Simanaitis Says

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ON APPRECIATION OF MOTOR RACING

I’VE BEEN reading complaints about this past Sunday’s 2018 Monaco Grand Prix, some even from World Drivers Champions Fernando Alonso, who dropped out of the race, and Lewis Hamilton, who stood third on the podium.

Alonso is quoted in CNN saying that 2018 Monaco was, “… probably the most boring race ever. We probably need to give something to the fans at the end of the race just to pay the ticket back a little.”

Fernando Alonso, World Drivers Champion in 2005 and 2006, retired his McLaren with mechanical ills at 52 of 78 Monaco laps. Image from autosport.com.

BBC Sport reported Hamilton saying “We were just cruising around from lap six, literally cruising…. If that was exciting for you to watch, no problem.”

Lewis Hamilton, right, World Drivers Champion in 2008, 2014, 2015, and 2017, finished 3rd in his Mercedes at 2018 Monaco. Sebastian Vettel, left, finished 2nd in his Ferrari behind Daniel Ricciardo’s Red Bull car. Image from BBC Sport.

I beg to differ about Monaco 2018 being beneath enthusiast interest. I suspect too that winner Daniel Ricciardo might feel the same.

Daniel Ricciardo was celebratory, not to say relieved, in winning what was for him anything but a boring race. Image from cnn.com.

First off, I’m reminded of R&T colleague Jonathan Thompson who once said, “No one wants to hear a millionaire whine about his work.”

Second, I note that Andrew Benson, BBC Sport’s chief F1 correspondent in Monaco, offers a rather more nuanced picture: “Monaco can often be an uneventful race as a result of the tight nature of the track in the cramped Mediterranean principality, which makes overtaking harder than at any other grand prix.”

It also has a lot more character than many of F1’s post-modern antiseptic venues.

On-car videos are fabulous, but they fail to convey the narrowness and steep changes of elevation of the Monaco circuit. Having seen, walked (and driven) the 144-ft. drop from Casino to Portier, I thrill at drivers accelerating hard from Mirabeau Haute down to what’s now the Fairmont Hairpin. I also admire their precise artistry as wheel rims spark the armco when apexing the circuit’s chicanes.

These guys are averaging more than 80 mph in the narrow streets of this half-vertical principality.

BBC Sport’s Benson also observes, “But the problem was exacerbated this year because drivers were driving slowly to ensure the fragile ‘hyper-soft’ and ‘ultra-soft’ tyres, the two softest in Pirelli’s range, made the required stint lengths.”

Pirelli is F1’s sole tire supplier and teams are required to use at least two different compounds among the three choices provided at each venue. (Wet conditions modify this; and there are other regs based on qualifying.) Among the seven color-coded dry-weather Pirelli compounds, hyper-soft are identified by pink sidewalls; ultra-soft, by purple. Obviously hypers wear more quickly than ultras.

The seven Pirelli dry-tire compounds in the 2018 F1 season are identified by sidewall color. Image from news.pirelli.com.

Tire management has always been crucial in motor racing, especially so today when dictated by team strategies based on the number of intended pit stops and the quest for garnering Championship points.

By contrast with Monaco, the Indianapolis 500’s 2 1/2-mile oval is wide with corners that are banked, albeit insignificantly at the 220-mph speeds they’re traveling. These Indy speeds are breathtaking, however there’s little change of speed and only four corners per lap. (Depending upon how you count them, Monaco has 15 corners, the tightest taken at around 30 mph, the fastest, 180 mph.)

The Monaco circuit, 2.074 miles in length, an elevation change of 144 ft. from harborside to Casino Square. These days, Loews is renamed the Fairmont Hairpin (same hotel, new owner). Originally, it was the Station Hairpin.

At Indy, tire management, resulting pit stops, and yellow-flag bunching and restarts play essential roles. Refueling strategy, no longer permitted in F1, is also crucial. This year’s race was no exception.

Alexander Rossi’s outside passes in the 145th-lap restart were memorable, particularly in light of these 2018 Indycar designs displaying a particularly razor-sharp balance of speed and downforce.

Memorable too were the mid-pack battles taking place at “boring Monaco.” What’s more, we learned only later that Daniel Ricciardo did a fabulous job nursing the car to victory: At the 1/3 point, his Red Bull’s hybrid power management malfunctioned, leaving him with 25-percent less power and dodgy rear brakes.

To me, appreciating subtleties of the competition and of the venue can greatly enhance a race’s interest.

Tomorrow, to put matters in historical perspective, I offer tidbits on the first five Monaco Grands Prix, 1929 through 1933. There were plenty of Bugattis, a pesky commercial interest, maybe even a race fix, and a memorable dice between Achilles Varzi and Tazio Nuvolari. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2018

2 comments on “ON APPRECIATION OF MOTOR RACING

  1. jlalbrecht64
    May 30, 2018

    I’ve been to see the Monaco Grand Prix twice. The cars are incredible. The drivers are incredibly talented. The sounds and the smells are incredible. The experiences were incredible. The money exhibited was something else. The racing…not so much. I had a VERY expensive view up the hill and of the harbor the first time. I had a much less expensive seat in the Cafe de Paris the second time. I was able to follow the race much better.

    I don’t envy the folks trying to make the race more exciting for the fans. The physical limits of the track leave very few degrees of freedom.

  2. Michael Rubin
    May 30, 2018

    While Hamilton and Alonso complained, Mad Max Verstappen managed to make a number of exciting passes. While I admit to being a fan of the two unhappy drivers, Verstappen made for interesting viewing. And since Vettel knew of Ricciardo’s problems, he could have attacked since he had two thirds of the race to figure it out. Raspberries to the cruisers.

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