Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton and Red Bull Racing’s Max Verstappen were happy after F1 Monaco GP qualifying but Ferrari were left to ponder after another nightmare run.
Mercedes looked solid from the start of the F1 Monaco GP weekend. They just looked slightly vulnerable in FP3 but they eventually quickly got up to speed in qualifying. Both Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas were going neck-and-neck, even in the the pole shoot-out.
It eventually fell to Hamilton, who managed to improve on his final run by 0.086s whereas Bottas failed to do so. The British driver was pumped up hugely as he jumped onto the fencing to greet his fans – not often we see Hamilton like that these days.
Even though Bottas was happy but the Finn lamented missing on pole as he couldn’t get the tyres ready enough for the final run which was similar for Verstappen – both of whom couldn’t improve on their lap time to be second and third respectively.
The Dutchman, though, was pleased to be third and beat the Ferrari drivers, who had a nightmare qualifying. Charles Leclerc was out in Q1 already due to strategical error as the team thought he would be safe but it wasn’t enough in the end.
At the same time, Sebastian Vettel made it through just but a brush with the wall on his final Q3 run kept him only fourth. Before getting to the quotes from the drivers and Mattia Binotto explaining about the reasons, we have Hamilton’s reactions first.
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The British driver – while talking about Niki Lauda – talked on his celebrations and the lap. “I think FP1 and FP2 were good for me and then in FP3 the car didn’t feel anywhere near as good as it did on Thursday, so it was digging deep to turn the car round,” he said.
“Valtteri did a great first lap. I was struggling to get the first lap time out on the tyres, so I did a prep lap for my first lap and the second one was not very good. So I pushed for that first lap at the end, and naturally I had to gain two tenths.
“Because Valtteri was ahead and I thought Valtteri would be up, so I was just throwing the car around. I’m pretty sure I touched a couple of barriers along the way but there’s no better way of doing it around Monaco.
“I’ve not had a huge amount of success here over the years. It’s always been a track that I’ve been quick at, but never quite get that perfect lap. After knowing about pole, I was just so super-hyped, I couldn’t help it but climb the fence. As I tried to hold it in.
“The fans are great here. There’s a lot of Brits and a lot of British flags and, I don’t know, I felt the fence was going to come over actually. Luckily it didn’t’. I think ultimately in life, probably for all of us, there’s great things that happen in our lives and we probably don’t always celebrate them.
“I’ve won races and you just go straight into a meeting and then you go home and sit and watch TV and just sit and do normal stuff and don’t actually capture the moment. I think it was just important for me to enjoy the moment.
“Because you never know when your next pole is going to be. You never know when that moment’s ever going to happen again – so I’m grateful for it.” Teammate Bottas, meanwhile, as mentioned about the out-lap where he couldn’t warm the tyres enough.
At the same time, Verstappen seemed upbeat like Hamilton, especially after 2018 where he couldn’t even take part in qualifying. “I think in general, when you look to the weekend I think we were just missing that two or three tenths at the end,” said Verstappen.
“Q2 was a very good lap but also the tyres were switched on so around here, when your tyres work that makes quite a bit of a difference and in Q3, my first run, I went into Turn 1 and the rear tyres were still not gripping up fully so I lost a bit of time there.
“And basically from there on my lap was pretty stable compared to Q2 so it was not bad. And then in my final run in Q3 I had a bit of traffic on my out lap and when I started the lap, the tyres just felt cold with no grip.
“I was already 0.2s above it so I decided to abort. But in general I think we did a good job. I think coming into this weekend I already had the feeling we were not as strong as we were last year here but for myself I think it was a good qualifying.
“I think this is my first qualifying here but I’ve only done three now. It’s really good to be here.” Verstappen’s teammate Pierre Gasly did a good job to be fifth but received a three-place penalty for unknowingly blocking Haas’ Romain Grosjean in Q2.
He will start from eighth but the Frenchman was delighted with the result and be so close to Verstappen in qualifying. Moving on to Ferrari, Leclerc was clearly disappointed and almost demanded answers from the team, who did put their hands up to the mistake.
They took a gamble which didn’t work. “I think we made a mistake,” said Binotto. “It has been a misjudgement, a wrong evaluation of what we call the cut-off time. The cut-off time is the threshold by when we believed we are comfortable to get into the next session.
“The cut-off time is calculated in real-time based on what we see on the track. When the cut-off time is calculated, we normally add a margin on top of it and the margin is good enough to afford for any tolerances, uncertainty, whatever might happen during the session normally.
“Certainly what happened was the margin we applied was not sufficient. There are two reasons – the first is the track improvement has been very significant by the end of Q1. The second is that probably our margin did not considering enough variability due to drivers’ maybe confidence by driving through Monaco.
“Certainly in Monaco, that margin needs to be increased in future no doubt. We are facing a situation where we need to catch up points in the championship and when you need to catch up you need to take some risks as well.
“By taking margin on everything we are doing. In the case of Q1, taking margin would mean to use a second set of tyres, to miss a set of tyres for Q2 and Q3. We took some risks to perform as well as we could in Q2 and Q3 against our competitors.
“But there is no doubt, when you look at that, the implication of entering into Q2 is even bigger than trying to challenge them in the final part of qualifying in Q3. When you’ve got tools and simulations, you should trust what you are doing.
“We’ve got the right people. We’ve got the right procedures but we need to improve our tools. We are open to new opportunities of looking at what we did and how we may do it differently in the future. It is something we will address from the next race onwards, no doubt.”
On Vettel’s side, the barrier brush in Q3 was the last straw in what was a difficult run from Q1 itself as he ended up using an extra set of tyres which the team didn’t want to. In hindsight, the pressure of getting all from one lap got the better of both the drivers.