Since the start of winter testing in February, it’s been clear that we had what looked like a promising package this year. However, although we had picked up some points in the early races, it’s fair to say that for one reason or another we never really managed to get the results we felt we could achieve.
Then came the Monaco Grand Prix and things really came together: the car worked well, so too did the team, the drivers performed faultlessly, on Sunday the strategies were spot on and we came home after 78 laps in seventh and eighth places, collecting 10 points. The Monaco Grand Prix is the longest race timewise because it runs at the slowest average speed of the year, but the whole weekend is also a day longer with track action starting on Thursday. Keeping focused is, therefore, a major consideration for the drivers, especially as our Energy Station is, to put it mildly, completely jam-packed all week long. The number of events and interviews the drivers have to deal with is also higher and it seems like there’s always a photo opportunity to pose for with a celebrity or two. In our garage, Daniil found himself doing a bit of shadow boxing with famous Mexican pugilist Canelo Alvarez! Work begins with the usual track walk with the engineers and even this is special in Monaco, as it’s a normal Wednesday in Monte Carlo and the locals are going about their business, heading to work by car, shopping, going for runs and so forth, which means the drivers and engineers can’t follow the “racing line” on the road and tend to have to walk around on the pavement. If you have a rookie driver on your books, you can never be sure how he will deal with his first day of F1 practice at Monaco, but with Alex, we had reason to be optimistic, as he had been on pole last year for the Formula 2 race. In fact, he was very comfortable in the car straight away, whilst Daniil struggled a little bit with the car setup.
Friday in Monaco is supposed to be a sort of “day off”, but it’s not actually. Daniil and his engineers worked hard, to come back on Saturday with a car which was much more suited to Dany’s liking. Engineers’ meetings apart, Alex and Dany had quite a busy day. First up on the agenda, they had a meet and greet with the Starlight kids, who – as Daniil said – “gave them a positive energy for the weekend”. To follow, we met dozens of fans with a signing session in the pit lane, then followed by another in the Fan Zone, where many very enthusiastic fans gathered together in typical “Monaco style”. Dany’s setup concerns were all sorted by Saturday, when, for the first time this season, Alex made it to Q3. This saw us qualify with both drivers in the top ten and set to start the race in eighth and tenth position. Daniil would then move up one spot for the start because our former driver Pierre Gasly had a three-place penalty for impeding Romain Grosjean during qualifying.
Before the race, there was a special tribute to Niki Lauda as everybody, including the public on the grandstands and on the boats observed a very emotional minute of silence, while the 20 drivers formed a circle on the starting grid, wearing a red cap, in memory of the Austrian three-time World Champion. At the end of these intense 60 seconds, a long applause and the sound of all the yachts’ klaxons gave him the final salute from the Circus.
As for the race itself, Dany and Alex were great, managing the tyres well in what is one of the most demanding races of the year, the latter doing a particularly long 40 lap opening stint on the Soft tyre. Our strategy worked perfectly, the team holding its nerve by not calling our drivers into the pits when the Safety Car came out, the pit stops themselves were faultless and the final result was richly deserved: 7th and 8th, which means 10 points in our tally moves us into 7th position in the Constructors’ Championship, only one point behind fifth-placed Racing Point. Now let’s see if we can keep the momentum going as we fly across The Pond for the Canadian GP.