Wet weather made for a challenging Sunday in Monte Carlo, where Nicholas Latifi progressed up to P15 – but Alex Albon was forced to retire from the Monaco Grand Prix.
It was never going to be straightforward to reach the points after a frustrating qualifying session, with this track being notoriously challenging to overtake on.
The heavens opened just minutes before the race began – meaning the entire team had to adapt to the changing conditions, as the race director issued multiple start delays and red-flagged the session after a couple of formation laps.
Once we got underway, Nicky soon found out how treacherous the conditions were as his FW44 hit the barriers at the hairpin, requiring a front wing replacement.
NL6 was back in the pits shortly after – switching to intermediates on Lap 3 – to be one of the fastest drivers on track as he closed in on those ahead.
Our pair had to find the ever-changing braking zones thanks to the inclement conditions, and both Alex and Nicky ran deep into Sainte Devote to lose time – but crucially kept their FW44s running and without any damage to fight on.
Running in P16 after his Turn 1 scare, Alex found himself sandwiched, as he closed in on Sebastian Vettel ahead while soaking up pressure from Mick Schumacher behind.
The Haas driver attempted an ambitious pass on the outside of Mirabeau but made wheel-to-wheel contact with AA23 on the tight Monte Carlo circuit and promptly pitted, emerging behind NL6, who advanced to P19.
With the track drying by the minute, our pit crew jumped into action on Lap 19 and Lap 20 as Albono switched to hard tyres, shortly followed by Nicky, who also took the same white-walled Pirelli rubber.
However, just three laps later, the crew’s tyre-changing services were required again after car #23 suffered a right rear puncture. Alex nursed his FW44 back to the pits on Lap 23, leaving the pit box with the mediums to try and claw his way back forward.
The race had its second red flag of the day after Schumacher’s crash at T15 caused enough damage to the barriers that the race director stopped proceedings to allow repairs.
Both cars ran with the mediums when racing resumed on Lap 31, and both had clear air to run in after they unlapped themselves; the conditions suited the FW44 perfectly, with each rapidly closing in on the pack by being some of the fastest men on track.
Our drivers found mixed fortunes as the race continued – AA23 radioed in with a problem of his FW44 bottoming out, ultimately retiring, but NL6 took advantage of his speed by passing Zhou Guanyu on track, after Tabac with the Alfa Romeo driver struggling on his tyres.
Our Canadian driver would gain one more place before the chequered flag fell as Yuki Tsunoda ran down the escape road in the closing laps, with Nicky right there to take advantage and secure P15, where he finished the race.
Nicky knew that his race wasn’t going to be easy after being so far behind following the opening laps, but was encouraged by gaining places.
“Wet conditions are always tricky and even more so on a street track like Monaco! It was a very challenging race and after pitting early on, we were detached from the back of the pack but we did have good pace on the intermediate tyre to catch the field back up.
“The last stint on the medium tyre proved quite tricky as I didn’t feel completely comfortable with the balance.
“However, we managed to bring it home, which isn’t easy in these conditions, and also picked up two places from the guys we were racing around which is a positive.”
Despite the DNF, Alex could find some positives with the pace of his FW44 on some of his stints around Monaco: “It was a tricky day out there and a bit of a scruffy performance from my side, too.
“The conditions meant that getting the brakes in the right window was really challenging, especially with all the variation that a drying track brings and the red flags.
“The car felt good whenever we had clean air though and I did feel competitive at points, so there are some positives to take away from today.”
Dave Robson, Head of Vehicle Performance, had to juggle the regular challenge of Monaco with the stop-start race proceedings and changing weather.
“It was a long race today with the delayed start and then a red flag interruption. With Alex, we opted to play the long game on the Full Wet tyres and run it until the track was ready for slicks.
“We timed the transition pretty well and he found some good pace on Prime until he went straight on at T1 and then punctured the tyre.
“His pace on the Option after the red flag was again strong, but as he was now out of position, he couldn’t make any places. We retired the car when Alex reported some unexpected bouncing on the straights.
“Nicholas damaged his front wing early in the race, which forced an early switch to Intermediates and set his race back.
“Although he made some progress later in the race and battled well with Zhou and Tsunoda, P15 was the best that we could achieve today.
“It was a tough race, but we learnt quite a lot about the FW44 this weekend, some of which will be relevant to the next race in Baku.”
After just missing out on points in Formula 2 on Saturday, Logan Sargeant added a couple to his tally with a P9 finish in the Monaco feature race. Roy Nissany, however, had to retire from the race after a formation lap problem scuppered his chances.
Ollie Gray also took valuable points in Race 2 at Thruxton but didn’t finish in Race 3 after battling for the lead. The teenager sits P3 in the British F4 championship with three race weekends complete.