Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Monaco, 2018

Mercedes’ qualifying strategy could compromise their race

2018 Monaco Grand Prix pre-race analysis

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A one-stop strategy is the only way to go in Monaco, right?

After all there is no harder circuit on the calendar for overtaking. At other venues drivers talk of needing a one or two seconds per lap performance advantage to stand a chance of passing. At Monaco that figure is almost irrelevant because the space needed to make a pass is virtually non-existent.

Therefore strategists have to assume the chance of making a pass is close to zero and plan accordingly. That means however bad the tyres get you stick with them, hoping Monaco’s low-abrasion surface will allow them to be eked out as far as possible.

Forecasts for how well the hyper-soft will perform have erred on the pessimistic side. However teams have generally found they can make the tyres last longer in the race than in practice as the track surface improves. This phenomenon is particularly strong in Monaco as the grip levels improve considerably. Warmer conditions on Sunday plus extra rubber should limit the potential for graining.

Even so, making the hyper-softs last could prove a challenge and some teams are in a more vulnerable situation than others. Notably Mercedes, the only team whose drivers don’t have a fresh set of ultras-softs. They ran their set in Q2 in the hope they could qualify and start on them, but had to abandon their effort and will start on hyper-softs like the rest of the top 10.

“We were optimistic, keen to try to find out whether we could qualify on the [ultra-soft] because starting the race on the hyper will be tough,” explained Toto Wolff.

“We’ve seen a lot of graining on the front left and we’ve seen some degradation on the rear. Probably the one who is in the lead is going to manage the pace very carefully in the race tomorrow and still run out of tyre after a few laps.

“Insofar, it could be quite a tricky situation and you would want to avoid the hyper.”

The other concern for Mercedes will be how their drivers treated those tyres in their qualifying run. Pushing the tyres hard and sliding them on a qualifying run can induce graining which could manifest itself in the race.

With all those in the top 10 on hyper-softs, Nico Hulkenberg finds himself in the enviable position of being on ‘new tyre pole’ in 11th. His team mate Carlos Sainz Jnr reckons that will give him and the others behind at a significant benefit.

“Those starting from P11 backwards have a massive advantage with what they can do with the Safety Car windows,” said Sainz. “We just depend [on] a bit of luck to manage to stay ahead because their strategy as soon as a Safety Car comes out is a lot better.”

The opening laps of Sunday’s race are likely to be a tentative affair as the leaders try to coax their rubber into going the distance. And as is often the case in Monaco, the high chance of a Safety Car period could mix things up.

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Qualifying times in full


Q2 (vs Q1)

Q3 (vs Q2)
1Daniel RicciardoRed Bull1’12.0131’11.278 (-0.735)1’10.810 (-0.468)
2Sebastian VettelFerrari1’12.4151’11.518 (-0.897)1’11.039 (-0.479)
3Lewis HamiltonMercedes1’12.4601’11.584 (-0.876)1’11.232 (-0.352)
4Kimi RaikkonenFerrari1’12.6391’11.391 (-1.248)1’11.266 (-0.125)
5Valtteri BottasMercedes1’12.4341’12.002 (-0.432)1’11.441 (-0.561)
6Esteban OconForce India1’13.0281’12.188 (-0.840)1’12.061 (-0.127)
7Fernando AlonsoMcLaren1’12.6571’12.269 (-0.388)1’12.110 (-0.159)
8Carlos Sainz JnrRenault1’12.9501’12.286 (-0.664)1’12.130 (-0.156)
9Sergio PerezForce India1’12.8481’12.194 (-0.654)1’12.154 (-0.040)
10Pierre GaslyToro Rosso1’12.9411’12.313 (-0.628)1’12.221 (-0.092)
11Nico HulkenbergRenault1’13.0651’12.411 (-0.654)
12Stoffel VandoorneMcLaren1’12.4631’12.440 (-0.023)
13Sergey SirotkinWilliams1’12.7061’12.521 (-0.185)
14Charles LeclercSauber1’12.8291’12.714 (-0.115)
15Romain GrosjeanHaas1’12.9301’12.728 (-0.202)
16Brendon HartleyToro Rosso1’13.179
17Marcus EricssonSauber1’13.265
18Lance StrollWilliams1’13.323
19Kevin MagnussenHaas1’13.393
20Max VerstappenRed Bull

