2019 F1 Season: Q1 challenges and the magic of Monaco

Monaco’s quali session was the most competitive of the season. The main talking point from it was undoubtedly Ferrari and Charles Leclerc. Charles lost the race in Monaco before the race even started. The decision by Ferrari of leaving Charles in the pits, instead of going for another fast lap at the end of Q1, ended with the elimination of the Monegasque. What happened during that session, and how did the session compare to other quali sessions of the current season? Let’s take a look at the numbers.

Delta to 1st place in Q1

Leclerc’s fastest Q1 time of  1:12.149 was slower by only 52 thousands than Nico Hulkenberg’s Q1 time that allowed him to move on to Q2. Compared to the first place of the race, his delta of 0.714 seconds would have been enough to qualify to Q2 in every other race that took place before Monaco. But comparing pure deltas may not be the best idea, especially since tracks tend to vary in length and average time for completion.

Delta as % to 1st place in Q1

I transformed the data so that the fastest time of Q1 is equivalent to 100%, and every other lap time is then also transformed and compared to the fastest time. I also added the 10th fastest lap of the session to see how spread the field was in each race. In this case, we see that the most loopsided quali session was in Spain, where the 15th place was able to move on to Q2 while being 1.826% slower than the leading driver.

As expected, in Monaco the difference was very reduced. So far, this was the only race where in order to move on to Q2, a driver required to be within 1% of the fastest time of the session.

Clearly three races (Azerbaijan, Australia and Monaco) seem to be the less uneven, and interestingly these are races that share similar characteristics. Both Azerbaijan and Monaco are street circuits, while Albert Park is a narrow old style type of track.

In most cases, even the 10th position ended up being over 1% away from the fastest lap, however in Azerbaijan and even more so in Monaco, that is not the case. The pure fact that Azerbaijan proved to be more competitive than usual should have been an indication than getting through Q1 in Monaco was going to be though.

Delta as % to 1st place in Q1

I decided to plot all races with the delta as % to first place for each driver. The races are ordered by the standard deviation (sd), which is a way to measure the spread of data. The standard deviation is represented a)a yellow diamond, with its value being displayed to the left of it, and b) a modified box plot. In this case, the box plot shows the mean for the delta for each race, while the top and bottom edges show the mean + or – the standard deviation.

Note: I removed 3 data points from the graph. 1) Stroll’s time in Monaco, which was an outlier, and 2) Hulkenberg and Grosjean’s time in Azerbaijan. This was done in order to try to represent a more significant standard deviation.

How do you interpret this plot? Well, basically a low sd means that the delta between the drivers and the fastest time of the session was low. This is just another way of showing how spread the field was in a particular session. You can clearly see how in Monaco most of the times are bunched up, while in Spain there are gaps between most of the drivers.

Monaco had less spread than all tracks, even lower than Azerbaijan, with the sd being 0.045 % lower. This basically meant that in order to qualify to Q2 in Monte Carlo, it was necessary to beat the 2 Williams (guaranteed), Lance Stroll (almost guaranteed) and 2 more drivers. Checo Perez was unable to extract the pace from the Racing Point, which meant that Leclerc had to beat either Nico Hulkenberg, Alex Albon or Kimi Raikkonen (all separated by a tenth of a second) in order to move on. With such a tight field, it made little sense to risk being eliminated by not trying to do another fast lap.

Final remarks

Monaco’s qualifying session was undoubtedly the most competitive of the season. The sd of 0.322 is a little bit more than half of what we saw in Spain. Obviously it is easier to analyze the data after the quali session is over, but if I have to take a guess, I would say that historical data shows that Monaco tends to be the place where most teams can fight more evenly with each other.

The low spread of deltas, as well as the indication of competitiveness seen in Q1 in Azerbaijan, makes me conclude that it made no sense for Ferrari not to send Leclerc one final time to try to improve his time. Ferrari had all to lose, and not much to gain. A Q1 elimination in Monaco is catastrophic, while not having a new set of tires is not the end of the world. Ferrari has statisticians and mathematical models that they use in real time to predict the cutoff time of the session. They surely must have known that the field was not as spread as it usually is, and that being 1% away from the fastest time in Monaco meant that they were playing with fire. In any other track they would have been fine, but Monaco presents some especial challenges.

I will do another article soon to discuss Charles’ performance in Q1 and why he may share the blame with Ferrari for the early elimination in Monte Carlo.

I hope you enjoyed the article, have a great day everyone.


  1. French GP

    Great, as always !

    • admin

      Thank you for the nice comment, I really appreciate.

      Have a nice day.


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