The importance of teamwork in F1
If you exclude overtaking (ahem), the Monaco Grand Prix had a little bit of everything for everyone
It had subtle strategic variation and perhaps the most unusual crash you’re likely to see in Formula One, and it simultaneously featured some masterful steering alongside some woefully unsatisfying driving.
But most of all the 2017 Monaco Grand Prix was a defining race for the championship season.
Sebastian Vettel eased to his third win of the season on the hallowed Monte Carlo streets on a day his chief championship rival, Mercedes’s Lewis Hamilton, finished just sixth in an impressive recovery from a championship-damaging P13 on the grid.
But there was more to Vettel’s victory story than merely capitalising on Hamilton’s poor qualifying result — indeed the German didn’t even start from pole.
It was Sebastian’s teammate, Kimi Räikkönen, who started at the front of the grid on Sunday, and the inconvenience of his pole position was at the heart of pre-race chatter.
Hamilton was presenting an open goal to Vettel’s championship campaign, but a second-place finish for the German would have left him seven points short of inflicting maximum damage.
With passing almost impossible in Monaco, the question naturally presented itself: would Ferrari interfere to benefit one of its drivers?
A lap-by-lap analysis makes it clear the answer is almost certainly yes.
Ferrari says it pitted Räikkönen on lap 34 because Valtteri Bottas and Max Verstappen had stopped on laps 33 and 32 respectively, with Verstappen momentarily showing impressive pace before Bottas thwarted the undercut.
But once the Mercedes emerged from the pits ahead of the Red Bull Racing car it should have been obvious to Ferrari that the threat had been contained.
Moreover, if the pit wall really did want to cover Verstappen jumping Bottas, Räikkönen had enough time to push on his ultrasoft tyres for at least two more laps, which would have meant he wouldn’t get stuck behind Jenson Button and Pascal Wehrlein on his out lap, which cost him crucial time.
Vettel, meanwhile, was able to set lap after blistering lap in clear air in his inherited lead, so by the time Räikkönen had passed the backmarkers and started setting representative times — times close to Vettel’s despite being on the harder tyre — his advantage had evaporated.
Vettel needed only to pit cleanly, with sizzling in and out-laps to be sure, to emerge from his sole stop ahead of Räikkönen.
“Obviously we have certain rules, and we all know it,” Räikkönen glumly and tellingly told Sky Sports F1 after the race.
Even Lewis Hamilton, acknowledging his growing points deficit, believed he knew what he saw.
“With strategy it’s very hard for the leading car to get jumped by the second car unless the team decide to favour the other car,” he said.
“It’s clear to me that Ferrari have chosen their number-one driver, so they’re going to be pushing everything to make sure Sebastian will get the maximum.”
So was this a case of unsporting conduct on Ferrari’s part on a weekend Kimi Räikkönen looked like he might finally break back through after years excruciatingly off the pace?
Important is that team orders — and this doesn’t exactly qualify as such an instruction — are legal in Formula One, and for very good reason: they’re a key part of Formula One.
F1 always has been a team sport, and it’s in a team’s interest to boost its chances of claiming both title trophies.
Kimi Räikkönen was 55 points behind his title-leading teammate coming into the Monaco Grand Prix and is unlikely to figure in the final points tally come Abu Dhabi.
Lewis Hamilton was down for the count after qualifying, offering Sebastian Vettel a prime opportunity to maximise his points haul.
It mightn’t have been blatant as an instruction to switch positions, but an inexplicable five-lap pit stop disparity combined with no communication to Räikkönen to have him speed up in the first in anticipation of a stop massaged the result to the same effect. Without intent these decision make little sense.
The Monaco Grand Prix result made cold, logical sense in Ferrari’s hunt for the drivers and constructors championships. It might cruel for Räikkönen, who was on form all weekend, but in truth the time for him to sell himself as a contender was in the opening month of the season.
Instead Räikkönen has no choice but to be cast as a team player — an important role in the hunt for a championship, just not one belonging to him.