What We Learned in Monaco
After a sixteen year drought of victories for Ferrari at the Circuit de Monaco, Sebastian Vettel has brought the rain. Yet, I must say, in terms of stellar performances from Ferrari, Vettel’s teammate, Kimi Raikkonen, shown the more brightly over the weekend, whether in practice sessions on Thursday or qualifying on Saturday or, dare I say, - well, here I go- yes, racing on Sunday. Raikkonen was in top form. I’m sure conspiracy theories abound- all born from more than a kernel of truth (and seconded by Lewis Hamilton himself)- that it was more Ferrari posturing and strategy that handed Vettel his win on Sunday than his driving. Don’t get me wrong. Sebastian Vettel is a phenomenal driver. He’s a four time World Champion. (I’m pretty sure that last sentence says it all.) I’m not quibbling about his abilities. I’m merely pointing out the fact that Ferrari, as a team, made the decision to give Sebastian Vettel the advantage over his teammate.
Kimi Raikkonen started in first. In fact, for the first 34 laps, he stayed in first. Raikkonen drove to win at Monte. But, Sebastian Vettel has a real chance at taking the World Championship this year. In fact, going into the Monaco Grand Prix, he was leading in the points, meaning, if they just stopped F1 for the year last Friday, Vettel would’ve walked home with the Championship. So, it makes total sense that Ferrari would make decisions to favor Vettel over his teammate Raikkonen, who is nowhere near that sort of point accumulation. Yeah, it makes sense, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t sting just a bit to see Raikkonen thwarted. Some would say, shafted, and they’d be right, too. Regardless, Raikkonen had a bitter pill to swallow on Sunday, and from the mulish mug he displayed in the royal box, a.k.a. Monaco podium, he tasted it, too. (And, to give his teammate credit, Vettel understood Raikkonen’s taciturnity and upset. He said, “I can understand that Kimi is not happy. I would feel 100 per cent the same.” It’s something, though I’m sure that doesn’t assuage Kimi one iota. Second place is still second place.)
That being said, Formula One, especially in Monte Carlo, provides an education on so many other levels.
Here are a few things we learned at the 2017 Monaco Grand Prix:
- Max Verstappen has a floridly foul vocabulary when he’s thwarted on track, especially by his Redbull teammate, Daniel Riccairdo. When he found himself in fifth position behind Ricciardo and Valterri Bottas, for Mercedes, Verstappen unleashed a stream of invectives over the team radio. (In all honesty, the phrase temper tantrum came to mind. He is one of the youngest drivers on the circuit…)
- Jensen Button has the delightful humor of a ten year old. Button, who retired from McLaren-Honda at the end of last year, returned to fill Fernando Alonso’s shoes while the Spaniard made his debut at the Indy 500 in Indianapolis. However, before he took to the track, Button received a call from Fernando Alonso to wish him luck. “Take care of my car,” Alonso quipped in parting. Button’s reply was stellar. “I’ll pee in your seat.” Gotta love such sophisticated humor. (By the by, this sort of jocular camaraderie is the sort of interplay you will see between Jackson Tregaron and Horatio Tines, the two main drivers in my book. I love this sort of fun. Too often sports can become all business and lose a little of this light-heartedness. So, I highlight it when I find it, because, I love it.)
- Pascel Wehrlein has an incredibly vigilant guardian angel. The Sauber driver collided with Jensen Button on the 60th lap at the entrance to the tunnel. While Jensen Button’s racer sustained front end damage- which ended the race for him, Wehrlein’s racer flipped onto its side and trapped the driver against the wall, giving all and sundry a proper view of the under carriage of an F1 racer. Anxious minutes passed. The team asked, “Are you okay?” Several moments later, a shaky voiced Wehrlein said, “Yeah, it’d be better if I could jump out.” (He’s going in for a back scan to determine if there are any serious injuries sustained from the crash. Hint, hint: One of the characters in my book may or may not be involved in a similar incident...)
