The Williams team’s 2018 struggles are all too obvious…
As they exit the Monaco tunnel, the piercing Mediterranean daylight means there’s nowhere to hide. They’ve just been through the tunnel’s kink and so exit on the far left of the track but, with the harbour chicane coming up at about 180mph, they need to get sharply over to the right to begin braking.
The cars with plenty of grip can make that direction change with time to spare, but those struggling need to stay out right for longer to complete the exit – and are then running out of time and space to get over to the right. Time and space, the eternal barriers that define the racing driver’s challenge.
On this Thursday morning, with the track at its dirtiest, the Williams is the car that’s struggling here the most, Sergey Sirotkin and Lance Stroll passing by still almost touching the left-handed barriers at the yacht club reception steps, a point on the circuit at which the Red Bulls are already on the right-hand side, adjacent to the barrier-lined cliff face. The RB14s don’t even need the full width of track as they exit the tunnel, leaving Ricciardo and Verstappen free to focus upon picking out their braking points at a place where their Williams counterparts are still scrabbling with the consequences of the preceding kink. After manhandling their cars over there, they stand on the brakes just before the track dives slightly downhill, the car weaving and twitching so much they need to leave the barriers on the right about half a metre of respect before they then chivvy them into the chicane.
The Red Bulls shower the place in sparks as they cross over to the right and catch the shallow crown of the road with their skid blocks. But even in the way they make that performance-neutral direction change, there’s a distinction in style between their drivers, Verstappen on top of the car dominating it, commanding it, Ricciardo guiding it with minimal effort, letting it do the work. By the time they reach the braking zone though, there’s no difference. Just the rapid-fire rattle of downshifts, arrow-straight and stable, and the instant response of turn in. They are living in a different world to the Williams drivers.