It's not hard to believe that 80 percent of the action at the Monaco Formula One Grand Prix happened didn't have to do with straight-up racing. Mercedes AMG Petronas wasn't expected to maintain its obscene advantage over the field with Monaco being a short track that rewards corner speed over top speed, but they still ruled two of the three Free Practice sessions.
Off the track, Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton said he thought it should be easier to beat his teammate and that he was hungrier than his teammate. Then came qualifying and Mirabeau, when Nico Rosberg had set the pole lap in the dying moments of Q3, and as the final few drivers tried to best it on their last chance – including Hamilton, who said he was on the lap that would have got him pole position – Rosberg overcooked it into Mirabeau and brought out a local yellow, killing everyone's chance to better his time. Although the sun was shining in Monaco, the paddock got cold as ice; Rosberg and Hamilton didn't look at one another, speak to one another or touch one another. Rosberg said, "It was an honest mistake." After the race, a disbelieving Hamilton said to the press, "I wish you could have seen the data."
They still lined up first on the grid, though, Rosberg ahead of Hamilton, followed by Daniel Ricciardo and Sebastian Vettel for Infiniti Red Bull Racing, Fernando Alonso and Kimi Räikkönen for Ferrari, Jean-Eric Vergne in the first Toro Rosso and Daniel Kvyat in the second in ninth, split by McLaren rookie Kevin Magnussen in eighth, and Sergio Perez in the Force India in tenth.
At the end of the race, there was only one driver who hadn't found something to complain about.
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A few weeks ago during the Barcelona test, Hamilton tried out new hardware and software that would help Rosberg get better starts. It worked: Rosberg had a new clutch for this race and got a brilliant run into the first turn at Ste. Devote, Hamilton right behind. Ricciardo mushed it all up and fell back to fifth, with Vettel taking third and Räikkönen zooming up the outside to take fourth, Magnussen climbing three places into fifth.
But the Safety Car had to come out on the first lap when Perez turned into Jenson Button through Mirabeau, parking his Force India in the wall in the racing line. While everyone bunched up and paraded around, Vettel radioed his team to tell them he had no power, followed that up with, "Come on, guys, I mean," then seemed to remember he was broadcasting to the world and said, "I'm sure you've tried everything." When he re-entered the track, he was stuck in first gear. When racing resumed, Vettel was still going so slowly that his engineer told him to bring it in for retirement on Lap 7 because he was slowing down cars behind him. Sky commentator Martin Brundle said of the RB10, "They'll pull it into the garage or push it into the harbor." It's only the engine they need to ditch, though; turns out his turbocharger had failed.
Kvyat was the next man out of business, the impressive Russian rookie slowing down on Lap 11, retiring a lap later with engine trouble. His teammate Vergne would do the same thing on Lap 52.
Nothing changed in the order for the next fourteen laps – Monaco is on the calendar because it's historic and glamorous, not exciting – and the gaps stayed even: Hamilton kept stalking Rosberg in front, Räikkönen had inherited third place after Vettel's retirement and Ricciardo was stalking him, Alonso was further back having another quiet race on his own. Then Adrian Sutil in the Sauber lost it coming out of the tunnel on Lap 25, bashed the wall and slid to a stop just ahead of the barriers inside the chicane. That brought the Safety Car out on Lap 26.
During this Safety Car period, Rosberg and Hamilton pitted, but Hamilton thought he should have been brought in the lap before the Safety Car came out. How do we know this? Because he spent something like five laps asking his race engineer why he wasn't brought in, telling him that he knew he should have been called in, that he knew he wasn't going to be called in, and telling the press afterward that McLaren has two strategists – one for each driver – and would have done it differently, but Mercedes only has one, whose focus is the team.
The Silver Arrows team took the victory, their drivers in the same positions at the finish as at the start. At one point Rosberg's engineer had told him to conserve fuel, but Hamilton couldn't make enough of the opportunity to pass. Then, about 15 laps from the end, Hamilton started dropping way back when something got lodged in his left eye. From that point on Rosberg was safe, but Hamilton had to defend from a charging Ricciardo for the final five laps. Ricciardo, also unable to find a way around the man in front, took another third place.
He was followed home by Alonso, who probably got no more than 27 seconds of airtime the entire race. His teammate's race was also ruined during the second Safety Car stint. Fighting with his Ferrari F14T the entire season, Räikkönen was in third place on Lap 26, ahead of his teammate and looking good. After pitting for new tires during the slow march, when the backmarkers were allowed to pass the field to unlap themselves the Finn got a puncture from the front wing of Max Chilton in a Marussia. That dropped Räikkönen to 14th. He'd eventually finish 12th after a bad pass on Magnussen four laps from the end sent him to the pits once again for a new nose.
Force India driver Nico Hülkenberg followed him in fifth, the German having arguably pulled off the pass of the race, slotting underneath Magnussen on Lap 26 to take the inside line around Poitier before entering the tunnel.
Jenson Button got McLaren some points after a stretch of three races without, nabbing sixth place. Felipe Massa overcame a strange pit strategy, opting not to come in during the first safety car period, then doing so during the action on Lap 47, to take seventh, followed by Romain Grosjean in the long-suffering Lotus in eighth, promoted after a time penalty was applied to Jules Bianchi in front of him. Grosjean's teammate, Pastor Maldonado, didn't even start the race, having suffered an engine issue before the parade lap. In total, four Renault Energy Units died on their own at Monaco – all the other retirements were due to crashes.
Even after a five-second penalty was added to his time for, ironically, trying to take a five-second penalty during the Safety Car period, and after starting from the back of the grid after a gearbox change, an incredible drive from Bianchi scored that ninth-place finish for Marussia, its highest finish ever. The two points earned put Marussia in ninth place in the Constructor's Standings, ahead of both Sauber and Caterham and just six points behind Toro Rosso.
Tenth went to Magnussen, who recovered from Räikkönen's bad pass better than the Ferrari driver.
And Rosberg has recovered at his home race from losing his lead in the Driver's Championship at the last race: his win takes him to 122 points, ahead of Hamilton's 118 points. We'll find out as soon as the next race if their tough-but-fair on-track rivalry will recover, but the podium ceremony was even colder than it had been after qualifying. Even though it's a bit soon, Prost vs. Senna is already being brought up, there's talk of forbidden engine modes having been used by both drivers in previous races, and team principal Toto Wolff has said there'll be no more "little fouls." Good luck with that.
Mercedes takes another maximum points haul home from Monaco to lead the Constructor's Championship with 240, followed by Infiniti Red Bull Racing with 99 and Ferrari with 78.
The next race is in Canada in two weeks. We'll see you then.