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Sector times

DriverSector 1Sector 2Sector 3
Daniel Ricciardo18.638 (2)33.392 (1)18.779 (1)
Sebastian Vettel18.674 (3)33.443 (2)18.922 (2)
Lewis Hamilton18.594 (1)33.446 (3)19.061 (5)
Kimi Raikkonen18.741 (5)33.508 (4)18.987 (3)
Valtteri Bottas18.716 (4)33.702 (5)18.994 (4)
Esteban Ocon19.063 (13)33.795 (7)19.203 (9)
Fernando Alonso18.780 (6)33.936 (10)19.198 (8)
Carlos Sainz Jnr18.929 (8)33.828 (8)19.290 (13)
Sergio Perez18.988 (9)33.906 (9)19.226 (10)
Pierre Gasly18.908 (7)33.789 (6)19.259 (12)
Nico Hulkenberg19.049 (12)33.941 (11)19.170 (7)
Stoffel Vandoorne19.008 (10)34.129 (14)19.141 (6)
Sergey Sirotkin19.039 (11)34.183 (15)19.229 (11)
Charles Leclerc19.113 (15)34.105 (13)19.340 (14)
Romain Grosjean19.160 (16)34.035 (12)19.373 (15)
Brendon Hartley19.250 (17)34.343 (17)19.532 (17)
Marcus Ericsson19.346 (18)34.324 (16)19.595 (18)
Lance Stroll19.106 (14)34.464 (19)19.631 (19)
Kevin Magnussen19.362 (19)34.441 (18)19.491 (16)

Speed trap

PosDriverCarEngineSpeed (kph/mph)Gap
1Kimi RaikkonenFerrariFerrari289.6 (179.9)
2Sebastian VettelFerrariFerrari288.9 (179.5)-0.7
3Lewis HamiltonMercedesMercedes288.7 (179.4)-0.9
4Carlos Sainz JnrRenaultRenault287.6 (178.7)-2.0
5Nico HulkenbergRenaultRenault287.0 (178.3)-2.6
6Charles LeclercSauberFerrari287.0 (178.3)-2.6
7Valtteri BottasMercedesMercedes286.9 (178.3)-2.7
8Esteban OconForce IndiaMercedes286.7 (178.1)-2.9
9Romain GrosjeanHaasFerrari286.0 (177.7)-3.6
10Sergio PerezForce IndiaMercedes285.7 (177.5)-3.9
11Sergey SirotkinWilliamsMercedes285.5 (177.4)-4.1
12Lance StrollWilliamsMercedes285.3 (177.3)-4.3
13Daniel RicciardoRed BullTAG Heuer285.0 (177.1)-4.6
14Kevin MagnussenHaasFerrari284.9 (177.0)-4.7
15Marcus EricssonSauberFerrari284.8 (177.0)-4.8
16Stoffel VandoorneMcLarenRenault284.2 (176.6)-5.4
17Fernando AlonsoMcLarenRenault283.6 (176.2)-6.0
18Brendon HartleyToro RossoHonda282.5 (175.5)-7.1
19Pierre GaslyToro RossoHonda282.1 (175.3)-7.5

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Drivers’ remaining tyres

Lewis HamiltonMercedes100113
Valtteri BottasMercedes100104
Sebastian VettelFerrari101004
Kimi RaikkonenFerrari101004
Daniel RicciardoRed Bull011004
Max VerstappenRed Bull011050
Sergio PerezForce India101004
Esteban OconForce India101004
Lance StrollWilliams011032
Sergey SirotkinWilliams011014
Carlos Sainz JnrRenault101004
Nico HulkenbergRenault101014
Pierre GaslyToro Rosso101004
Brendon HartleyToro Rosso101032
Romain GrosjeanHaas011014
Kevin MagnussenHaas011032
Fernando AlonsoMcLaren101004
Stoffel VandoorneMcLaren101014
Marcus EricssonSauber101032
Charles LeclercSauber101014

Over to you

While Daniel Ricciardo has dominated proceedings so far and earned the advantage of starting from pole position, the pole sitter hasn’t managed to win this race in the last three years.

Will he end that streak tomorrow? Share your views on the Monaco Grand Prix in the comments.

Quotes: Dieter Rencken

2018 Monaco Grand Prix

Browse all 2018 Monaco Grand Prix articles

Author information

Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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20 comments on “Mercedes’ qualifying strategy could compromise their race”

  1. I think we’re in for a race that only the die hard fans will find interesting.
    Depending on safety cars, it could be fascinating – if a little dull for those looking for a spectacular race of passes.

    I hope we don’t lose ‘fascinating’ for the sake of ‘exciting’ in the future of F1. I mean, exciting is great – but there’s lots of series available that cater to that taste, and when F1 brings it, it’s great… But only F1 does what F1 does, and we shouldn’t lose that.

    1. @Sham Well said.

  2. Right on. Precision driving, super-human consistency, reliability & quick, opportunistic strategic thinking – Monaco F1, like no other.

    1. And as it turns out, quite boring today w no SC

  3. Did anyone from any team state how long they expect the hypers to last?

    1. @makana
      Mercedes said 6-7 laps, but that’s obviously nonsense.

  4. Can the Ultras do a race distance?
    Verstappen to pit at the end of lap 1, and then who will be the first to pit to defend against him?

    1. I think I would try exactly that if I was verstappen. One lucky safety car and he could end up at the top and just have to defend.

    2. @tricky @glynh I’d expect him to start with the one remaining new ultrasoft set he has and then move to a new set of hypers at a point in the race when he’s carrying much less fuel onboard than at the start rather than the other way round. We shall wait and see.

