Some Things Change, Some Things Stay The Same – Qualifying For The Monaco GP

It's a Mercedes front row lock-out, but four divers are waiting to pounce starting with Sebastian Vettel.

It’s a Mercedes front row lock-out, but four drivers are waiting to pounce starting with Sebastian Vettel.

So what changed? That is a simple one. The Weather. I am always taken aback when just as qualifying is supposed to begin for a grand prix the rain shows up as if on cue. And to dispel any question of who is in control (the race gods), the rain checks out right after Qualifying has been completed. Exit stage right.

One thing never in question is what the rain does to a qualifying session. Answer: create complete chaos. At one point in Q2, I think just about everyone set the fastest lap. Such is the nature of a drying track and being in the right place at the right time.

What stayed the same? The Mercedes boys have made it four in a row and Nico Rosberg completes the hat trick for pole position. Much to the dismay of both Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel, Rosberg is taking a page from Red Bull, no scratch that, taking a sip from the RED BULL and really putting together an impressive run of pole positions. True, the Mercedes chassis peaks with these 2013 generation Pirelli tires sooner than anyone else, but you still have to be impressed with Rosberg. I consider Hamilton to be just as good as Vettel when he has solid machinery at his disposal, so to out-qualify Hamilton three straight is really saying something.

What else stayed the same? Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull are fast, so is Mark Webber. There is no secret here, the RB9 is still a fast chassis no matter what their issues are with the tires. Vettel made it a point in the driver interview that he didn’t want to sound as though he was making any excuses for his final grid position. Good, lets move on from all the rhetoric at least for today (LOL) but he lead us to believe that his lap was not to his liking, that maybe it could have been a little more tidy. So Vettel himself takes the blame, not the car, nor the tires, for not being being able to challenge for pole today.

What else is still the same? Ferrari is still the fifth or sixth fastest car over one lap. I have a suspicion that in dry conditions Fernando Alonso could have overhauled Kimi Raikkonen for fifth, but that is it. The Ferrari is still just too slow on light tanks. Alonso’s body language was anything but confident after qualifying. He has all but ruled out a victory tomorrow.

Some other points to mention: Felipe Massa crashed out in FP3, didn’t make it into qualifying. He will start last. Roman Grosjean crashes for a second time in FP3, in the same spot no less, did make it to qualifying but not Q3. He will start from 13th spot. Lastly, McLaren’s new guy Perez will again start in front of Jenson Button.

And there we have it. The grid is set for the Grand Prix of Monaco. What will happen?

Even though this is a completely different kind of track, conditions, and tire compounds than what we have seen so far this season, there is still a bit of a question mark around the Mercedes being able to look after its tires. To a lesser degree this also applies to Red Bull. So for me the race winners are not a foregone conclusion. With 78 laps to race the track gets smaller and smaller the further you get into it. Lewis is the odds on favorite to win as of Friday with 5/1 odds. I like those odds, and I think Hamilton will deliver something special for this race. I am not discounting Rosberg, or anyone else for that matter, especially Alonso, it is just that drivers like Hamilton really shine in these conditions.

I haven’t mentioned Kimi Raikkonen yet so here goes. He will also shine. Between these two drivers it could go either way. Too hard to predict. You can’t discount the advantage that the Lotus will have. To what degree, that is the real question. But Kimi is definitely a favorite for the win as well.

A statistic popped up during qualifying: forty-nine out of fifty-nine winners have started from the first three positions. Just two weeks ago there was another crazy stat that was mentioned. Remember that one? Something about no one ever winning the Spanish Grand prix from lower than the second row … hmm. As always Fernando seems to possess an unequaled habit for getting to the podium. The Ferrari’s ability to look after the tires will also play a role in tomorrow’s race. Enough for the top step? Probably not. That would be the result of a safety car or a retirement from the front runners, but it is a good bet that Fernando will get one of the smaller trophies on Sunday.

I will leave it on this note: at this track no one expects there to be that much of a penalty with the less durable Pirellis. That might be true, but then again no one thought we would see pit stops after so few laps in the last few races. So it is very much an unknown. If our first three or four cars are less competitive on 300+ kilos of fuel, look for there to be strategy changes up and down the pit wall and the race to be wide open to the team(s) that gets it right. Throw in an accident or two, or three, and some micro-climate sprinkle and the Monaco GP could also re-write some history, a la the Spanish GP.

-jp- (and I was never really good at prediction anyway)

Here is your starting grid for the Monaco GP:

Pos Driver                Team                  Time      Gap
1. Nico Rosberg          Mercedes              1m13.876s
2. Lewis Hamilton        Mercedes              1m13.967s + 0.091s
3. Sebastian Vettel      Red Bull-Renault      1m13.980s + 0.104s
4. Mark Webber           Red Bull-Renault      1m14.181s + 0.305s
5. Kimi Raikkonen        Lotus-Renault         1m14.822s + 0.946s
6. Fernando Alonso       Ferrari               1m14.824s + 0.948s
7. Sergio Perez          McLaren-Mercedes      1m15.138s + 1.262s
8. Adrian Sutil          Force India-Mercedes  1m15.383s + 1.507s
9. Jenson Button         McLaren-Mercedes      1m15.647s + 1.771s
10. Jean-Eric Vergne      Toro Rosso-Ferrari    1m15.703s + 1.827s
Q2 cut-off time: 1m17.748s                               Gap **
11. Nico Hulkenberg       Sauber-Ferrari        1m18.331s + 2.343s
12. Daniel Ricciardo      Toro Rosso-Ferrari    1m18.344s + 2.356s
13. Romain Grosjean       Lotus-Renault         1m18.603s + 2.615s
14. Valtteri Bottas       Williams-Renault      1m19.077s + 3.089s
15. Giedo van der Garde   Caterham-Renault      1m19.408s + 3.420s
16. Pastor Maldonado      Williams-Renault      1m21.688s + 5.700s
Q1 cut-off time: 1m26.095s                                Gap *
17. Paul di Resta         Force India-Mercedes     1m26.322s + 2.870s
18. Charles Pic           Caterham-Renault      1m26.633s + 3.181s
19. Esteban Gutierrez     Sauber-Ferrari        1m26.917s + 3.465s
20. Max Chilton           Marussia-Cosworth     1m27.303s + 3.851s
21. Jules Bianchi         Marussia-Cosworth
22. Felipe Massa

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