This past weekend featured one of the crown jewels of the racing calendar with Formula 1 hosting the Monaco Grand Prix. In what has become normative Monaco tradition, the race was more of a parade than it was a testament to outright competition. Aside from seeing whether or not Max Verstappen might go crazy and punt Lewis Hamilton, the real drama of the weekend was to be found in qualifying.
That the Indianapolis 500 showcased a more thrilling finish is not really a surprise and it is one reason that the Monaco GP becomes more difficult to feel any unbridled enthusiasm toward in a way that many used to.
The race is still a spectacle and still features some, it seems, actual racing, but the annual affair doesn’t seem to bring thrills as one might hope – and that, in many ways, acts as a microcosm of what F1 feels like in general at the moment. Once Hamilton took the pole, both those in the paddock and fans of the sport figured that, barring any calamity, he would earn his third win in the province.
That Mercedes made a tactical error that wound up costing Valtteri Bottas his second spot in the race is one of the glaring errors of the event but even that mistake failed to drop Bottas to a spot in the second half of the points, or even, out of the points.
Mercedes is just too good right now. Only six races into the season, not even a third, they already have nearly double the manufacturer’s points than Ferrari in second, a 257 – 139 difference. And Ferrari isn’t really providing much of a challenge right now.
Every time it seems as though Ferrari might have something for the Silver Arrows, they either overestimate themselves or drop the proverbial ball. These mistakes have developed into their continued pattern of behavior, beginning with poor strategy calls last season and carrying over to this season in a myriad of ways, the latest being the miscalculation that cost Charles Leclerc the opportunity to advance out of Q3 at Monaco because they misjudged where they thought the timing cutoff would be.
Cutting ties with Maurizio Arrivabene was supposed to be a turning point for the Prancing Horse as they would start the season fresh, but that has not been the case.
Red Bull is hanging out in third with 110 points and may eventually pass Ferrari if those wearing red continue as they have. What Red Bull’s position has indicated, more than anything, is that Verstappen is one stellar driver. The organization’s switch from Renault to Honda power units has not caused any drop in performance but it has yet to bring any serious success either. Instead, Verstappen keeps soldiering on by pushing his car to the limits and somehow bringing it home each week. If his teammate were on equal footing, Red Bull would be sitting second behind Mercedes.
And that, unfortunately, is the storyline we have this season.
Mercedes looks as though they will find no suitable challenger and are set to cruise to a sixth drivers and manufacturers title. The battle will be to see who slots in behind them. But the fact that it took until the sixth race of the season for Mercedes not to sweep the top two spots on the podium should be all the evidence we need to see how this story ends.
Is it too early to make these kinds of statements? One would think yes. Even more so, one would really hope that this situation does not come to fruition because it means that it’s tough to really care for the remainder of the F1 season.
There are storylines in play, no doubt, one that has already been discussed on this site: McLaren. They’re holding down fourth in the standings and Lando Norris is looking like he is the future of the team, but are they really the fourth-best team? Has their success been more of lucking into spots or are they actually sporting a decent ride for the first time in recent memory? It would be great to think that the storied franchise is on the way back to its championship glory but that definitely is not happening this year and even a positive harbinger in 2019 doesn’t mean they will be fighting at the top of the grid in 2020.
If anything, the best show might be between the teams sitting fifth through ninth as they are separated by all of four points. That’s right, the team in fifth, Hass, has earned 17 points while Alfa Romeo in ninth has 13. These teams are all entertaining in a peculiar way – kind of like watching a toddler with a hammer. You never know just what might happen but there’s a good chance that it is not going to be what is hoped for and a lot of things will get destroyed in the process.
After years of looking like they might become a solid team, Haas has retreated in the pecking order and the infusion of new money into what once was Force India, now Racing Point, has done nothing to keep them comfortably settled in the fourth spot. Renault, even with the Daniel Ricciardo signing for this year, looks no better than they have for the past couple and worse, McLaren are outpacing them with their own Renault power units.
As for Williams with their 0, zero points, well, they are just where they have been for the past few seasons as well. That means that the top and the bottom of the standings have seen the same bookends for at least the past three years. The more things, change the more they stay the same?
Let’s hope not.