    3. @tricky

      Verstappen to pit at the end of lap 1, and then who will be the first to pit to defend against him?

      Absolutely no one, because it doesn’t work that way in Monaco. If he pits on lap one, he’ll emerge from the pits 30-35 seconds behind the leaders (see Monaco GP 2017), and then he’ll be on a tyre that’s 1.5-2 seconds slower than the leaders’. The Hypersoft will soon start to lose performance, but Verstappen won’t be able to do much with his eventual pace advantage, as he will start getting held up by the much slower backmarkers, further increasing his disadvantage.

      => If you start at the back of the grid, no matter what strategy you pick: Your race isn’t with the front-runners, it’s with the midfield.

      An early safety car wouldn’t do much to help him. He could start the race on Supersoft and then switch to Ultrasoft under the Safety Car, but he’ll still be last or at least near the end of the field, and he will start losing a lot of time as soon as the race gets going again.
      In fact, I think he has two viable strategic choices:
      A) Starting the race on Ultrasoft and staying patient, maybe trying to steal a place or two in the opening stages of the race, staying out for as long as possible when the pit stops for Ultrasoft starters commence, converting his car’s superior pace into a better track position by driving in clear air.
      B) Starting the race on Supersoft, but ironically. Gambling on a Safety Car to get rid of those tyres a.s.a.p., to take on Ultrasoft tyres for the rest of the race. If all works well, this is the same strategy mentioned under A, with the added advantage of not needing to pit late in the race.
      Theoretically, there is a third option:
      C) Starting the race on Hypersoft, gambling on an early Safety Car to make a pit stop for Ultrasoft tyres. However, the Hypersoft’s advantage (pace) is mostly useless if you’re at the back of the grid, and the tyre’s limited life expectancy could limit Verstappen’s strategic flexibility, which is why the Supersoft is a more likely choice.

      1. @nase
        I agree he can’t race with the top five, but what is his best strategy to aim for sixth with will already be a challenge?
        A) What do you think the Ultra runners will switch to? They might stay out for 60-70% distance and switch to hypers?
        B) and C), what would you do if there is no safety car in these scenarios?
        I think if he starts on the hypers, he has to get rid of them straight away, with or without a safety car.
        The supersoft at least gives him the most flexibility to switch to other strategies.

        1. @tricky

          I agree he can’t race with the top five, but what is his best strategy to aim for sixth with will already be a challenge?

          I’d even say he can’t challenge for 6th, the grid is too close for that. He might finish 6th if he gets really lucky, but if he does, that’d be due to developments he can’t influence or anticipate.

          A) What do you think the Ultra runners will switch to? They might stay out for 60-70% distance and switch to hypers?

          According to Pirelli, Supersoft will be the tyre to be on, from as early as lap 25. Surprising, but I suppose Pirelli know what they’re talking about.

          B) and C), what would you do if there is no safety car in these scenarios?

          In scenario B, continue for as long as possible, try to overcut as many cars as possible, switch to Ultrasoft for the final stint to improve chances of overtaking another car or two.
          Scenario C is pure rubbish.

  5. Pirelli predicts the fastest strategy to be 14 laps on the Hypers and Supers to the flag.
    Second fastest to be 25 on the Ultras and Supers to the flag.
    The drivers are not so confident when it comes to the Hypers, so I was interested to know if any team principle; especially from the midfield, mentioned anything about the tyres. It seems everyone’s cards are close to their chests.

    It’ll be fun to see Max try the pit on lap one then Ultras, shame he has no new Supers as that would’ve been more realistic.

    1. @makana

      Pirelli predicts the fastest strategy to be 14 laps on the Hypers and Supers to the flag.

      14 laps? Wow. In other words, the top five have no more than 14 laps to drive away from the Ultrasoft armada, and if they can’t find 18-19 seconds, things are going to get interesting.

    2. @makana

      Pirelli predicts the fastest strategy to be 14 laps on the Hypers and Supers to the flag.

      Daniel doesnt either. Can he go long on US ? Wont he come under thread from smeone running the HS behind him ?
      I think the top five will do a 2 stop–> HS–US–HS. Unless someone decides to go deep with the HS and take the SS. I expect the Ferraris to try this.

      1. threat*

  6. ”Will he end that streak tomorrow?”
    – I think you mean today as this article was posted today, not yesterday, but anyway, to answer the question itself: I hope so.

  7. I’d like to see an end to the requirement for the top ten to start on the 2nd qualy tyres. It’s such an obtuse rule, a driver shouldn’t be punished for getting into the top ten. The inequality between 10th and 11th is particularly disappointing.

  8. I don’t see how their qualifying is compromising their race strategy because no matter which tires you use, passing will be very hard, so they can put on the SS and go to the flag.

  9. I have a feeling this race is going to be a big lottery. I just hope Dan wins it, after his clean and fantastic qualifying and the unfortunate loss in 2016, not seeing him would hurt a lot.

Comments are closed.