Lewis Hamilton has delivered by far the worst moment of his career this afternoon in Q1.
With a car that was capable of challenging for pole and victory all weekend, he made the stupid decision to carry the car into Mirabeau rather than use the escape road to save the car after the rear end slid under braking.
However, his McLaren is still one of the quickest cars in Monaco this weekend, and with KERS and light fuel, he may be set for a great start involving overtakes of multiple cars.
But, more than anything, the circumstance in which he finds himself provides a sense of deja vu.
Fernando Alonso found himself in a similar circumstance last season in Singapore. The Renault was very quick that weekend, and he felt he had a shot to challenge for pole. A mechanical failure left him 15th on the grid.
However, on a tough and narrow street circuit on which overtaking is difficult, Renault elected to fuel him light so that could get a quick start, possibly make overtakes, then pit early and get him out of the aerodynamic wake of other cars.
After Alonso's first pit stop, the safety car came out for (what else?) a Nelson Piquet Jr. incident, catapulting Alonso to second on the grid behind Nico Rosberg and positioning him to challenge for the win. After Rosberg's pit stop and Alonso's assault of quick laps, he was untouchable for the remainder of the race.
McLaren have possibly placed Hamilton in a similar circumstance. Overtaking is obviously difficult at Monaco, even more difficult than at Singapore. But the KERS on the McLaren, along with Hamilton's significant lightness in fuel relative to those around him, may allow him to make some overtaking maneuvers.
Hamilton's light fuel also allows McLaren to stop him early and run him in clean air and away from slower cars. On a circuit like Monaco, this probably makes more of a difference in lap times than relative fuel loads.
And if there is an early safety car period, Hamilton's strategy may allow him to jump up the order through pit stops and position him to set ultra competitive laps to challenge for the victory.
McLaren tried a similar strategy at Albert Park. It was highly successful in positioning Hamilton to overtake several cars in the first stint and challenge for points.
A victory was probably out of reach for Hamilton even if the safety car periods had fallen the right way, given the underperformance of the McLaren there. But the McLaren is much more competitive at Monaco than at Albert Park, so if the stars align correctly for him tomorrow, Lewis Hamilton my be on the top step of the podium after the race tomorrow.
UPDATE: It now appears Hamilton is starting last due to a gearbox change. This has made things much, much more complicated for him. He's going to have to make one hell of a start and entry into Saint Devote to make the strategy work.
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