Feature F1 Unlocked
MONDAY MORNING DEBRIEF: Would Alonso have won in Monaco if he'd made the right tyre call when the rain hit?
The closest Fernando Alonso came to denying Max Verstappen his dominant Monaco Grand Prix victory was when the rain came in the second half of the race. The timing of their respective pit stops and the choices made there brought a momentary uncertainty to the outcome.
The rain first landed down at the Fairmont hairpin and the following two corners to Portier but took a couple of laps to begin spreading its way around the circuit.
Just prior to the rain’s arrival Verstappen’s lead over Alonso had been hovering at around nine seconds, but as the track became more slippery at those two turns, slowing the cars by over 7s per lap, Alonso lost chunks of time to the leader.
The temperatures in his hard compound tyres were dropping more rapidly than the mediums of Verstappen, though both were losing grip fast – especially as the tread would by now be very worn, having been on the cars for over 50 laps.
Everyone was delaying pitting because it wasn’t clear if the rain was going to quickly pass – in which case stopping for intermediates would have been disastrous – or continue, in which case stopping for fresh slicks would have been potentially ruinous.
Because his tyre temperatures were falling and losing him 1-1.5s per lap to Verstappen, Alonso pulled the trigger first, but as he made his in-lap it was still only those three corners from the hairpin which were seriously wet.
In discussing with his engineer what the choice of tyre should be when he stopped – intermediates or medium slicks – Alonso emphasised they should do something different to Verstappen. Doing the same wasn’t going to win them the race.
They had more than a pit stop’s gap over third place Esteban Ocon, so even if they got the tyre call wrong, they could pit again without losing position. With this reasoning, Alonso made the call for slicks, coming in at the end of Lap 54 as Verstappen stayed out.
As soon as he arrived at Massenet (Turn 3) on his out-lap, it was obvious it was the wrong call as the rain had now spread across the circuit and was much heavier.
Alonso was back in for a corrective stop onto inters the next lap – the same lap on which Verstappen was coming in for the same, having scraped along the wall into Portier on his in-lap, such was the lack of grip on his old slicks. The race’s outcome was essentially decided now, with Verstappen as a dominant winner.
But what if Alonso had chosen inters when he came in the first time? Would the extra lap Verstappen stayed out on his slicks in the wet have allowed Alonso to take the lead? It’s impossible to know with absolute certainty but the numbers suggest not.
Even though Verstappen lost around 5s on his in-lap, his lead prior to Alonso’s first stop was just too big to make that a likely outcome. “It looks like even being five or six seconds off the pace [on the in-lap], we’d have still been three or four up the road [if Alonso had rejoined on inters],” said Red Bull boss Christian Horner.
But Alonso had no regrets. The reasoning was sound. Monaco represented one of the best opportunities for Aston to defeat Red Bull in the whole season and they did not want to be conservative.
“That shows the commitment from the team and how aggressive everyone was in Aston Martin, trying to get the win,” Fernando said. “We knew that it was some downside that the strategy we could have ended up maybe P5, P6 or something like that, out of the podium. But this morning, we discussed it and we said we’ve had couple of podiums this year, so we go for all or nothing, we start on the hard tyre.
“And we didn't have the pace – that was the only problem we had in the race! I think the strategy was good. The medium tyre [that Verstappen was on] was behaving surprisingly good in our opinion. We were hoping for more graining or bigger degradation and Max was able to drive 50 laps on an amazing pace, and that was the reason why he won the race. Not because the strategy: he was just faster than us.”