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Luck or judgment? How O'Sullivan performed a miracle in Monaco

If you qualify poorly in Monaco, you’ll find yourself in a low position unless there’s a security automotive or some weather-related chaos. This is the widely accepted approach to conduct on the streets of the Principality.

Although Williams junior driver Zak O'Sullivan benefited from the intervention of a virtual safety automotive during his improbable journey from fifteenth on the grid to the highest step of the Formula 2 podium, describing the victory as “the luckiest victory in the history of luck” – as written on social media – is probably unfair.

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Although the statistics show his fastest lap was only lap 18, the Briton had enough pace on his old starting tires to employ another strategy after which benefited from a timely stop and a brief break within the motion which translated into points. -translating the result into victory.

In the case of the ART pitwall, two necessary decisions needed to be made inside 42 laps, and one among them took place before the cars left the starting grid: which tires to placed on.

The selection was to start out on soft or supersoft tires – a compound name long since withdrawn from Formula One – under rules that said each needed to be run within the race. While this will look like a straightforward decision, on a track where overtaking is incredibly difficult, playing long distances is a technique that may only repay if the race is neutralized late enough within the race.

On the contrary, starting with the softest option and choosing an early safety automotive – something common in Monaco – would have allowed the driving force to stop during this era and reach the flag. The downside is that almost all leaders may even persist with this plan, thus limiting the chance for progress. This option can be often strongest in a race where there isn’t a stopping.

“The engineers called,” explained Amaury Lardon, O'Sullivan's race engineer, when asked by Motorsport.com about the driving force's level of involvement in the choice. “Zak and I talked before the race and we just said we’d make a call [the tyres] in the beginning, we’d select one of the best thing by taking a look at the cars nearby. “I'm sure Zak – in the car – doesn't see the whole strategy.”

O'Sullivan crossed the finish line first in the Monaco F2 feature race - a result few would have predicted after qualifying

O'Sullivan crossed the finish line first within the Monaco F2 feature race – a result few would have predicted after qualifying

Photo: Formula Motorsport Ltd

Once soft tires have been chosen, decision two regarding the pitwall is when to bring the driving force in for the mandatory stop. As for O'Sullivan's strategy, it could seem that the apparent option was to run so long as possible and hope for a break at the tip – this was the choice chosen by ART. But this doesn’t guarantee the result. The driver must proceed to take care of race pace relative to those that stopped earlier to realize any positional advantage.

This is where a component of luck comes into play. Although O'Sullivan's victory was not entirely to happiness, nor can one deny the fate that befell him. To achieve an improbable victory, a virtual or full safety automotive was needed on lap 40 for O'Sullivan to pit and return to the track ahead of Isack Hadjar's Campos machine, the primary of those to have already stopped.

However, because drivers should not allowed to pit for a compulsory stop under the virtual safety automotive, O'Sullivan not only needed a break, but additionally needed to fall out as he entered the pit lane. Interestingly, this exact scenario occurred.

“The VSC arrived at the perfect time because if it had been five or 10 seconds earlier, I would have been disqualified for not making the mandatory pitstop.”
Zak O'Sullivan

When Joshua Durksen, one other of those stopped at the tip of the race, collided with then championship leader Zane Maloney after leaving the pits, it had huge consequences. The resulting VSC was displayed at the right time for O'Sullivan, although he admitted to Motorsport.com that he was unaware of the situation until leaving the stop.

“I was in Rascasse and suddenly I got a call saying: 'Box box box box',” he recalls. “I entered the pit lane and only after leaving the pit box did I have a look at the timing crane and see VSC.

“At that time I looked within the mirror, got here out of the pits and there was nobody in front, nobody in back, and I assumed, 'Oh, I feel we're leading the race.' So yeah, some pretty crazy circumstances. Of course, VSC arrived at the right time, because if it had been five or 10 seconds earlier, I might have been disqualified for missing the mandatory pitstop.

Lardon adds: “When the VSC got here out, it was only at the start of the pit lane and within the pitwall we were just joyful because we knew we were in first place at that time.

Hadjar was the driver who missed the VSC due to timing

Hadjar was the driving force who missed the VSC resulting from timing

Photo: Red Bull Content Pool

“But it wasn't finished yet since the VSC ended with two laps to go, so we told Zak we needed to push. Isack was on the back so we needed to push to warm up the tires, but at that time we were very joyful and it was a great moment.

O'Sullivan's pace in clear air was such that he had an 18.7s advantage over Hadjar before stopping. While this wasn't enough to stop and maintain the lead in green flag conditions, he would likely still have returned to the track in the midst of the points-winning positions – an astonishing achievement considering his low starting position.

“Without VSC we would have finished in the top five, and starting 15th in Monaco is a really good result,” says Lardon.

Asked if he was surprised that no other driver pushed this strategy all the best way, he adds: “Yes, however the thing is that Zak was really fast and everybody else wasn't that fast.

“If you don't pit, at that time you lose positions. It was definitely dangerous, but in our situation it was easy because we were faster than everyone else, so we just stayed on the right track. But others [on the strategy] they were slow and at that time they’d to cover other drivers. The surprise was that nobody did the identical as us, but ultimately Zak was the fastest.”

Suggesting that a top-three finish was not out of the query even without intervention, O'Sullivan added: “Without a doubt I believed wholeheartedly in a great result. We were actually just specializing in getting track position because although I got here out on cold tires I feel we were struggling [Oliver] Bearman for P3. I used to be sure I could pass at the very least a number of cars for the primary few laps until I got the temperature right.

“When they began talking about if we had a security automotive we could win the race, I assumed, 'Well, there won't be a security automotive.' It could be great, but I'm sure there can be no safety automotive. Of course the VSC arrived, in order that part was very joyful, especially the timing. result was possible [without it] – but probably not a victory.

O'Sullivan believes that a good result would still have been achievable even without the VSC, although he admits it was what gave him victory in the race

O'Sullivan believes that a great result would still have been achievable even without the VSC, although he admits it was what gave him victory within the race

Photo: Red Bull Content Pool

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