Driver insight with Karun Chandhok: Monaco Grand Prix

by Karun Chandhok on 30th May 2017

Karun Chandhok's latest post-race insight – an intriguing weekend in Monaco and a potentially pivotal moment in this year's world championship

It’s been quite a tiring weekend for me, I’ll be honest. I went to Monaco on Wednesday, came back to England on Thursday and had a shakedown of a couple of cars for the Williams fan day that we have this weekend. Then I went back on Friday, came back on Sunday and it wasn’t exactly relaxed when I was in any of these places, so I feel a bit tired this morning!

Trouble for Mercedes in practice

Anyway, a fairly dramatic weekend in Monaco. The race itself, I’ll be honest, wasn’t the most exciting, but the way the weekend unfolded means it could be a pivotal weekend in the world championship battle. We got down to the circuit on Thursday for FP1 and Hamilton hit the ground running. He was straight out there, straight on it and both Mercedes looked really good, but as the weekend progressed to FP2 they looked completely lost. Lewis looked like he was overdriving it, chasing grip that wasn’t there, starting to make mistakes, going down escape roads, cutting chicanes. He never put his lap together on those qualifying simulations and Valtteri didn’t seem happy either. They were down in 8th and 10th.

Then the big question mark came: is it actually real, or what’s going on here? We got to FP3 on Saturday and everyone has an extra day to think about things. Again Lewis didn’t seem to put a lap together, whereas Valtteri did and jumped ahead of the Red Bulls and within four tenths of Seb. We expected the short-wheelbase Ferrari to be strong in Monaco, but they were really, really strong. When you look at the race pace as well, they were pretty devastating.

Looking at the numbers and fastest lap, Seb did a 15.2, Kimi 15.5 and Lewis 15.8. Okay, you’ve got different tyres at different times, but it’s a reasonable difference anyway.

The Finns star in qualifying

On to qualifying, which is the pivotal point of the weekend actually. At Monaco we spend days and days banging on about the importance of qualifying, but it’s true! If you don’t qualify well, your whole Sunday is compromised. It’s not everything, as Seb and Kimi showed, but it’s so important and it was great to see Kimi Räikkönen get pole position.

I did a bit of analysis on the Channel 4 coverage at the weekend, which is still on the website, looking at the two Ferrari drivers on their best qualifying laps. It was amazing, because it wasn’t actually one sector or one corner – it went back and forth. Seb was ahead in turn one and in sector one, Kimi got it back through Mirabeau and Massenet, then Seb pulled time back through Tabac and the Swimming Pool and then Kimi got it back in the last couple of corners.

It was interesting listening to Mark Webber because he said to us before qualifying that he was always faster than Seb through Rascasse every year and, sure enough, that’s actually where Seb lost pole. He was about half a tenth ahead going into La Rascasse and he came out half a tenth behind. It was a pretty fascinating qualifying and we were all excited to see Kimi get pole, but we shouldn’t doubt the job that Valtteri did. In Q2 he was already three-tenths ahead of Lewis and if you take Lewis’s lap until he got that yellow flag for Stoffel, he was already about three and a half tenths down on Valtteri at that point. The one Lewis actually put on the board was 1.2 seconds off because he kept aborting his laps, but he was still behind Valtteri.

Valtteri’s lap in Q3 was stunning, within two thousandths of Seb and within half a tenth of Kimi, in a car that we didn’t believe to be as competitive as the Ferrari. I thought it was a sterling effort. It was sort of reminiscent of Sochi, with a track where the grip and the front-end bite is not there. Valtteri just under-drives a little to make sure he gets the nose into the corners and to hook the lap together better than Lewis. It’s quite clear that the Mercedes has a very narrow setup window, but I think in these circumstances it does seem that Valtteri is able to extract a lap time and a performance better than Lewis.

That’s something I’m sure Pete Bonnington and the Lewis side of the garage are really going to think about as they go forward for the rest of the season. You’d still have to say he’s the favorite of the two Mercedes drivers to be in the fight. But if he’s going to win the world championship, he’s going to have to work on that side of things.

Strategy shakes up the race order

To the race. The start went ahead and then it was sort of status quo, but the big talking point was did Ferrari use team orders to switch its drivers? There were so many tweets and questions and people up and down the paddock speculating, but here’s my view:

I think Max Verstappen pitted early, went for the undercut on Bottas and when he came out of his pits his times weren’t great on the super soft tyres. Valtteri also pitted for the super soft and both of them on those tyres weren’t quick enough when compared to Daniel who was staying on the used ultra soft. At that point, Ferrari perhaps didn’t look at that enough. They got spooked by Max and Bottas coming in early and didn’t look at the fact that Daniel on the used tyres was actually lapping quicker than them. They weren’t able to light up the super softs as quickly as they needed to, Kimi was asking "When are we pitting?" and collectively they decided to bring Kimi in and Seb obviously stayed out. When Seb went across the line on what would have been Kimi’s out-lap, he was lighting up personal best sectors and then hammered in fastest lap. We thought "oh, this is going to favour him."

I actually thought that Kimi did a very good job of switching on the super soft, because he kept the gap quite tight to Seb. It was quite clear that on this occasion the overcut, effectively staying out longer than the people who were pitting, was the strategy to have.

My personal belief is I don’t think it was team orders, just one of those things, a strategic mistake, which in hindsight is easy to look at and say "oh they shouldn’t have done this," but it’s so difficult. The window on the tyres is so narrow and it’s so tricky to get the tyre strategy right with these Pirelli tyres. Getting the right temperature – they’re so temperamental in some ways and so it’s hard to blame Ferrari. Kimi’s face had the look of thunder on the podium and you couldn’t blame him having lost a Monaco win, especially after so long not winning a race. He drove so well all weekend.

A pivotal moment in the world championship?

Ultimately those three or four laps that Seb did won him the Grand Prix and those are the kind of moments that could be the defining moments in the world championship battle. Sebastian is now 25 points ahead of Hamilton and that is one race victory, so he can afford one DNF with Lewis winning, which they all will have at some point. Psychologically that’s very important.

A few other mentions: I think Carlos Sainz did a brilliant job all weekend, a fantastic qualifying lap and I thought to be right up there in sixth, about a tenth and a half slower than Daniel, was a great effort. A great effort by Daniel to get a podium too after all the mess-ups last year with the pitstops and the strategy. As for Lewis’s strategy, in the morning I put a video up on Instagram and I thought "that’s the only card he has to play, he’s got to go long, let people peel out of the way", which used the be the old GP2 strategy actually. If you were out of position and you felt you had a quicker car, you either pitted on lap one if you knew you had enough free air to hammer it and maybe overtake the slower cars, or if you were at a place like Monaco you tended to go long all the way to the end. People would pit and you would get free air and go and that’s what they did. It was as logical strategy of damage limitation; they got seventh which was probably the best they were going to do.

Jenson Button did a great job in qualifying. That’s going to put a bit of pressure on Stoffel in terms of perception around his career, because Jenson has come in after seven months and got within two tenths of him. Perception is quite a funny thing in this business and with Stoffel crashing out of the points in the race as well, it didn’t end well for him. Lots of talking points and it’s been an interesting weekend on a whole, even though the race itself wasn’t, and now we’ll see what happens in Montreal.

I’m off to Le Mans and actually missing the Montreal Canadian Grand Prix because I’m racing at the 24 Hours. I’ve got a crazy week: we’ve got Williams fan day on Friday, then I’m heading to Le Mans straight from Silverstone on Friday evening and getting to Le Mans at one in the morning for the test. Come back, a few days at home, then head back out for the 24 hours.

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