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May 24, 2008

Monaco Grand Prix Qualifying

Always fascinating to watch Monaco.

It’s hard to draw conclusions from looking at the final times. This is because they are set in different sessions depending on a driver’s final qualifying position. We’re not comparing times from the same event.

On the surface the final times show that Fernando Alonso out-qualified his teammate by a mere 0.081 seconds. But the true gap is whatever Alonso’s time from Q1 was compared to Nelson Piquet’s final time, which was set in Q1 since he did not advance beyond that. Everyone remaining had a different fuel load in Q3 than they did in Q1 (and the track conditions also likely changed), so the times are not comparable. It’s not as close as it looks.

In other words, the final qualifying results do not accurately show the performance of the drivers. The first session is better for that.

The best driver in today’s event was Nico Rosberg, 0.8 seconds off the pole time but only trailing the Ferraris, McLarens, and one BMW which are currently the cars to beat.

Felipe Massa is possibly the strongest qualifier in F1 over the last two seasons, though he’s hot and cold. Kimi Raikkonen is more consistent in race performance. Ferrari’s line up is superb.

Lewis Hamilton might’ve been on pole considering his speed in the first sector but he struggled a little in the other two sectors. There’s something about the way he drives that is fast yet different from most of the others. Supposedly he is much harder on the front tires. Not sure how this will affect his race tomorrow, but I’m guessing he’ll have to make more than one pitstop, though that’s probably the faster strategy any way. McLaren’s drivers are quite strong but it’s too early to tell as they’re both only in their second year of F1.

David Coulthard had a big crash coming out of the tunnel though it looked like it may not have been driver error. Luckily he had more run off room there than anywhere else. The Red Bull doesn’t hang on to its wheels very well after impact.

Nick Heidfeld and Piquet were way off the pace, outqualified by their teammates by 8 and 10 positions, respectively. It seems Nick Heidfeld has all the speed needed but lacked motivation. Then when Robert Kubica joined the team it lit a fire under him but now he’s starting to accept that Kubica is faster and hasn’t done well lately. As for Piquet, he’s just not ready for F1. Renault should try to sign Vitantonio Luizzi for the rest of the year and put him in the car immediately.

The fact that positions 5 through 9 on the grid are occupied by different teams means that F1 is extremely competitive and the driver makes a big difference now that driver-aids have been eliminated, especially at Monaco. It will be a surprise to get through tomorrow’s race without a safety car period.

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