• Karun Chandhok's ESPNF1 column

'One of the last great challenges in F1'

Karun Chandhok May 31, 2012
Mark Webber led from start to finish in a tense strategic battle at Monaco © Sutton Images
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The Monaco Grand Prix was a fascinating game of high-speed chess between the best drivers in the world fighting for the jewel in the crown of world motorsport. Since the late 1980s, when overtaking became nearly impossible around the narrow streets of the principality, the race weekends have been more about qualifying, strategy and track position. This year had the added element of the tyre degradation issues to contend with which meant that the race became very confusing at times when different drivers were attacking or 'managing' their tyres.

Mark Webber did a great job all weekend - being quick at the right time in qualifying and hooking the lap up to get on the front row. The race was pretty much decided by the start and the first pitstop. Mark got off the line well (for a change!) and managed the gap to Nico Rosberg in the first stint. With rain looming and the tyres starting to wear, all eyes were on who was going to blink first and pit, gambling that the rain would not come. Mercedes bit the bullet with Nico first, swapping to the prime tyre but for the first time this year, the benefit of new tyres was negated on the opening couple laps by warm-up issues. Red Bull and Mark were thus able to stay out for a couple more laps on his original set of options and still retain the lead.

The big loser in the pit stops was Lewis Hamilton. The McLaren pitted from third place on lap 29 while under pressure from Fernando Alonso. The Ferrari ace stayed out for an extra lap and having looked after his tyres and managed the pace in the opening part of the race, unleashed a stunning in-lap to jump ahead of Lewis as he came out of the pits.

Vettel was the odd man out of the top tem, opting to not do a lap in Q3 and start the race on the prime tyre. We've seen people starting between ninth and 12th use this freedom of tyre choice and extra new tyres in hand to good effect before, but in Monaco with overtaking so difficult it seemed like an odd strategy on Saturday. Come the race however, the reigning world champion found a bizarre turn of speed on the used prime tyres towards the end of his stint and at some stages was going more than a second a lap faster than anyone else on the track!

While the other leaders had pitted between laps 27 and 30, Vettel stayed out until lap 45 trying to build a gap that would allow him to feed into the train of cars with the leaders. The conspiracy theorists started going off about Webber holding up the pack to allow Vettel to rejoin just behind him, but the reality was that Mark needed to manage a single set of tyres over 47 laps to the flag. The Aussie ace drove with one eye on the gap so Vettel never really got close to that 21-second margin he needed to take the lead, although he did manage to gain handsomely with his strategy allowing him to rejoin ahead of a frustrated Hamilton in fourth place.

The order stayed the same till the flag which allowed plenty of internet chat about "how boring the Monaco circuit is" - as far as I'm concerned, it remains one of the last great challenges for the drivers on the calendar and long may it continue! It's such a buzz to drive around there in a Formula One car and it's also one of the best places in the world to watch an F1 car. Plus, for all the experts outside the paddock, it's probably worth knowing that a huge amount of deals for F1 teams are done at the Monaco weekend, which means that the show can come to town (or your TV!) every two weeks. So maybe have a think about that before calling for the race to be scrapped!

Michael Schumacher was fastest in qualifying but started from sixth due to a grid penalty © Press Association
The big feel good story from the weekend for me was Michael Schumacher's fastest lap in qualifying. You could see how happy he was and that lap on Saturday clearly meant a lot to Michael. He did a fantastic time in the middle sector which really set him up for pole and I don't think there was a single person in the paddock who wasn't a little bit pleased to see the 43 year old show that he still has the speed on his day. The grid penalty and first lap clash with Grosjean made a mess of his Sunday anyway, but a point had been made.

Off to Canada next and the long straights and slow speed corners with plenty of kerbs to jump would make me think that Mercedes must go into the weekend as favourites. They showed their straight-line speed advantage in Shanghai and they're slow corner prowess in Monaco.

The surface in Montreal is completely unique. I remember going there in 2010 and on the installation lap itself I was amazed just how slippery the surface was. The tyres used to just slide on the top surface and not really dig into the road but this year it could be a totally different story with the current generation of Pirellis. I still expect Red Bull, Mclaren, Ferrari and Lotus to be right up there in the race, but my money would be on a Merc for pole!