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Formula 1

F1's last-place fight is on the verge of a transformation

by Josh Suttill
7 min read

Five Formula 1 teams have been left fighting for scraps throughout the 2024 season so far and there have been three clear losers in that fight so far.

Esteban Ocon’s hard-fought 10th place in Miami aside, it’s been slim pickings for Alpine, Williams and Sauber this year. Ocon’s solitary point from America is the only one any of them has scored.

However, on the evidence of qualifying this weekend’s Monaco Grand Prix presents a huge opportunity for two of those teams to make inroads on RB and Haas ahead, and claw back some respectability from what’s otherwise been a slog of a season so far.

Catching RB remains a long shot given it’s already accumulated 20 points and Yuki Tsunoda will start the Monaco GP in eighth. But a double disqualification for Haas (which qualified outside of the top 10 anyway), presents a big opportunity for the teams behind the current seventh-place constructor.

So will those teams take advantage? 

A weakness Monaco hides (mostly)

Alex Albon Williams Monaco Grand Prix 2024

Ninth-place qualifier Alex Albon was delighted with finally securing his and Williams’ first Q3 of 2024 via a “really enjoyable lap”.

It was helped in part by Albon’s side of the garage dialling out some of the understeer that had plagued him through practice, particularly in sector two.

But the biggest advantage for Williams versus other 2024 tracks so far is that Monaco is the “least weight-penalising track of the year”. 

Last time at Imola, Williams admitted to a shocking laptime loss from having an overweight car (around a 15kg excess equating to 0.45s of laptime) this year.

“I think Monza's the most [weight-penalising], and here's the least,” Albon explained.

“It means it’s not a fair game, but it’s a fairer game around here. Also it’s just the DNA, the base car has changed a lot from last year and if you think about the areas we've tried to focus on, it was low-speed, tight corners - which is exactly what this track is.”

Monaco is also the best track to have your sole Q3 of the year at given how tough overtaking is on Sunday.

But when The Race put that to Albon, he offered a cautionary note.

“Let's see, because last year we had such bad graining, it was still easy for other cars to overtake us,” Albon warned.

Valtteri Bottas Alfa Romeo passes Alex Albon Williams Monaco Grand Prix 2023

“We'll have to manage it, manage the graining - we had bad graining as well yesterday on the long runs.

“What I'm hoping is the quick guys will clear off and give me some clean air to look after the tyres.”

Williams was indeed vulnerable last year in the race, with Albon and team-mate Logan Sargeant both the victims of the few overtakes in the dry.

Albon’s keen to avoid a repeat this year given one of the team’s closest rivals is best placed to benefit.

His compromised team-mate

Logan Sargeant

Team-mate Sargeant felt he “drove well all weekend” and said 17th (0.133s off a place in Q2), before Haas’s disqualification was more or less the limit of “the package we have”.

That package is once again different to Albon’s.

“We have a different rear wing, which is the big piece,” Sargeant explained. “And that's making a huge difference with controlling the tyres as well.

“We had a different floor, and... I had to make a slight compromise on set-up, just missing a part.

“Nonetheless, I don't like to put blame anywhere, I'm just happy with the way I drove this weekend and the laps I just put together.”

Alex Albon Williams crash Japanese Grand Prix 2024

The car disparity is all a knock-on consequence of Williams’s crash-heavy start to 2024 that’s limited the stock of spare parts and means Sargeant is running with Williams’s 2023 Monaco rear wing instead of its 2024 spec.

With the tyre issues that last year’s rear wing is likely to compound, Sargeant has even less hope of escaping the graining Albon highlighted.

He instead might find himself on the receiving end of the Monaco GP’s few overtakes with a Red Bull - that of Sergio Perez - right behind him.

A Monaco gamble that’s paying off

Pierre Gasly Alpine Monaco Grand Prix 2024

Much like Williams’s situation, Alpine getting Pierre Gasly through to 10th isn’t evidence that it’s out of its early 2024 quagmire. Instead Monaco’s offered an opportunity to stretch beyond the normal limit of the car.

“I thought before quali that this was the most important Saturday of my year,” Gasly said. 

“Coming here to Monaco, we knew it's a track where you have opportunities. It's not a classic [typical] track, and we had to take a lot of risks, I took a lot of risks. I probably left a tyre mark on every single barrier around the racetrack.

“But it was definitely worth it to get that first Q3 of the year.”

Pierre Gasly Alpine Monaco Grand Prix 2024

Gasly added “I don't think I've ever pushed the limit as much as I did this year” and said he felt a special connection to Monaco this weekend.

He wasn’t looking behind either when asked Sunday, saying his fight will be with “the two cars ahead of us [Tsunoda and Albon]”.

Gasly isn’t getting “too excited” that this is a symbol that Alpine is making good enough progress, and instead thinks it’s simply the result of a driver and team throwing everything at this weekend.

…But was there more in the car?

Esteban Ocon Alpine Monaco Grand Prix 2024

Esteban Ocon was frustrated to not join Gasly in Q3 as he was instead dumped out of Q2 by 0.069s as his Alpine team-mate improved.

But he felt both drivers undelivered and could have been higher on the grid. 

“We've managed to put it almost together at every single round [but] this time it's on us drivers - unfortunately that we didn't do the job properly,” Ocon said.

“Both of us, unfortunately. I made a mistake in Q2 run two, I made a flat-spot and I almost went through with almost one set [of tyres] in Q2.

Pierre Gasly Alpine Monaco Grand Prix 2024

“So pushing the boundaries and the limit. But I think today, sixth or seventh was probably possible. Which means it’s very disappointing to finish outside the top 10.

“Unfortunately there was more in the car, basically, and we need to do better as drivers and for that not to happen.”

Ocon’s referring to Gasly’s wall hit that cost him a chance to qualify higher than 10th in Q3. Gasly was the only driver not to improve on his Q2 time in Q3 and that Q2 lap would have been good enough to eclipse Albon for ninth. So no doubt a missed opportunity amid a rare triumph.

The odd one out 

Valtteri Bottas Sauber Monaco Grand Prix 2024

While Williams and Alpine are well poised to make gains, Sauber is in need of a true Monaco miracle to stand any chance of scoring a point on Sunday.

Valtteri Bottas and Zhou Guanyu qualified 19th and 20th, with times that ended up half a second and a second adrift of 18th, let alone a place in Q2.

The double Haas disqualification promotes them to 17th and 18th on the grid but Sunday will surely be more of a test for a team that has little idea what’s going so wrong.

“I don't have an answer now,” a perplexed Bottas said after qualifying.

“For sure we see that on just one lap we struggle here, we can't seem to be extracting the most out of it.

“And actually there’s no clear balance limitation; we've been able to balance the car pretty well for the whole lap.

“But it seems like we just can't carry the speed like the competition can in the corners. I was obviously trying to find the limit in FP3 which bit me early on [he crashed at Sainte Devote].

“For sure that didn't help, but still, we're quite far away over one lap.”

It means Sauber’s left relying on any Monaco chaos and a pit strategy that probably involves Bottas pitting “either very early or very late”.

The best outcome it can hope for might be its rivals slipping back behind faster cars and limiting the points damage for F1 2024’s current bottom team.

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