McLaren boss Martin Whitmarsh today spoke of his concern that there would be chaos and controversy during the first part of qualifying in Monaco this weekend, due to the enlarged field and the speed differential between the fastest and slowest cars.
With the three new teams this year regularly around six seconds off the pace in qualifying and 24 cars packed onto the tight streets of Monaco for the first 20 minute session, Whitmarsh predicts trouble. It is possible that one of the front runners might get blocked, miss the cut to get out of Q1 and be forced to start at the back of the field in a race where overtaking is nigh on impossible.
“At the moment we have to accept that there are six cars that are very difficult to avoid,” he said during a Vodafone phone-in with leading websites. “They have been in the order of six/seven seconds slower and when you’re trying to open a gap you have cars behind you so you can’t back off, and it’s a circuit where you’re going to catch cars and a circuit at which it’s very difficult for those cars to get out of the way, even if they want to.”
The idea of splitting that first session into the new teams and then the rest has been discussed but it hasn’t happened, not least because the new teams do not want to be portrayed as second class, especially when the CEOs and Chairmen of their sponsors are watching, as many will be.
Monaco is a rare opportunity for a new team’s driver to get out of Q1. Take someone like Jarno Trulli, a former winner of the race and a real Monaco specialist. He has got to fancy his chances of getting a better lap in than an Liuzzi or a Hulkenberg. He only needs two drivers from established teams to stumble and he’s into Q2. The traffic problems, particularly the HRT cars, will be a great leveller for everyone and will create opportunities.
Also it’s worth pointing out that the Lotus car in Spain was only 2 seconds off the Toro Rosso in qualifying pace and only 2.7 seconds slower than Jenson Button’s McLaren, so not all new teams pose the same threat.
In the 1990s fields of 26 cars were common and in the 1993 Monaco Grand Prix, for example, there were 26 cars attempting to qualify and the slowest was 9 seconds off the pace. Guess who that was? Luca Badoer. Of the cars who did qualify the gap from front to back was six seconds. So it’s not like this has never been done before, even if the time they have for qualifying is much less now.
As for championship leader McLaren’s chances of a 16th Monaco win, they are probably pretty good. Both Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button have won the race before and Hamilton in particular is very strong on tracks where the walls or barriers are close to the track. Red Bull will carry its qualifying advantage over from Spain, but I think McLaren will give them a real run for their money this weekend and Hamilton will have targeted this as a race he can win. Another will be Montreal with its long straights, lack of fast corners and walls lining the track.
* Whitmarsh also confirmed that Lewis Hamilton’s retirement from Sunday’s Spanish Grand Prix was due to a wheel rim failure.