The most recent two F1 World Champions and McLaren-Mercedes team-mates Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button have warned that the discrepancy in lap times between the sport's fastest and slowest competitors could generate 'a nightmare' in qualifying for the Monaco Grand Prix this weekend – and 'a disaster' in the race.
The topic of traffic around the tightest and most tortuous circuit on the calendar has been much-debated of late, with the notion of a split-qualifying session or a Q1 devoted entirely to the three new teams discussed and subsequently dismissed [see separate story – click here
McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh has acknowledged that there will likely be 'controversy', with 'more cars and a greater performance differential between them this year...the drivers of the slower cars will presumably go round staring in their mirrors' [see separate story – click here
The prospect of a number of big names falling at the first hurdle in qualifying in the Principality is far from beyond the realms of possibility, and from the back of the grid in Monte Carlo – where overtaking possibilities are famously at a premium – a long afternoon indeed tends to lie in store. What's more, the six-to-seven seconds a lap currently separating the likes of McLaren, Red Bull and Ferrari from Lotus, Virgin and Hispania has raised safety concerns when all 24 cars are on-track at the same time in the grand prix.
Having had a close call himself with the Virgin machine of F1 rookie Lucas Di Grassi as he exited his pit-stop in last weekend's Spanish Grand Prix in Barcelona – whilst duelling with Red Bull rival Vettel over second place – Hamilton lamented the 'terrible' and 'really dangerous' approach from the backmarkers.
“The backmarkers were really not doing a spectacular job,” railed the 25-year-old, speaking to Reuters
. “I don't know what the hell he (Di Grassi) was doing there. It wasn't very safe. I had to go left around him and Vettel was going right; it could have been a lot worse than it was. It's very difficult when there is such a big difference. I lapped Di Grassi four times in Spain – that's one of the biggest gaps I've had in Formula 1.
“When you approach a backmarker maybe twice in a race it's not such a big problem, but you catch them so quick, it's just unreal. When you see them you are second-guessing where they will move out of the way, and then they move into the wrong position. They'll go on the inside and be in the corner as you come up to them, so it gets quite tricky. So far, fortunately, there have been no incidents and it has been okay, but Monaco will be very tough. It could be a disaster.”
“When they are fighting for 20th place, they don't want to let you past,” concurred compatriot, title-winning successor and fellow Monaco Grand Prix-winner Button, who opined that traffic this weekend will likely 'be a nightmare' as he 'didn't think the backmarkers did a very good job in Spain'. “They are so much slower than us, and if you are behind them for four or five corners you have lost seconds. I know they want to race, but the important thing is that they let us past.”
Both men, however, insisted they remain in positive spirits ahead of the sixth race of the season, having triumphed there in the past – Button last year and Hamilton twelve months previously – and with the latter in particular having split the pace-setting Red Bulls around the Circuit de Catalunya prior to his penultimate lap wheel rim failure and tyre blow-out, hopes of adding to McLaren's stellar record of 16 victories in the sport's most glamorous race of all are high.