Analysis: Did Ferrari favour Vettel for Monaco GP win?

In scoring Ferrari’s first Monaco GP win since 2001, Sebastian Vettel took full advantage of Lewis Hamilton’s off-colour weekend. But just how much help did he get from the team in beating pole-sitter Kimi Raikkonen?

Analysis: Did Ferrari favour Vettel for Monaco GP win?
Race winner Sebastian Vettel, Ferrari SF70-H
The start of the race
Kimi Raikkonen, Ferrari SF70-H leads Sebastian Vettel, Ferrari SF70-H at the start of the race
Kimi Raikkonen, Ferrari SF70-H leads at the start of the race
Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB13 at the start of the race
 Kimi Raikkonen, Ferrari SF70H, Sebastian Vettel, Ferrari SF70H, Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes AMG F1 W08, at the start of the race
 Kimi Raikkonen, Ferrari SF70H, Sebastian Vettel, Ferrari SF70H, Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes AMG F1 W08
Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes-Benz F1 W08 Hybrid
Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB13
 Kimi Raikkonen, Ferrari SF70H, Sebastian Vettel, Ferrari SF70H, Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes AMG F1 W08, at the start of the race
Kimi Raikkonen, Ferrari SF70H, Sebastian Vettel, Ferrari SF70H
Kimi Raikkonen, Ferrari SF70-H
 Carlos Sainz Jr., Scuderia Toro Rosso STR12
 Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes AMG F1 W08, Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB13
 Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes AMG F1 W08
Daniel Ricciardo, Red Bull Racing RB13
 Daniel Ricciardo, Red Bull Racing RB13
 Daniel Ricciardo, Red Bull Racing RB13, Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes AMG F1 W08
Daniel Ricciardo, Red Bull Racing RB13
 The Safety Car leads Sebastian Vettel, Ferrari SF70H
Race winner Sebastian Vettel, Ferrari
Daniel Ricciardo, Red Bull Racing RB13
Race winner Sebastian Vettel, Ferrari SF70-H
Race winner Sebastian Vettel, Ferrari SF70-H
Daniel Ricciardo, Red Bull Racing
Race winner Sebastian Vettel, Ferrari
Riccardo Adami, Ferrari Race Engineer, Kimi Raikkonen, Ferrari, Sebastian Vettel, Ferrari and Daniel Ricciardo, Red Bull Racing
Press conference: race winner Sebastian Vettel, Ferrari, second place Kimi Raikkonen, Ferrari, third place Daniel Ricciardo, Red Bull Racing
Kimi Raikkonen, Ferrari in the Press Conference

Mercedes has on occasion struggled to optimise its strategy this year, and it's been easy to conclude that the team is a little rusty when it comes to out-thinking a close rival in a straight fight, after three years of carefully managing a contest between two teammates.

Likewise, in Monaco we saw Ferrari faced with a situation it hasn't had to tackle for a while – a battle for the lead between its two drivers, with Mercedes and others playing just a supporting role.  And it all happened at the most prestigious race of the year.

Initially it appeared that Kimi Raikkonen had the measure of Sebastian Vettel, but at the sole pitstops, the German got ahead.

Inevitably that led to many observers concluding that it was a simple case of the Scuderia stage-managing things in favour of its main title contender, something we've seen so many times in the past.

Perhaps the team wasn't so rusty after all when it came to juggling the interests of two teammates.

"They are finally where we were back in the days when you finish one and two and you have to explain why the right guy won," joked Mercedes boss Toto Wolff, who had seen his cars finish fourth and seventh after a difficult weekend.

Single strategy, wide window

Monaco was always going to be about the timing of a single pitstop, which in reality meant the switch from the ultrasoft to the supersoft.

After Thursday's running, Pirelli said that degradation was so low that the ultrasoft could even do the whole race, should a team opt to minimise its supersoft running.

In other words there was a significant window during which drivers could pit, with a safety car the likely trigger.

One intriguing aspect was that drivers had done relatively little running on the supersoft in practice. Most had used only one set in FP1 on Thursday, while some teams (including Red Bull) hadn't used it at all, saving their single sets for the race itself.

Much hotter conditions on Sunday than those seen in FP1 also contributed to the supersoft's status as a bit of a question mark. How quick would it be when you made that switch, especially on the crucial first lap or two out of the pits?

Given the lack of passing opportunities and the straightforward one-stop strategy, it appeared that Raikkonen had won half the battle when he beat his teammate to pole, and looked even better off when the start passed without incident.

The Finn was setting the pace initially, edging as far as 2.3s ahead before Vettel decided that was enough and brought the gap down below two seconds.

As the race edged past the 20-lap mark, there had been no safety car to trigger stops, so now it became a question of Ferrari finding the perfect timing.

Overs and unders

Key to that was what others were doing. Valtteri Bottas and the Red Bulls weren't too far behind, and there were risks inherent in pitting and getting stuck behind them.

In sixth place, Carlos Sainz was also in the picture – he was some 20s behind Raikkonen, around the time lost in a stop, and Ferrari didn't want to get caught behind him.

