2023 Monaco Grand Prix
Budding Formula 1 tech-journalist Ashwin Issac pens his ‘F1 Midfield Tales’ from the 2023 Monaco Grand Prix. ‘F1 Midfield Tales’ will be a combination of data and analysis that will aim to dissect the uber-competitive F1 midfield race-after-race. In Monaco, Esteban Ocon was the hero of the F1 mid-field, writes Ashwin.
What was supposed to be the second race of a triple race week bracket and the second European race on the calendar turned out to be the first race in the heartland of motorsports due to the apt cancellation of the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix.
Indeed our thoughts are with those of that region who have suffered unimaginable and irreplaceable damage.
Yes, we are in Monaco, the playground of the rich and the famous and also, most importantly, the crowning jewel of every Formula 1 driver and its aspirants.
Ironically, the paddock moved from a circuit with an artificial bay to a circuit on an actual bay with luxurious functional yachts, one even with a Ferrari F40 on its deck.
This iconic track with its iconic and at the same time daunting corners manages to elevate the heart rate of spectators when they see an F1 car at full tilt.
This track with its lack of significant straights enforces the teams to arrive with Monaco spec high downforce packages with a one-off steering setup to counter the tightest corner of the year. This year it was no different but with added untested upgrades, untested because of the canceled Imola weekend. All the teams had upgrades on their cars whose effect on the performance will only be known in the upcoming Spanish GP.
The uniqueness of this street circuit in the Principality is definitely not a proving ground for updates because of the absence of medium and high-speed corners, which dictates performance order.
The tarmac was resurfaced and with scattered rains, the teams had an element of uncertainty.
With the stage set, let’s take a look at how the weekend unfolded for the midfield teams.
For the comparisons, data with similar variables are selected to make a viable analysis. For instance, the fastest sectors by a team and not individual drivers are considered for the qualifying analysis. Lap times are collected for the same tyre compound at identical periods of the race.
Qualifying – Ocon’s masterclass in Monaco
The nature of this circuit and especially with the current generation of cars, overtaking is scarce making the qualifying session very important and influential.
This is also the session, in the calendar, where, irrespective of the car, an inspired driver can make a lot of difference.
Among the midfield, there was one such performance, Ocon wearing a tribute helmet to Michael Schumacher emulated his hero and produced a blistering lap that put him P4 on the grid. His fortune didn’t end there because he was promoted to P3 because of a grid penalty incurred by Charles Leclerc.
He was top of his class, here’s a deep dive into how he aced the session.
- Sector 1
The fastest part of the circuit, where bravery into the first corner influences the time set in this sector.
- The heavily updated Alpine, Alpha Tauri and McLaren edged the other three teams.
- The Alfa Romeo was not too far behind.
- Williams surprisingly suffered in this section.
- Haas’s tactical uncertainty in their tyre preparation and push lap hampered their performance in spite of showing a lot of promise in the free practice sessions.
- Sector 2
The slowest section of the circuit which in fact hosts the slowest corner in Formula 1 is where Alpine and in particular Ocon separated himself from the top performers of other teams.
- The distinct advantage is clear in the bar chart.
- The Alpha Tauri continued to be the second-best team.
- McLaren had a similar pace as Yuki.
- Williams was a step back.
- Alfa with an undesirable deficit.
- Haas continued in their misery.
- Sector 3
The final sector demands a lot of precision through the ever-spectacular ‘swimming pool’ section. The exit from Rascasse is very important to have a clean run to the start-finish line.
- Apart from Ocon and the Haas drivers, all the drivers were within a tenth of each other.
- Ocon had a tenth over everybody.
- The Haas drivers hemorrhaged a lot of time.
Carrying on from the analysis above to further understand the characteristics of each car, here is a mini-sector comparison of all the midfield teams. The graph below gives a visualization of each team’s advantages at different segments of the track.
As mentioned before, an inspired driver can outperform his car in these hallowed streets, this year in Monte Carlo it was Ocon whose final lap in Q3 had a provisional pole inducing an audible uproar from the spectators.
Here is an investigation of how he put together a jaw-dropping lap in comparison to his closely matched teammate, Pierre Gasly.
Ocon had a tenth over Gasly in every sector of the track:
The telemetry chart below displays the speed traces of both the drivers with their throttle and brake inputs. Pink traces are of Gasly. On observation, it is clear and evident that throughout the lap Ocon was the braver driver who braked later into almost every corner and carried a higher peak speed in the majority of the corners. This was more so in the final sector, where he was 0.167 seconds faster than his teammate.
The Race – Ocon’s strategic race management in Monaco
At least at the start of the race on Sunday, a late shower was least expected by the teams and drivers alike.
The race was set to be a run-of-the-mill single-stopper even though most of the rubber was washed away by overnight rains.
A detailed analysis of the race pace comparison of each team for Monaco does not present a lot of collation data.
The modus operandi for this race on dry conditions was to either start on the medium or the hard tyres and stop once for the other to complete the race.
Few teams split the strategy among the drivers, allowing us to compare the pace difference between the compounds.
Our subjects for this analysis will be the McLaren and Alpine teammates.
From the charts below it is conclusive that the drivers on the medium tyres were slightly but surely faster. This was a surprise because most who were on the medium tyres complained of graining on their tyres. The green conditions could have played a part in inducing the early graining but the cooler track temperatures could have helped the medium tyres to stabilize as the race progressed. The times converged at the end of each stint.
Team McLaren ran the longest on both tyres:
Team Alpine had a slightly bigger difference, this could have been a result of Ocon running in cleaner air than Gasly:
The rain did arrive around the 51st lap of the race. A few teams had anticipated it and successfully worked their pit stops around it but the majority of the teams were caught off-guard or misjudged the duration of the rain.
The astonishing thing to be noted was even with that added jeopardy in the unforgiving streets of Monaco, there were not a lot of position changes and the safety car never made an appearance. The drivers kept it clean with cautious driving throughout the race.
It was another dominating performance from Max Verstappen but among the midfield, it was Ocon who took all the accolades. He held on to his P3 even after coming under a lot of pressure first from the Ferrari of Sainz and then the Mercedes of Hamilton, he held his nerve and drove to the podium received by his elated team.
This weekend saw a lot of upgrades brought by the teams whose impressions will be judged in Catalunya. To make an assumption about which teams have progressed from the last race will be a fool’s errand.
The Spanish GP is less than a week away, and the Formula 1 community will be as eager as ever.