Driver of the Day: The narrow twisting ribbon of asphalt that is the Monaco Grand Prix track is a relic of bygone eras: a fabulous pair of diamond-encrusted stilettos that Formula 1 long outgrew but just can’t bear to give away. Overtaking is practically impossible, so with a slight leap of logic, the driver of the day should be the one who made the best progress from their starting position. Paul di Resta was a distant and unconvincing 15th in qualifying, but good strategy from the Force India team, combined with a quick and mistake-free drive, netted him an impressive 7th at the end – the first of the non-race-winning cars so far this season. To make it doubly sweet, he finished directly in front of teammate Nico Hülkenberg, who had started four places ahead of him.
Dunce of the Day: Jenson Button was a strong contender but rarely, if ever, have two consecutive races been so polarised for one driver as Pastor Maldonado’s. The man who so effortlessly led the way from lights to flag in Spain two weeks ago could scarcely have done any worse in Monte Carlo. In the final practice session he took an astonishing and unprovoked side swipe at Sergio Pérez’s car, earning himself a 10-place grid penalty (it merited a race ban in my eyes – he did the same at Spa last year to Lewis Hamilton and clearly hasn’t grown up since then). Two laps after that he clouted the wall at Casino Square, giving his Williams crew a frantic rush to rebuild the car in time for qualifying. A further 5-place drop for changing the gearbox dropped him right to the back, and the red mist did not seem to have lifted when the lights went out, as he duly ploughed straight into the back of Pedro de la Rosa’s HRT as they braked for the first corner – an abrupt end to a truly abhorrent weekend.
Biggest Surprise: It seems that everyone except Ferrari knows that Felipe Massa’s time with them is up at the end of 2012, if not before, and scoring a grand total of 2 points from the opening five races (compare teammate Fernando Alonso on 61) had done little good to appease the Italian press baying for his dismissal. However, a different Massa altogether appeared this weekend. He was narrowly beaten in qualifying by Alonso, but he leapt onto his teammate’s gearbox off the start and, incredibly, hustled the Spaniard for lap after lap trying to get by (“Felipe is faster than you”, anyone?). He still hasn’t beaten Alonso yet this season, but today he at least looked as if he’s driving the same car as his most important rival.
Biggest Disappointment: Another award hotly contested, this could have gone to Jean-Éric Vergne as he threw away 7th place late on with a casino-worthy gamble on wet tyres that didn’t pay off, but the man who really failed to break the bank was Michael Schumacher. Setting fastest time in qualifying was neutered by a 5-place penalty for his collision with Bruno Senna last time out, and a good start off the line was cut short as he tagged wheels with Romain Grosjean, losing more positions in the process. A spirited fightback slowly ground to a halt with an engine problem around the three-quarter distance mark. His chance for one more triumph may come yet, but time is running out fast.
Biggest Controversy: The legality of Red Bull’s latest go-faster doohickey is a storm in a hubcap for now, so this must go to Sky’s F1 anchorman Simon Lazenby, who plumbed Frankie Boyle levels of poor taste with a joke about the late Princess Grace of Monaco that had the Daily Mail quivering with middle-class outrage. To be fair, the likes of Frankie Boyle would, and frequently do, get away with gags of that sort in a seedy late-night comedy bar, but it really is a source of wonder that he would choose to say something so crass during a live sports commentary. Time will tell whether he goes the way of Richard Keys and Andy Gray.
Best moment: I said above that overtaking is nearly impossible in Monaco, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be entertaining. I am amazed at the number of people who make the correlation between “overtaking” and “excitement” absolute, and insist, therefore, that Monaco cannot be of any interest. Call me a nerd, but I was excited at the twenty-four V8 engines screaming at the five red lights as the race got underway. I was excited as Grosjean spun into Kobayashi and launched the Sauber skyward (slightly sadistic, yes, but at least the prospect of crashes is not the sole reason I watch). I was excited as the rest of the pack darted either side of the wreckage with lightning-quick reactions. I was excited watching Hamilton defend from Alonso when the Safety Car pulled back in. I was excited as the pit stops happened and drivers diced for position on the run from the pit exit up to Massenet. I was excited comparing lap times to see if Vettel’s alternative strategy was paying dividends. I was VERY excited as the sky darkened and the first spots of rain began to fall. I was excited as Mark Webber began to tread more carefully and the drivers behind bunched and jostled and weaved for the slightest opportunity to strike. And I was excited as Webber stayed on track and led a train of six cars past the chequered flag, each showing their worth in being in those positions. Sure, there were few passes on track, but so what? Excitement is 90% anticipation, and I believe a race in which you don’t know what will happen can always be more exciting than a race that happened decades ago to which you know the results. Also, if you didn’t feel even the slightest thrill watching the “eye-cam” replays on Paul di Resta’s helmet as he fought for position in the opening corners, then there really is no hope for you.
Eddie Jordan’s Shirt: A simple, unadorned light blue number. Remarkably understated for the extravagant milieu of the Côte d’Azur. Then again, “understated” stands out in the extravagant milieu of the Côte d’Azur, so… he stands out anyway?
Bravo, EJ. Bravo indeed.