Ferrari dominated qualifying at the Monaco Grand Prix as they locked out the front row, with Kimi Räikkönen taking his first pole position since 2008. It was incredibly close at the front, with the two Ferrari’s separated by just under half a tenth, and Bottas a mere two thousandths behind Vettel. Notably missing from the front runners is a certain Lewis Hamilton, who had yet another poor weekend, only this time it was worse than Russia as he didn’t even make it into Q3. Red Bull were closer than usual, but this was expected with Monaco being a much shorter and slower circuit.
The weekend was a fantastic example of how important it is to get the car setup spot on in order to get the tyres to work optimally. Of the front runners, Hamilton is the obvious example, as he is not expected to be more than a second off the pace, and Ricciardo is another as he was beaten by Verstappen by half a second; a significant margin around Monaco. Hamilton’s problems were reported as being setup related – he wasn’t able to get the core temperature of the tyres into their optimal window, whereas Ricciardo did just one warmup lap (Verstappen did two) for his final attempt in Q3, which meant the tyres weren’t able to provide the grip he wanted.
Monaco is a slow and short circuit that demands good car balance, high downforce and strong traction. Power isn’t as important around Monaco, so the penalty for having a weaker engine is reduced, usually bringing the field closer together.
Using telemetry charts, I’m going to go through and analyse five different cases to investigate the differences between the teams and drivers:
- Räikkönen vs Vettel
- Vettel vs Bottas
- Räikkönen vs Verstappen
- Räikkönen vs Button
- Verstappen vs Ricciardo
All laps are Q3 unless stated otherwise. The charts are fairly simple. Each driver has the velocity plotted against distance. For case 2, Vettel vs Bottas, the throttle and brake traces are also plotted. This is the only case with this data as I was unable to obtain onboard videos with the data for the other cases. The time delta is also plotted comparing the first driver in the legend against the second. In the first chart below, the time delta is comparing Räikkönen’s lap against Vettel’s, so if the value is positive Räikkönen is slower and behind Vettel.
Räikkönen vs Vettel
Both laps are the best effort from each driver, with Räikkönen setting his lap a lap earlier than Vettel. There isn’t much between the two drivers in sector 1, although their different approaches to turn 1 is interesting. Räikkönen carries more apex speed but in doing so isn’t able to get onto the power as well as Vettel. Vettel effectively sacrifices a little bit of time in turn 1, but gets payback all the way down to Massenet (turn 3). At Casino Square (turn 4) Vettel’s trace has a bit of a glitch, but it’s likely he was better than Räikkönen through here as shown by the time delta. By the end of sector 1, Vettel is marginally ahead.
The next sequence of corners from Mirabeau to Portier were immense for Räikkönen as he gains approx 0.3s on Vettel, most of which was at the hairpin of turn 6. Vettel’s mistake is clearly visible as he is 5kph slower than Räikkönen at the apex. Their different approaches to turn 5 are also almost identical to turn 1, Vettel sacrificing a little apex speed for a stronger exit. Through the tunnel and the Nouvelle Chicane they are almost identical, with Vettel getting a slightly better exit, but he’s still 0.2s down at the sector 2 mark.
Through Tabac Vettel is much quicker, carrying 5kph more apex speed, allowing him to carry more speed down to the swimming pool chicane, which he’s also faster through. All he has to do is keep this up and he’ll have pole. Räikkönen has something to say about it though, and is a touch faster through La Rascasse and both drivers are evenly matched through the final turn, with Vettel having a small edge. It’s not enough though as he finishes his lap just half a tenth behind Räikkönen. Had he not won the race, Vettel would have probably regretted making that mistake at the turn 6 hairpin as that’s arguably what cost him pole.
Vettel vs Bottas
Bottas’ lap here is the lap before his best effort which was just 0.002s slower than Vettel’s, and is being used because it was the only other onboard video with throttle and brake data.
Bottas is a tenth ahead after turn 1 as he carries more apex speed and still gets a good exit. Vettel does get on the power earlier, but has to temporarily back off a little, whereas Bottas is much smoother. Due to Vettel’s lap having a glitch at Casino Square, I’ll skip ahead to sector 2.
From Mirabeau (turn 5) to Portier (turn 8), there’s a clear pattern. Vettel in the Ferrari brakes more, but gets on the power much better than Bottas’ Mercedes. Since the brake data is an on/off state, it’s important to not read too much into Vettel braking more and understand that the on or 1 state in the brake trace doesn’t mean maximum brake pressure is applied. It just shows whether on the the driver is applied any brake pressure, not the amount of brake pressure itself. Both drivers are evenly matched all the way until the Nouvelle Chicane where Vettel gains a couple tenths.
Vettel is marginally faster from Tabac to La Rascasse. The Ferrari is clearly having the tyres working well as Vettel is able to be much more aggressive on the throttle. However, Bottas is much stronger through the final two turns and likely makes up approx two tenths on Vettel down to the finish line with a fantastic exit from Anthony Noghes.
