Sunday 22 April 2018

Motor Racing: Rosberg's Monaco fairytale soured by bitter sub-plots

Nervous rivals reacting furiously to Mercedes' dominance as row over 'secret' tyre test continues to grow legs, writes David Kennedy

Nico Rosberg follows in his father’s footsteps with a win in the highly-prized Monaco Grand Prix
Nico Rosberg follows in his father’s footsteps with a win in the highly-prized Monaco Grand Prix

David Kennedy

Even Cameron Diaz, who was a guest at the Monaco Grand Prix, must have thought, "there's something about Nico". The faultless German got pole position and won the highly-prized Monaco Grand Prix 30 years after his father Keke achieved the same accolade.

Rosberg junior wasn't born then but the principality was where he was raised, so victory must have tasted particularly sweet, a kind of coming-home parade.

In Monaco, there was a sense of a new order with two silver Mercedes cars on the front row of the grid, reminiscent of the 1950s when the silver arrows of Fangio and Moss crushed the opposition. Their current advantage is not yet written in stone, however.

Mercedes' dominance has made rival teams as nervous as they are livid. They're using the excuse of the so called 'secret' Mercedes/Pirelli tyre test in Barcelona to try to unnerve a very strong-looking competitor.

Sitting in the Mercedes home in an overcrowded paddock waiting to speak to the new and much-in-demand Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff, I'm probably preaching from a biased perch, but the feeling there was this is a non-story that's been blown out of all proportion. Half of the F1 fraternity is ratcheting it up to frenzy level but the fact is Monaco suited Mercedes, which coincided with their first win of 2013.

Now, it transpires, Ferrari, who joined Red Bull in the official protest, had also taken part in an earlier Pirelli test, via its wealthy customer F1-owning Corse Clienti. However they used 2011 cars, which didn't ruffle too many feathers.

To some it looks like Pirelli has cuckolded its way through the grid, which has left others feeling rejected. Pirelli claim they invited all the teams to test and that invitation is still open. They needed to gauge how their 2014 rubber performs because F1's regulation changes next season are so profound. Anyway the story has grown more legs than a bevy of Monaco models at Jimmy'Z nightclub.

Despite the tranquil lulling of the yachts in the Monte Carlo harbour amid the cushioned sound of billionaires having a good time, it was in marked contrast to the dissent in the paddock, which didn't just extend to internecine battles between teams. Adding to the general discord, several disgruntled drivers had it in for poor old McLaren's Sergio Pérez.

You know you've arrived when three former world champions – Raikkonen, Button and Alonso – are protesting about your aggressive driving.

But Raikkonen's incitement to violent retribution by suggesting someone should punch the Mexican in the face – presumably he meant someone other than himself – was stretching the punishment just a tad. Of course 'Checo' was driving like a man possessed and Raikkonen did lose five places due to a puncture he picked up defending fifth and Button didn't like being beaten by his new team-mate, while Alonso defended with the same aggression he was met with, but isn't that called racing?

Back in the world of nice, Williams F1 has announced a new CEO to head up both its race team and technical arm, Williams Advanced Engineering. Mike O'Driscoll, who takes over the helm, was formerly managing director of Jaguar cars. O'Driscoll was born in Jaguar's backyard, Coventry, and his dad is from Cork. He'll join Frank Williams' daughter Claire who will act as deputy.

The team also announced they'll be using Mercedes engines next year, which will see four teams running with German horsepower, although for McLaren it will be their last season before they switch to Honda. Lotus might be another Merc customer and the two are currently in talks.

From Monaco to Mondello. Our indigenous circuit, has over the decades, played a valuable role in the careers of many. Eddie Jordan calls it his spiritual home "without which I would not have made the journey" he said last week.

The same is true of myself, Derek Daly, Tommy Byrne, Bernard Devaney, Michael Roe, Eddie Irvine and the numerous drivers that followed. Whatever career path its alumni subsequently took, Mondello Park served as the cradle, the creche and the coliseum to the many who honed their nascent craft within its hallowed boundaries. Any place that teaches you to cope with pressure, perseverance, competitiveness and camaraderie as well as fuelling ambition and putting fire in your belly is a fine university indeed; even if my mother thought I was wasting my time.

Next Sunday Mondello celebrates its 45th anniversary with a very special event. Entitled 'Mondello 45' everyone is a winner because it has a reduced admission price of €4.50 for adults, while the under 16s get in free. Every spectator receives a complimentary souvenir programme. Anyone arriving in a Mini (that's the car, not the skirt) will also be admitted free of charge.

In honour of Mondello's owner Martin Birrane, a new award called the Birrane Cup will go to the class winner of the biggest grid of the day. One graduate who was a sensation in the United States last weekend is Peter, son of Mondello stalwart, Cliff Dempsey. He drove a stormer to win the support race for the legendary Indy 500.

With four cars abreast coming toward the finishing line, Peter pipped the others by a virtually immeasurable .0026 of a second or the equivalent of an extra coat of paint on the Indy lights nose cone. The jubilant driver from Ashbourne said: "I couldn't think of a better place to do it than at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. It was the closest ever finish in the history of the iconic oval. This is a really special moment for me in my career."

The YouTube footage has gone viral; it is thrilling to watch. Just type 'Peter Dempsey' in search.

Also on the agenda next weekend is the Canadian Grand Prix. What a difference a year makes. Hamilton, Grosjean, Pérez, Vettel, Alonso and Rosberg filled the top six places in 2012.

How Pérez, driving for McLaren this time around, would dearly love to show a clean pair of heels to his growing band of nemeses. How Hamilton would love to usurp the unstoppable Rosberg. How Vettel is desperate to get back on the top place podium. How Alonso wants to regain his pre-Monaco form. How Grosjean, starting with a 10-second penalty for running into Daniel Ricciardo in Monaco, knows only too well that a miracle would see him win. How Rosberg is enjoying being kingpin and would like to stay there.

There have been two double winners to date – Vettel and Alonso –while two Rs have bookended the season with wins, Raikkonen and Rosberg. Maybe it's time for a change.

Irish Independent

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