- Ayrton Senna is still regarded as the best of Monaco in terms of F1. A statue to honor Ayrton Senna was unveiled at the Fairmont Hotel. Senna still retains the record of the most wins in Monaco- six in total. Along with the statue, a customized suite was dedicated to him, inaugurated by his niece, Bianca Senna. Within the exhibit are such items as his Lotus helmet- complete with dents and scratches- as well as his Lotus 99T steering wheel.
- Daniel Ricciardo, who actually got Gerard Butler to drink Redbull out of his post-race shoe- the Australians call this a shoey (because… well, it’s just weird)- last year when he was on podium at the US Grand Prix in Texas, has some very strange ideas. When asked how he felt finishing third on podium, he replied, "I’m about as keen as a 24-pack of mustard. Juicy goodness. Just beyond the mustard and all that juiciness.” (I don’t really know what to do with that one, but it definitely is unique.)
- R2D2 is a Formula One fan. (That’s right. R2D2 of Star Wars fame.) Along with George Lucas, R2D2, and several storm troopers and flyers, attended the street celebrations of the 40th Anniversary of the Renault’s team’s entrance into Formula One. It just happens to also be the 40th Anniversary of the release of the first Star Wars film- now known as Star Wars: A New Hope. So, Renault and R2D2 just thought they'd celebrate that milestone together.
- Alain Prost, retired former four time World Champion, was also on hand at the Renault celebrations to drive his old RE40, Renault’s first carbon fiber car. Along with Jean-Pierre Jabouille- another former driver for Renault- who drove his old RS10, the first turbo charged F1 racer to debut on the track in 1977, the two drove their cars along the streets of Monaco, exhibition style.
- Lewis Hamilton never forgets. On his helmet this race, he had the number 69 in tribute to MotoGP World Champion Nicky Hayden, who died at the tender age of 35 when he was struck by a motorist on the streets of Italy while riding his bicycle. Hayden sustained such intense trauma, he died five days later in hospital. Hamilton did not forget to honor the man, the motorcycle legend, and his friend.
- Kimi Raikkonen- the Ice Man- is actually capable of smiling and joking and laughing. Yes, I know. This may surprise those of you who follow F1, but according to Niki Lauda, Non-Executive Chairman of the Mercedes-Benz works team (not to mention three time World Champion), Raikkonen was all smiles, chatting away as he walked down the pit lane at the beginning of the race. Then to the former World Champion’s surprise, Raikkonen hugged Lauda then started talking about his children. Apparently, the Ice Man has a heart. Who knew? (I say that with a touch of sarcasm and great deal of love; Kimi is one of my favorite drivers to watch. He definitely wears his heart on his sleeve. When he’s happy, you know it. And, like this last Sunday post-race, when he’s not, you know it, too. That sort of honesty is completely endearing.)
Finally, last, but not least- and having very little to do with the Monaco Grand Prix specifically-
- I have to give a shout out to the new Heineken commercial featuring the legendary World Champion, Jackie Stewart. Heineken is now a sponsor of F1, but they have a very unique and refreshing approach to selling their beer. Take a look.
This was the 75th running of the Grand Prix in Monaco. It is one of the grandest of the Grands Prix. Of all the races I describe in my book, the one in Monaco is most thrilling. Even Abu Dhabi’s Grand Prix- the final Grand Prix on the circuit- doesn’t hold the majesty of Monaco. Just as in my book, there are glitzy parties, crowds of enthusiasts, temperately temperatured landscapes of Mediterranean splendor, and, for those of you who adore tales of old as much as I do, there’s even some history (the Rocher de Monaco, in my book; Ayrton Senna, Alain Prost, Jackie Stewart, David Coulthard, Jean-Pierre Jabouille, in real life).
So, any questions? Anything pique your interest? Did any of you watch the Indy 500 or NASCAR’s Coca-Cola 600 in Charlotte this weekend? Let me know.