Race Weekend Central

Slipstream Saturday: Charles Leclerc & Monaco, Valtteri Bottas & Fridays, Daniel Ricciardo & McLaren

Back where it belongs on the calendar, Formula 1 began its visit to Monaco on Friday.

Typically, Friday has been a quiet day, with the first practices coming on Thursday then the third practice, and qualifying on Saturday.  However, with the Spanish Grand Prix being held just one week ago, the series changed the usual schedule to assist teams with travel and rest.

The important thing is that the Monaco Grand Prix will be the lead race once again for what feels like a fantastic day in motorsports, with the Indianapolis 500 following and the Coca-Cola 600 rounding out the day.

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Friday Faceoff: Is the Coca-Cola 600 Still a Crown Jewel?

While Monaco is often a high-speed show of expensive cars following each other in a principality filled with the wealthy elite, the race still holds the weight of being a notable and historic venue.  The winnerʻs represent a veritable whoʻs who of F1, with Ayrton Senna atop the list with six wins at Monaco.  Michael Schumacher earned five wins on the track during his career.  Even Nico Rosberg, whose career is worth further scrutiny at some point, grabbed three wins.  As far as active drivers go, the rate of success is a different story.

EvenLewis Hamilton, he of 103 race wins, has accumulated only three wins at the track.  Fernando Alonso and Sebastian Vettel both have scored two wins apiece, with Daniel Ricciardo and defending series champion Max Verstappen notching a win each.

Absent from the list, and in what is becoming ironic or paradoxical fashion, Charles Leclerc seems to suffer nothing but misfortune at his home track.  Since becoming an F1 driver in 2018, his race results at Monaco have been nothing but DNFS, one coming with Sauber and two with Ferrari (reminder that the Monaco GP was canceled in 2020 because of the pandemic).  His efforts at the track are starting to become known as a curse and made humorous by the fact that he crashed Niki Laudaʻs historic Ferrari just recently while driving the track — though it should be noted that the car failed because of a brakes issue.

The 2021 iteration might have been the most peculiar of his endeavors, when after driving a stellar qualifying effort that earned him pole.  However, he also crashed his Ferrari during Q3, so even after managing to take the pole, there was question about whether his car had been compromised.  The team inspected the car and felt they could move forward for the race only to discover that the damage compromised the car so that Leclerc did not even start.

Now, Leclerc has again started the weekend in good form and yet is in the voodoo danger zone.

Apparently, over recent history, no one who has led FP1 has won the race, meaning that he is once again doomed.  If you are not one to subscribe to any hexes, curses or superstitions then Leclerc looks like the driver to beat.  He led both practices and has a couple of tenths in hand over Verstappen.

If one thing has been apparent over the past few weeks, however, it is that Red Bull have been doing what Mercedes perfected during the hybrid era, giving up a little on the timesheets during practice, and even sometimes during qualifying, to then take over the race in dominating fashion.

Odds & Sods

Valtteri Bottas may be looking to skip Fridays in the future.  Beginning at Imola, three races ago, the Finn endured a broken exhaust that led to his Alfa Romeo being engulfed in flames.  When taking to the track in Miami, he crashed hard in FP1 and missed the second practice session.  In Barcelona, after just one lap, his engine failed and ended his time in FP2.  His time in Monaco followed the trend with his FP1 ending after one lap when his MGU-K decided that it had given all it wanted.

“I told Fred already that for Baku I should maybe come on Friday night,” he said when asked by Motorsport.com. “I mean, it’s unlucky. And another completely different issue, the MGU-K. I think the same issue in the same session happened to Mick, but I don’t think there were any in FP2. I’m sure they’re on it. I don’t know the cause.”

What makes the reliability issues during practice stand out is that his race results with Alfa Romeo have been better than pundits expected.  Aside from his DNF at the Saudi Arabian GP, he has yet to finish below eighth, and his last four race results have been eighth, fifth, seventh, sixth.  Something seems to be clicking for Bottas since his switch away from Mercedes — and maybe his manager, Toto Wolff, had his better interest in mind after all.

– To say that Daniel Ricciardoʻs season resembles a dumpster fire might be an overstatement.  Yet it also might not be too far off.  His results with McLaren in 2022 are disappointing, with only one top-10 finish (a sixth at the Australian GP) and rumors have begun to bounce around that McLaren may look to put Colton Herta or Pato OʻWard (NTT IndyCar Seriesdrivers) in Ricciardoʻs seat next year.

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The situation has risen to a level that Ricciardo addressed his contract status on Friday by stating that he had full intention of seeing out his time with Mclaren, which would end in 2023.  While there is every reason to think that he might, the results have not been solid with the 32-year-old and McLaren CEO Zak Brown has voiced his displeasure.

Perhaps this tenous situation is why Ricciardo may have been pushing too hard during FP2 and wrecked his car midway through the session.  While he said later that they may have pushed the setup too far, one can still imagine that being outperformed by a younger teammate is again unsettling the the eight-time race winner.

About the author

As a writer and editor, Ava anchors the Formula 1 coverage for the site, while working through many of its biggest columns. Ava earned a Masters in Sports Studies at UGA and a PhD in American Studies from UH-Mānoa. Her dissertation Chased Women, NASCAR Dads, and Southern Inhospitality: How NASCAR Exports The South is in the process of becoming a book.

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