The Monaco Grand Prix marked the end of Mercedes’ run of one-two finishes, but Lewis Hamilton still stood at the top of the podium after one of his most impressive performances in recent memory. Ferrari had another strange weekend, notably making a mess of Charles Leclerc’s qualifying, but Canada appears to be a legitimate chance for the Italian team to inject some life into the championship fight.
We’ve assembled our F1 writers Nate Saunders and Laurence Edmondson and columnists Maurice Hamilton and Kate Walker to chew the fat over the main talking points from Monte Carlo.
Judging by his radio messages, Lewis Hamilton was not a happy man during the Monaco Grand Prix. How do you judge his performance – a stunning win in the circumstances or one he overplayed on the radio?
NS: I’ve always thought Lewis has a process on the radio, verbalising his frustration so he doesn’t do something stupid on the race track. As he mentioned after the race, Hamilton lost a championship in 2007 by being left out too long on one set of tyres at the Chinese Grand Prix. He also lost a Monaco win in 2015 due to an unnecessary pit-stop. Those two memories, Monaco’s tight circuit and the relentless pressure of Max Verstappen, must have all made for a fairly pressured environment, so it’s impressive he managed to get it done.
MH: It was rather melodramatic at times but I put that down to the feeling of helplessness and frustration with such a long way to go; having time on his hands, so to speak, because he was lapping so far off the pace — and knowing it was Verstappen, of all people, on the attack and bound to have a go at some point. Hamilton did a brilliant job to keep it all together under such pressure, despite having no grip at the front and the walls and barriers waiting for a wheel just a fraction out of place.
LE: Daniel Ricciardo and Kevin Magnussen completed exactly the same strategy (soft to lap 11, medium for 67 laps) without all the histrionics, but I still stand by Hamilton’s performance being one of his best. The other two were filtered back into a group of drivers on soft tyres while Hamilton had to hold off Max Verstappen on a superior strategy for 80 percent of the race. If you look at the speed he had to take left-hand corners in the best car on the grid, he did a great job keeping him at bay.
KW: Can I split the difference? I saw a great drive from a man who was clearly feeling a lot of pressure in the cockpit, much of it self-inflicted. But I think Lewis was blowing off steam with his radio, distracting himself from stress.
If you were Charles Leclerc, would you have any faith left in the Ferrari pit wall?
NS: It would be natural for doubt to creep in after what happened in Monaco. He wasn’t entirely blameless for his poor weekend, but given how the season has gone for him so far you couldn’t blame him for starting to feel a little negative the situation he finds himself in.
MH: I’d be worried, confused and struggling to find something positive to say. Everyone makes misjudgements but there have been far too many — and quite basic ones, too. Vettel can tell Leclerc all about losing focus on the track because of nagging concern over decisions being made at the pit wall.
LE: Yes, because he doesn’t have any other choice. Leclerc is also making mistakes this year and had he not flat-spotted his first set of tyres in Q1 he wouldn’t have had such a poor time on the board in the first place. It’s a cliché, but the team and driver win and lose together in F1. The moment you lose faith, things just get worse.
KW: Nope. Next question?
Which is the greater sporting spectacle: The Monaco Grand Prix or the Indy 500?
NS: I picked the Indy 500 out of the two, but I think going there before I’d done Monaco swayed it. It all depends what you mean by spectacle. For location, Monaco; for the scale of the pre-race show, Indianapolis. They are both amazing.
MH: It’s like comparing apples with oranges. They are as far apart as it’s possible to be in terms of challenge, speed, location, razzmatazz; you name it. But each is a sporting spectacle in its own right; two unique and very special motor racing events, each with its faults and strong points.
LE: I’ve not been to the Indy 500, but I have been to many racing circuits around the world and nothing comes close to seeing F1 cars on the streets of Monaco. Indianapolis is very special, but fundamentally it is an oval and there are many ovals in the world. There is and will only ever be one Monaco.
KW: Neither is a clear winner — both races can be dramatic or dreary, depending on the year. Most of the Indy action happened on the pit road this year, while Monaco may have been won from pole but it was still a tense 20-odd closing laps.
Who will win a world championship first – Charles Leclerc and Max Verstappen?
NS: At this stage, I have more faith in it being Verstappen and Red Bull. For all the hype, if you take Bahrain away Leclerc’s start with Ferrari has been fairly average at best, with lots of little errors. Ferrari is also a mess. Monaco showed just how much Verstappen has matured over the last 12 months — this time last year he wasn’t ready to be given a championship-winning car, now he is. But this whole question depends on Mercedes being beatable before the rule change… and who would bet on that?
MH: Verstappen is in the better place now that the rough edges appear to have been knocked off after four seasons. Leclerc has just as much potential but, as we keep seeing, he’s got some way to go in terms of being ready to win the F1 world championship. It’s also down to whatever Red Bull and Ferrari give them to race and how the teams, particularly Ferrari, manage it.
LE: If either driver ends up with a championship winning car, I can see them doing it. Right now I wouldn’t bet against Red Bull improving enough in 2021 to get up there before Ferrari, so I’m going to say Max. And if Red Bull doesn’t improve enough, you know Verstappen will find his way into a car that is quick enough.
KW: Leclerc. No disservice to Max, who has shown some real maturity on track this year and delivered some masterful drives slightly below the radar, but to me Charles appears to have an extra pinch of that brilliance both of them share.
Do you believe Ferrari can finally secure a 2019 victory in Canada?
NS: No. Mercedes has been very good at overplaying the danger of Ferrari so far this year, in my opinion, but clearly the world champions are a step ahead at this stage. Mercedes just doesn’t do bad engine upgrades so I think it will arrive in Canada at the front of the pack yet again.
MH: I wish. Even if Ferrari look good in practice and qualifying, you have to wonder if the drivers and/or team are going to throw it away at some point. Montreal is all about braking, traction and aero efficiency. Ferrari got it right last year – but that was then. Now it’s all about coping with the latest tyres and a lot depends on track temperature – and you never know what it’s going to be like in Montreal, even at this time of year.
LE: It all depends on Mercedes’ engine upgrade. If we took the spec of cars from the last few rounds I would say yes, but Mercedes may make a big step in terms of straight-line speed next weekend. It’s certainly going to be Ferrari’s best opportunity since it messed up in Baku.
KW: My inner Pollyanna has to believe that someone other than Mercedes will take the winner’s spot on the podium sooner or later, but I’m beginning to think that someone won’t be wearing a red race suit. Max? Pierre? Looking at you, kids.