While we waited for Ferrari to jump, there was some strategic excitement behind. Mercedes was in a two-against-one fight, with Bottas sitting ahead of Verstappen and Ricciardo. The Brackley team knew that it couldn't defend against both, and it had to jump when RBR pulled Verstappen in on Lap 32.

Bottas came in a lap later, and just managed to stay safely in front when he emerged.

"If we would have gone for the undercut with Valtteri, we would have been tagged by both Red Bulls and not one," said Wolff. "So we would have lost P3 and P4.

"In hindsight, if you see how long the supersoft took to come in, and then was never fast enough compared to the used ultrasoft, we would have been done over by both Red Bulls.

"The information we had was we had Sainz in the pit window and Red Bull was the enemy, not the Ferraris in front of us."

The big question was how fast new supersofts would turn out compared to ultrasofts that had done qualifying and more than 30 race laps. Ferrari decided that it had to react to the RBR and Merc stops, and the team brought Raikkonen in on Lap 34. He managed to come out safely clear of Sainz, who had yet to pit.

But he caught both Jenson Button and Pascal Wehrlein, and lapping them lost him crucial momentum.

The crucial thing in all this was that two of the top five did not join the rush for supersofts. Both Vettel and Ricciardo stayed out, both had a clear track, and both banged in a series of quick laps – in the case of the Australian, three fastest race laps in a row before Vettel took the baton and also set fastest lap. Those old ultrasofts proved to be quite handy, and that was to decide the race.

"We could decide to lose against Max or lose against Daniel," said Wolff. "We needed to protect against the undercut of Max, and hope for Daniel not to be able to extract more performance of the ultrasoft, which he did some amazing laps, similar to what Sebastian did at the front.

"As a matter of fact, it was clear we were going to lose against one of the Red Bulls..."

Ricciardo came in on Lap 38, five laps after his teammate, and four laps after Bottas – and he had done more than enough to jump both of them.

"It was how the pitstops worked," said Ricciardo. "The two cars pitted before me and that allowed me to show a bit more my pace.

"That was perfect, and we got into a really good rhythm, I think we were doing [1m]16[s] dead, 16 dead and at the time I think that pace was really strong and I was able to do a good overcut.

"It was a good combination of obviously the lap times coming from me and the team leaving me out there and allowing me to run in clean air."

With Ricciardo out of the picture, Vettel was clear to pit on Lap 39, and when he emerged from the pit exit at Ste Devote, he was ahead of Raikkonen.

"I think in the first stint I was just trying to pace myself," said Vettel. "Trying to stay within range. At some point I was really uncomfortable with the rear tyres, they were sliding quite a bit. I think when the gap opened again, that's when Kimi pitted.

"I knew that if I have any chance that might be it until I get the call because Valtteri was on fresh tyres so it's likely that he will go quicker, so I just tried to push as hard as I can and wait for the call to box.

"When it came and then when I came out ahead of Kimi even, I was surprised myself."

Not a simple case of team orders

Had Ferrari imposed a strategy that had compromised the Finn and ensured maximum points for the favoured son? That was an easy conclusion to draw, but perhaps it wasn't quite that simple.

It wasn't 100 per cent clear exactly how the old ultrasoft/new supersoft comparison would play out – although practice had demonstrated that it took a lap or two to really get new tyres into the window – and, in addition, Vettel had to dig deep and get everything just right to ensure that he stayed ahead.

And Ferrari did have to at least in part react to what Red Bull and Mercedes were doing, just as those two were reacting to each other.

Knowing how strategy choices between teammates can be interpreted, Wolff refused to join in with any conspiracy theories.

"First of all, they deserved to win, they had the quickest car," said the Austrian. "As a team result, a one and two is good. Congratulations from our side. We need to give them credit.

"It wasn't clear how the tyre would perform. They needed to pit one of the two drivers and put them on the supersoft, and how it all panned out, the supersoft was not quick enough and Sebastian was able to put out some stunning laps on the used ultrasoft and that gave him the opportunity over Kimi.

"I don't think they saw it coming. At the end of the day, it's the right result for the team and for the driver's championship. But I don't think it was orchestrated."

It was all too clear after the race that Raikkonen was not happy with how things had played out, no surprise given how much a win after all this time would have meant to him. At Red Bull, Verstappen was equally unhappy to have been jumped by his teammate.

There were parallels between the two situations, as Vettel himself noted.

"The lead car normally gets priority," he said. "So if I had a choice at that point, sitting behind Kimi, if I was going in the pits first, that's maybe what you like to do because you are sooner on the fresher tyres.

"I don't think Daniel had priority over Max going into the race. I don't know where they are in terms of points and so on, so I don't think they look into that.

"But I think the rule of thumb... the rule is pretty clear when you qualify ahead and you are ahead in the first stint, you get priority on the first stop, and that's what happened.

"I think it's probably one of the rare occasions where the overcut turned out to be positive, so I'm really glad I made that work. From the team point of view, there was no plan of any team orders or anything.

"I can understand that obviously Kimi's not happy, I would feel exactly the same, one hundred per cent the same."

Has Ferrari really shown its hand and demonstrated that its main effort is now behind Vettel, as Lewis Hamilton for one suggested?

One thing is for certain - It will be interesting to see if Raikkonen can do anything to turn things back in his favour.

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