The photo above is a shot of the 2014 Grand Prix of Monaco results, as recorded in the 2014 Cookies & Gold Stars motorsport notebook. Which exists. It exists for quick reference, for looking at while composing posts (rather than switching from window to window), for general (messy) note taking, and for recording evidence of moments like these. If you are new to Formula 1 and unfamiliar with timesheet shorthand (which is just the first three letters of a driver’s name), here is the translation (listed as driver name/nationality/team):
1) Nico Rosberg – DEU – Mercedes
2) Lewis Hamilton – GBR – Mercedes
3) Daniel Ricciardo – AUS – Red Bull
4) Fernando Alonso – ESP – Ferrari
5) Nico Hülkenberg – DEU – Force India
6) Jenson Button – GBR – McLaren
7) Felipe Massa – BRA – Williams
8) Romain Grosjean – FRA – Lotus
9) Jules Bianchi – FRA – Marussia
10) Kevin Magnussen – DEN – McLaren
11) Marcus Ericsson – SWE – Caterham
12) Kimi Räikkönen – FIN – Ferrari
13) Kamui Kobayashi – JPN – Caterham
14) Max Chilton – GBR – Marussia
Esteban Gutierrez (MEX/Sauber), Valtteri Bottas (FIN/Williams), Jean-Eric Vergne (FRA/Toro Rosso), Adrian Sutil (DEU/Sauber), Daniil Kvyat (RUS/Toro Rosso), Sebastian Vettel (DEU/Red Bull), Sergio Perez (MEX/Force India), Pastor Maldonado (VEN/Lotus)
Now, there are two important things to know about F1: 1) The top ten finishers in a grand prix receive points (and points mean following year financial support from the league at the end of the season), 2) Marussia and Caterham have never scored points.
Now, look at those results one more time.
The Monaco Grand Prix is a classic. Designed for excitement (back in 1950), the Circuit de Monaco takes drivers through the narrow streets of the hilly principality of Monaco. Drivers navigate sharp corners, notable changes in grade, surfaces tortured by daily traffic, one very tight hairpin turn, and a tunnel, which challenges eyes under the Mediterranean sun. And, all of this is done with little room for error, no runoffs or sand traps, just barriers protecting urban storefronts and restaurants, while keeping cars from plunging into the yacht-filled marina. The Monaco Grand Prix is nothing short of amazing. To complete it is a feat worth the utmost respect. And, to finish with a solid result is the dream of every driver.
The young teams of Caterham and Marussia have never scored a point. Neither team. Ever. They are underfunded and underpowered, consistently lapped by (both) powerhouses, such as Mercedes, Ferrari, Red Bull, Williams, and McLaren, and mid-levels, such as Force India, Sauber, Toro Rosso, and Lotus. They tend to be the joke of F1. If you want to see where they are, just look to the bottom. If they overtake a better-equipped team, you know that car is having some sort of mechanical problem. But, none of that was the case this past weekend, when Marussia’s Jules Bianchi took ninth, scoring points (two) for himself and the team for the first time, and Caterham’s Marcus Ericsson took 11th, equalling the team’s (and the rookie’s) best result to date. Though one could look at the retirement list and write the duo off as having benefitted from the weeded-out field, the fact of the matter is that (both) Bianchi and Ericsson drove spectacularly.
How do we know they had great drives? Because, not only did their little, underpowered cars make it to the end, they went wheel-to-wheel with winners of grands prix and World Champions. And, they (both) did it from the very back of the grid. In fact, Ericsson, who qualified 22nd (of 22 drivers) received a grid penalty for causing an accident (with Williams’ Felipe Massa, in Q1), which forced him to start from the pitlane. Likewise, Bianchi, who qualified 19th, received a penalty (for a late gearbox change), which moved him to the 21st spot (the only car on the last row, after Ericsson was moved to the pits). These drivers had to fight their way to where they finished. The retirements did not occur on the first lap. Those cars were on the circuit. And Bianchi and Ericsson (who was wearing a special helmet, honoring the 40th anniversary of compatriot “Super Swede” Ronnie Peterson’s win at Monaco, in blue and yellow) had to not only keep up with them, they had to get around them, take advantage of their struggles and missteps, and avoid contact (with other cars and debris left from accidents) along the way as they watched their own cars and willed them to the checkered flag. Bianchi even navigated a drive-through penalty he received while in eighth place, which he served after ensuring nothing more than a single position would be lost as the race went into its final laps. The pilots drove intelligently, leading their little cars around Monaco, as their teams managed this new world of possibility with the composure of old champions.
Though the action at the front (the brutal rivalry between Mercedes teammates Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton, Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo (who had never finished at Monaco) right behind, the return of Fernando Alonso’s Ferrari as a top contender, and so on) was not to be missed, it was the underdog stories of Marussia’s Bianchi and Caterham’s Ericsson that were the stuff of racing hearts and tearing-up eyes. They were the drives that make you jump out of your seat and cheer, with arms up and fists clenched, as your hands go to your gasping mouth with every close call or adjustment in standings. The performances that make kids want to become race car drivers and small upstarts remember that possibilities are endless. This was the Grand Prix of Monaco at its finest. This was what racing should, and can, be. This was Formula 1.
As the 2014 F1 season came around, we placed our bets on great seasons for Marussia and Caterham. Under the circumstances, major changes in the design of cars, the power propelling them, and the rules surrounding them, it just seemed as though, through all the (inevitable) trial and error, it could be anyone’s game. So, why not the little guys? Caterham has enlisted veteran driver Kamui Kobayashi, while Marussia retained their lineup (partnering Bianchi with Max Chilton, who topped the time sheets at the Barcelona tests between the Spanish and Monaco grands prix) and switched to Ferrari power. There was something in the air, something that felt like this could be the year these teams make the leap from upstarts to contenders. And, while Monaco could (of course) be a fluke, it could (also) just be the start of something big. If we could offer any advice to these teams and their drivers, it would be to just keep going. Go! Let these guys loose and see what those cars can do. Now, you can say that you have done it before. So, obviously, you can do it again. The proof is there. Just go. Enjoy the ride and see where it takes you. Just go!!!