Saturday, 26 May 2012

Torque Point Qualifying - Monaco 2012

By Jem Ruggera

Another qualifying session, another bunch of questions. Wasn’t Lotus supposed to be looking good around here? Wasn’t Hamilton the favourite for pole position? Wasn’t the Mercedes going to struggle around here with such limited chance to use the double-DRS?

Instead, like many Saturday afternoons, the expected form book has been shredded, set on fire and the ashes scattered into Monaco harbour. This is mainly a function of just how close the field is running these days. In Q2 the top sixteen were covered by just 0.9 of a second. This meant missing a braking point by a couple of metres, not quite clipping an apex you normally hit lap after lap, means the difference between eight and twelfth. Just ask Jenson Button.

Two points of interest from the qualifying session. One, the form, or lack thereof, of Sebastian Vettel. He simply did not look comfortable around the Monaco circuit. Tentative under braking for the first corner, uneasy on the power out of Mirabeau; he was clearly not happy with his car. He had used an extra set of tyres in Q1 – he didn’t even attempt a time in Q3.

Second, the look of his team-mate, on pole after Michael Schumacher takes his grid penalty. Mighty through sector two, where traction is important, and nailing the braking into the chicane, Mark Webber put in a brilliant lap. This was in many ways surprising as well. Webber had struggled on Thursday, and wasn’t one of the names being bandied about for pole as we headed into the weekend.
Now the question is strategy. Will it be a two-stopper, or will some attempt to go the distance stopping just once? From the front, avoiding traffic will be the key, which leads one to believe that a one-stopper would be preferable. But really, not even the race engineers and strategists on the pit-wall probably have that one sussed yet.

Vettel won from pole last year, Webber won from pole in 2010. It seems Red Bull likes some clear air around the streets of Monte Carlo. Another fascinating chapter of this season is about to be written.

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