An Ignorant American Thinks You're Ignorant for Thinking That Monaco Was Boring
Part of me agrees with all of you experts: Monaco was kind of a boring race. If, of course, you think that the entire cinematic genre of "drama" is boring, you don't like to read ominous, suspenseful novels, you don't like a man with a sense of humor or a woman with a personality, and your morning beverage is 80% sugar and 198% caffeine and tastes like melted gelato instead of actual coffee. What I mean is this - if you are the kind of bore who lives a generally active and exciting life but can't appreciate any nuance at all, the 2018 Monaco Grand Prix didn't have much appeal for you, did it? But even a real-life ignorant American, a total newcomer to Formula One, found plenty of nuance and suspense in this weekend's race to make it genuinely enjoyable. Which might mean that, at least in part, boring is in the eye of the beholder. So I'll give you a minute to go check your eye in the bathroom mirror for some boring, and when you get back let me explain why, to me, the first Monaco race I've ever seen was really very exciting and a complete blast to watch.
It starts with the circuit. I know Monte Carlo has serious racing pedigree, what with its storied history and whimsically named corners, but I’m coming at this as a total neophyte, and for better or worse the legendary dimension of Monaco means very little to me. However, simply as a circuit for ridiculously fast cars, Monaco is pretty wild. The streets are so narrow, the turns so tight, the cars are never at full speed, there are almost no runoffs, there’s that blinding departure from the tunnel into broad daylight, by the end of the race there are tire marbles everywhere like freshly fallen hailstones - it’s like catching a thunderstorm in a Mason jar. Baku is a close city circuit, but with all of its room for error the track gives the impression that it was designed to protect the drivers from the tight spaces of the town. In Monte Carlo the barrier design and layout give the distinct impression that they are there to protect the historic town from the drivers, at the expense of the drivers if necessary. Why did the pilots agree to do this? Why did the engineers let their precious cars out on this track? Who thought this was a good idea? Were they brilliant or homicidal?
Then someone (probably a chaos-worshipping nihilist like Heath Ledger’s Joker) let the 2018 F1 drivers into this brilliantly/homicidally designed maze. It’s worth remembering that the drivers of 2018 include one Max Verstappen and one Romain Grosjean, so the easy prediction was an explosion on lap 1 that would take a team of specialized firefighters led by John Wayne 37 years to extinguish. For me, the expectation of coming doom was heightened to an almost unbearable pitch by Max’s crash in practice and his last-place starting position. How in the world could the other drivers even show up on Sunday, knowing that they would be chased for 78 laps by an angry Dutch cruise missile set on “seek and destroy”? Before the race even started, all the elements of a good thriller were in place – a claustrophobic setting in Monte Carlo, a vindictive, unrelenting, and determined antagonist in Verstappen, and 19 potential victims running for their lives, trying to get out first. And I know I wasn’t the only one who was thinking this way, as the cameras were all over Verstappen for the first 15 laps or so, the world waiting to see how quickly young Max could litter the streets of Monte Carlo with the debris of his rivals.
There was, however, a real twist to the whole thing – Max showed restraint. Yes, a major part of the reason why he was able to overtake so easily is that he spent the first 5 races of the season building his reputation as a complete lunatic, and some of the more rational drivers simply waved him past. And yes, Max made some aggressive moves and cut that chicane. But for the last several laps, when it was Gasly, Hulkenberg, and Verstappen nose-to-tail and tenths apart, Max had a perfect opportunity to dynamite the whole works, but he did not take it. I know for some the end of the race was a bit of an anticlimax, but for me it was the shock of the whole season so far. Max Verstappen actually settled for 9th place. At this point, that was a monumental achievement, one that overshadows the achievement of gaining 11 places at one of the most difficult circuits for overtaking on the F1 calendar. I’m still a little stunned.
Of course the hero of Monaco was Ricciardo, who won the entire weekend by total domination, from qualifying in that ballistic Red Bull car to managing his speed and tires and the spacing of the pack behind him so expertly that the race was simply his, lights out to checkered flag. That was a masterclass in driving, concentration, and restraint from Ricciardo, in development and setup from the engineers, and in pace, fuel, tire, and pit stop management from the pit wall. Everything just worked, and it was incredible to see it play out. I’ll admit that I wouldn’t have appreciated Ricciardo’s win if this was the first race I’d ever watched, but at this point I’m starting to pick up on some of the issues of teamwork and administration and I’m properly impressed by what I saw. Just great work all around and Red Bull more than deserves the win.
There’s not much to say about Ferrari or Mercedes, since they did what they were expected to do and seemed to just want to survive Monaco without a major incident and move on. You have to feel for Alonso, who was having a decent day before his car quit on him, and for Hartley and especially Leclerc who had that unfortunate accident that ruined both their races but affected no one else. I liked Leclerc’s style and poise throughout the weekend and I don’t think I’m taking a very bold stance by saying he’s one to watch in the future. Vandoorne went for tea again before coming back to finish the race and I really wonder how long McLaren is going to put up with him. Stroll had a tough weekend and was very uncomfortable in his car, and Force India had that awful pit stop which ruined a pretty good drive for Perez. On the brighter side, Ocon came in 6th and Gasly finished 7th, bringing valuable points to both teams, and although I’m sure they would have liked more, both Renaults scored points (or a point in Sainz’s case) so the weekend wasn’t terrible for the black and yellows.
In the end, I get why Monaco is boring for some fans (see the above pargraph - yawn), but today Red Bull stole the show and it made for a long, tense, dramatic race that kept me on the edge of my seat. Monaco also ruined me for standards of success, and now I’m only ever going to ask Santa Claus for one thing for the rest of my life – a giant yacht to anchor in the Monte Carlo harbor so I can watch the Monaco GP from the water. That sure looked like the place to be, and even if the race goes into parade mode, I’ll be on a boat. Nothing is boring when observed from a luxury boat.
Speaking of not boring, I was in a restaurant earlier that was playing the Indycar Indy 500, and man did they have a real spectacle on their hands today. Next time I have surgery I might have to become a fan of Indycar too. This race fan thing is getting time-consuming, especially since the doctor cleared me to resume normal activities, and I’m back to work at full strength.
Anyway, Montreal is next, so my research on the Canadian GP begins right now. In the meantime, think about joining my Ignorant American F1 tribe, eh? (I’m a dual citizen and can confirm that the “eh” in the previous sentence was properly employed). Peace and love, and may the hypersoft tires of your soul never grain.