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Opinion
Formula 1 Monaco GP

Was I nuts to have enjoyed the Monaco Grand Prix?

OPINION: This year’s Monaco Grand Prix will not make any lists for the best races in Formula 1 history, but it was certainly far from the worst ever as some suggest.

Start action, Charles Leclerc, Ferrari SF-24 leads

In fact, and I know I am in a minority here, but as Monaco Grands Prix go, it was one I actually enjoyed.

Monaco Sundays have never been about overtaking. Everyone knows the second they turn up in the Principality that the fight for victory is 99.99% about getting yourself on pole position because, with passing almost impossible, track position is king.

An overtake at Monaco is a rarity and it’s often only when the race gets hit by the unpredictability triggered by wet weather that things get a bit spicier. Olivier Panis can confirm that after his shock triumph in the 1996 race.

Rain is why last year’s Monaco GP had 23 overtakes, and the year before got up to 13. When it is dry, you can easily count the overtakes on one hand. It was four this year (the same as in 2018). And if you want to talk about lack of passing, then you only need to go back to the 2021 race where there were a grand total of zero.

The one jeopardy moment of a dry Monaco has always been the pitstops, with the potential for either a blunder to derail the weekend’s efforts (think Daniel Ricciardo’s missing tyres in 2016) or it to potentially swing the GP on its head (think how Sebastian Vettel overcut Ferrari team-mate Kimi Raikkonen in 2017).

Last weekend's immediate red flag caused by Sergio Perez’s hefty take out with the two Haas cars pretty much robbed us of this strategy element this time out, as it was fairly obvious that the best route to victory was to no-stop by heavily managing the tyres.

While that triggered some pretty defeatist thinking – as George Russell in particular played it super slow to ensure his mediums could make the end – it opened up to me what become a different type of intrigue.

George Russell, Mercedes W15

George Russell, Mercedes W15

Photo by: Erik Junius

As Charles Leclerc aimed to pace things at the front, and Russell in fifth paced things even more to leave an ever widening gap in front of him, the prospect of fourth placed Norris being able to get a free pitstop, change tyres and then surge back to the front – potentially with a rubber advantage that could allow some passing – became fascinating to observe.

Watching the sector times ping up each lap, and the gap between Norris and Russell steadily extending, there was a gripping cat-and-mouse game unfolding that was captivating to watch as the laps ticked by.

As my regular sim racing buddies well know, I’m a big fan of long tyre and fuel saving races – where the enjoyment of thinking big picture that plays out over a 90-minute endurance can often be as fun as a frantic wheel-to-wheel battle for the win that has multiple overtakes. It's not about the position or pace in the opening stages of the race, it's where things come together and you end up at the chequered flag. Monaco was very much such a long-game afternoon.

Ferrari well knew that it could not risk Norris making that stop, so it was having to ensure that Carlos Sainz acted as a spoiler in ensuring the magic 25 seconds gap never appeared. It also needed to ensure Leclerc did not make it too clear just how quick he could go if needed.
Around lap 40 the danger was very real that the pitstop window would open for Norris, and that then prompted some furious backing off from Sainz to make sure McLaren’s strategists did not risk going for it.

There was one moment where Norris probably had the window to do it, but it was gone in a flash and his hopes were over once Russell picked up his pace as he faced the challenge of Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton behind him – who had found their gaps for free stops and were on a charge.

In the end, stopping or not probably made no difference, as the tyre offset from new hards to old mediums was not enough – as Russell proved by being able to hold onto his position.

Lance Stroll showed that new softs to used hards was a good way to allow some passing, but Norris had no new softs left in his locker – so his likely best option would have been going back to the medium he took the original start on.

Lando Norris, McLaren MCL38

Lando Norris, McLaren MCL38

Photo by: Zak Mauger / Motorsport Images

McLaren reckoned that in the end, even if Norris had stopped, it would have changed nothing and he would not have got through.

However, that is not the point as that comes from the benefit of hindsight. It was the possibility of there being a chance for some late action; of Norris taking the gamble and seeing what he could do on better tyres that delivered a tantalising prospect of a thrilling finish – and that was enough to keep me interested.

Sure, if every race were like Monaco then it would definitely be a challenge to think that was reason to tune in 24 times per year. But, as a one-off, we all know what a Monte Carlo weekend brings – and it still ticks the box for me.

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