Can Lewis Hamilton Help McLaren Repeat One-Two in Monaco, End Ferrari's Reign?
In the midst of a dry spell that has spanned four Grand Prix weekends, Lewis Hamilton and Vodafone McLaren Mercedes are looking to end Ferrari's reign at the top of the sheets.
In Istanbul, it was clear that McLaren was not down for the count like many people thought. Ferrari has been dominant this season, and BMW Sauber has easily asserted itself as best-of-the-rest. McLaren Mercedes has not been at the top of their game since the opening weekend in Melbourne, where Hamilton won from pole.
Heikki Kovalainen qualified for the second spot on the grid in Istanbul, and Hamilton started in third. The two McLaren drivers split the Ferraris of Kimi Raikkonen and Felipe Massa, who were fourth and first on the grid, respectively.
But now, as the Formula One teams move into the most glamorous of races, the Grand Prix of Monaco, can McLaren show their winning ways of last season, or are we going to sit back and watch another win for the team from Maranello?
Hamilton put together a brilliant drive in Turkey. He moved into second place on the first lap due to a coming together of Kovalainen and Raikkonen, which caused the former to pit and change tires.
Hamilton may well have been able to pull off a victory in Turkey had he not been forced to run a three-stop strategy. With the exception of the Ferraris, all of the teams had been struggling with the choice of tire compounds that Bridgestone opted to bring to the Istanbul Autodrome. Hamilton and his engineers opted for a three-stop strategy to reduce the fuel load on the car and to reduce the graining the tires were undergoing.
This strategy worked well on paper, because it would have allowed the car to have a light fuel load and run for a short stint on the option tires which were the cause of many problems during the weekend.
What works on paper is not always what works in reality. Unfortunately, when Hamilton gained the race lead, he was unable to put enough of a gap on Felipe Massa to ensure him the chance to maintain the lead after the pit-stop rotations were complete.
Nevertheless, Hamilton did have a brilliant drive, holding off the World Champion in the closing laps to maintain a solid second place.
The same cannot be said for Heikki Kovalainen. After his incident on the first lap, he was unable to put together the comeback needed to place in the points. Putting the horrific incident at the Spanish Grand Prix behind him, he had seemed at the top of his game when he qualified second on the grid. The Finn had to fight his way through the back of the pack, and was, in the end, unable to secure a position higher than 12th.
One thing that was shown throughout the weekend, however, was the advancements that Vodafone McLaren Mercedes has made in recent weeks. The drivers both put together brilliant qualifying laps. Only because of some unpredictable events, they were not able to put together the drive they needed to show they were still in the picture for both the Drivers' and Constructors' Championships at the end of the season.
It seems evident that although Hamilton and Kovalainen are accomplished drivers, McLaren is missing some of the setup expertise that Fernando Alonso brought to the team last year. The weekend in Turkey showed that the two young drivers may be getting a feel for setting up a good race weekend.
Now, the teams go on to Monaco and the Grand Prix of Monte Carlo. Will McLaren Mercedes be able to put together a weekend like last year, where they went one-two, or will Formula fans witness the red machines from Maranello take victory in the principality? Only time will tell.
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