Given that he all but matched Vettel’s time on the next lap was it the tyres that just weren’t optimal? Looking at where Bottas greatest time losses were (turns 3, 4, 10, 11, 15, and 16) they’re all different corners, which seems odd. Through turns 5-8, where more mechanical grip and traction from the tyres would be beneficial, Bottas and Vettel are evenly matched when you account for Vettel’s error. It’s difficult to pin it primarily onto the tyres, so it’s truly a mystery for us fans as to where Mercedes went wrong.
Räikkönen vs Verstappen
Through turn 1 Räikkönen is slightly faster, although it looks like the Verstappen gets a better exit. No power deficiencies for the Red Bull at this stage as shown with a closely matched velocity trace before braking for Massenet. The Ferrari is able to brake a little later and carry more speed through the left hander of Massenet, and also reaches a higher velocity before ther right hander for Casino Square. Even at Monaco, Red Bull’s chassis and aero package is still slightly off the Ferrari. Verstappen is 0.1s down at the end of sector 1.
From Mirabeau to Portier, both Räikkönen and Verstappen are incredibly close, with Räikkönen just gaining half a tenth or so. Both cars have almost identical levels of traction and mechanical grip as their velocity traces are incredibly closely matched. As they go through the tunnel, the Red Bull’s lack of power rears its ugly head, with Verstappen losing a tenth through the long right hander. Once again it looks like the Renault engine doesn’t have enough ERS to last an entire lap. Comparing the traces after turn 1, where they’re very similar, to after turn 8 where they diverge at ~210kph. Through the Nouvelle Chicane, both are even stevens, with Verstappen marginally faster, only to lose 0.05s on the short straight down to Tabac, where both drivers take the same apex speed, but Räikkönen gains time by being able to brake later.
From the swimming pool chicane to La Rascasse Verstappen is slightly faster by half a tenth. He gains the same margin again through the final two corners by carrying a 1-3kph more apex speed to finish 0.3s off Räikkönen. Given that Verstappen lost ~0.15s due to power the Red Bull is clearly a fantastic package, especially around Monaco.
Räikkönen vs Button
Button performed brilliantly on his one-off return and showed that he clearly still has the pace to be competitive. Both McLarens also made into Q3, but they were still a long way behind the front runners. As you can see from the time delta, Button is consistenly losing time to Räikkönen to finish the lap 1.4s behind. To put this into perspective, when Räikkönen crosses the finish line, Button would have just exit the final corner.
Everyone knows that the Honda engine is the worst of the four, but how much time did it cost McLaren and Button at Monaco? From the time delta, ~0.1s in sector 1, ~0.2s in sector 2, and ~ 0.1s in sector 3 totalling ~0.4s for the whole lap. I was surprised it wasn’t significantly more. That leaves up to a second in lap time that isn’t entirely down to power deficiency.
The biggest time losses for Button are the Nouvelle Chicane, Massenet+Casino Square, and the swimming pool chicane, the last two in particular. Through Massenet and Casino Square, Button has to brake earlier from a slower speed and struggles to carry speed into Massenet losing 0.3s. He is also ~10kph slower through Casino Square losing another 0.1s. It looks like Button made an error at the swimming pool chicane costing him 0.2s, which leaves the Nouvelle Chicane, where he’s ~7kph slower than Räikkönen at the apex losing 0.2s. This all totals to 0.8s. The last two tenths are lost in turns 5-8, where the speed traces are closely matched, but Räikkönen is faster as he’s able to carry more apex speed.
McLaren have a long way to go to cross the gulf between the front runners and the midfield, and installing a Mercedes engine into the back isn’t a cure all solution, because around Monaco they weren’t just losing time due to power.
Verstappen vs Ricciardo
Ricciardo was annoyed at his qualifying strategy as for his final attempt in Q3 he only did one warmup lap to prepare the tyres, whereas his teammate did two. This compares both of their final laps, not their best laps as Ricciardo didn’t improve on his second run. Ricciardo’s lap was more than half a second slower than Verstappen, so where exactly did he lose this time?
There is almost nothing between them up to Massenet, with Ricciardo carrying more speed through the corner to be half a tenth up. Verstappen takes a different approach and sacrifices a little in Massenet to gain time into and out of Casino Square, which pays off as he’s 0.15s up on Ricciardo before Mirabeau.
From Mirabeau to Portier, Ricciardo loses ~0.3s through a combination of lower apex speeds and lack of traction (exit turn 5). It’s possible that if the tyres were optimal then he wouldn’t have lost as much time. Through the tunnel Ricciardo gains 0.05s on Verstappen with a greater top speed, which indicates he was likely running a little less downforce than his teammate. From the Nouvelle Chicane to the exit of Tabac he steadily loses 0.2s. His lower peak velocity before Tabac may be a sign of suboptimal tyres not providing enough traction.
Through the swimming pool chicane Ricciardo’s apex speed is ~5kph slower costing him 0.2s – possibly an error or perhaps a combination of tyres and lower downforce. Through La Rascasse and the final corner, the two drivers are pretty even, with Verstappen marginally faster.
Could Ricciardo have outqualified Verstappen if he had an extra preparation lap? It difficult to say for sure, but I don’t think so, I suspect Verstappen would have been one or two tenths faster. If Ricciardo was running less downforce then he wasn’t gaining enough time from it to outweigh what he was losing through traction zones and medium speed corners.
Thanks for reading!