship wins. It’s not much of a stretch to think that Lewis will pick up those bonuses.

He’ll spend at least the first two years of that new contract teamed with Rosberg. The German driver is in the first year of a three-year contract worth a reported $75 million in total. That makes it worth just less than half of Hamilton’s £100 million (or about $153 million) contract.

Of course, all the money in the world doesn’t buy you competent calls from the pit wall.

One of the ongoing stories over the last couple of years has been Red Bull’s exit strategy. Given the economics of Formula One, selling to a manufacturer has always been the plan but it looks like they’re pushing the issue a little more firmly of late.

While a partnership with Infiniti, which would include an Infiniti developed/funded engine, has been talked about since Nissan’s luxury brand came aboard Red Bull as a title sponsor, the possible sale to Audi is still being worked on.

Interestingly, Dietrich Mateschitz isn’t looking at selling RBR proper but Toro Rosso. The current plan is to sell STR to Audi for $300 million for the start of the 2017 which would also include Red Bull staying on to sponsor the team for a period. While Audi wouldn’t be getting the prime Red Bull team, Toro Rosso isn’t completely lacking in competitiveness and would probably be cheaper to run (and less valuable) in its current state than RBR. Autosport estimates that starting an F1 team from scratch, including an engine program, would cost upwards of $1 billion. This would help cut some of those costs.

There are a few big problems that would keep Audi out. The first is obviously cost. It’ll be hundreds of millions of dollars up front before a race with another couple hundred million dollars per season to run the team. Honda’s struggles in its first season back has to scare any potential new entrants, including the possible Infiniti engine. And there’s the fact that we’re some 21 months from the first 2017 test. Working on a similar timeline, Honda hasn’t been looking too strong. I can’t see Audi liking their chances either as the clock ticks toward that season.

At this point, though, I can’t see Audi coming in until we get a properly major rules change. As long as the formula is hybrid V6s with all the current bells and whistles, it makes no sense to get in late and at a disadvantage. Given the amount of money Red Bull is putting into the sport, I can understand why they want out. Maybe they should focus on Renault who want to get back in as a factory effort and wouldn’t have to spend as much as Audi or Infiniti which would make an F1 entry a far more palatable effort.

While he got a respectable finish, Sergio Perez was still the subject of a little bit of juicy gossip this weekend.

f1-2015-monaco-sergio-perezPerez’s former Formula BMW team boss, Peter Mucke, took some time ahead of the Monaco GP to explain how the Mexican driver was unprofessional and a slob in his junior days. There were a few money quotes that Mucke dropped. He said, “His apartment in Berlin looked like a battlefield. He wrecked my rental car when he came home drunk from a party.” He also claimed Perez “never would have reached the top if not for [Telmex sponsorship] money.”

Granted, in 2006, Perez would have been about 16 years old when he raced for Mucke and it would have only been his second year in Germany and third out of his native Mexico. While a sloppy apartment would be typical for a teenage and pay drivers are par for the course in motorsport, the drunk driving allegation is the most serious. Granted, that’s nine years ago so it’s not like he’ll face any punishment for it but if he did it today, he’d probably find himself unemployed and unemployable.

So far, there hasn’t been any fallout from this story. There could be considering that Force India was sponsored by Kingfisher (an Indian beer) and Smirnoff (a top vodka brand), Sergio and the team throwing a couple of dollars to drunk driving awareness wouldn’t be a bad idea.

The next round of the 2015 Formula One World Championship is the best round of the season. The teams will cross the Atlantic for the first of four races in the Americas. This time, it’s a trip to Montreal and the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve for the Canadian Grand Prix.

Last year saw the first big chink in Mercedes’ armor as both cars suffered mechanical problems that resulted in Daniel Ricciardo capitalizing for his first F1 win and the first of three victories on the season. In two of the last three races, Mercedes has suffered similar brake problems though only in Bahrain did it seem to have any consequences.

If anyone is to pounce this time, it’s going to be either Ferrari or Williams. The Ferraris have clearly been the second-best cars on the grid this year but the many straights in Montreal would play to the low-drag Williams cars. I wouldn’t be too shocked to see Bottas in great position to pounce at CGV. The question is whether the opportunity for a win will present itself.


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