Up to the mid-point it seemed that the most exciting moment of the Monaco GP 2013 would have been Charles Pic’s Caterham catching fire, forcing his early retirement; but then, the grid heated up even more and drama started tumbling down like an avalanche – to finally give Mercedes their first win of the season.
The Silver Arrows had once again shone in the Saturday qualifying where Nico Rosberg claimed his third consecutive pole of the season, joined on the front row by team-mate, Lewis Hamilton. Once again did they also play down their hopes for the race itself – as they have done, Hamilton specifically, ever since their impressive performances in pre-season testing, hinting on the peak of the German-branded team since its revival in 2010. These doubts did, indeed, have some recent empirical backing, to mention the Spanish Grand Prix as a most recent example of Mercedes’ discrepancies between their Saturday and Sunday performances, where front-runners Rosberg and Hamilton finished sixth and 12. respectively.
Other teams seemed to share that view, with the second-row qualifiers Red Bull, represented here by Sebastian Vettel (starting from third) claiming that Mercedes could be overcome.
And yet, the unforgiving Monaco street circuit, considered the most challenging – and therefore most satisfying to win – of the Formula 1 calendar, kept true to its rule of thumb, by which the front runner more often than not claims the chequered flag. Despite a few major interruptions throughout the race, Rosberg held his leader position to the end to claim his first win since the Chinese GP 2012 – second in his F1 career. What made it even more special, was that his father, Keke Rosberg, won the same Grand Prix 30 years ago.
This year’s spike in form in the previously under-performing Mercedes will not gain them many friends in the paddock – nor will the “secret” tyre test the team undertook after the Spanish Grand Prix. Allegedly performed on behalf of the tyre manufacturer, Pirelli – now working on the 2014 compound – the test had been undertaken in Mercedes’ 2013 machine, constituting a breach of regulations regarding in-season testing – claim Ferrari and Red Bull. The outrage of the teams provoked them to filing to the sport’s regulators, the FIA, a protest against Mercedes, demanding penalty or compensation – a matter the stewards were due to discuss after the Monaco race.
Returning to the on-track drama, Monaco – unsurprisingly, considering the track’s record – saw the first safety car of the season, and soon after, also the second – as well as a red flag. The first SC period was brought on by Felipe Massa’s repeat loss of control over his Ferrari, following the same stunt in qualifying the previous day. Having locked both front wheels after breaking on the bump at Sainte Devote corner, he smashed into the barriers, ripping most of his front off.
In qualifying that cost him all the competitive positions on the tricky narrow track, as the team was unable to fix his car for Q1. On Sunday he started from the very back of the grid; and even if he himself was stunned by what had happened – having to concede driver error – explaining how that happened again in the same spot during the race seems rather impossible. Whilst the Brazilian was being taken away to hospital for a check-up, the 20 remaining cars (bar Pic, having escaped his flaming Caterham on lap seven) filed behind the safety car – after an impromptu dash to the pits for a worry-free tyre change… Or so it would seem, if only Hamilton hadn’t got stuck behind his team-mate in their pit, which degraded him from second to fourth, placing him behind the two Red Bulls: Vettel and Webber respectively.
A few laps later the action resumed and some braver drivers attempted the seemingly impossible on the Monte Carlo circuit: overtaking. Vettel was unable to claim Rosberg’s lead, nor was Hamilton able to split the Red Bulls; but McLaren’s Sergio Perez proved his worth when he faultlessly moved ahead of his team-mate Jenson Button and almost done the same with Fernando Alonso, who had to cut a corner to reclaim his position. Ultimately, however, any gain in position didn’t gain the Mexican points, as a contact with Lotus’ Kimi Raikkonen on lap 67 left his McLaren with too great a damage to continue the race; in the meantime, the resulting puncture demoted the Finn from fifth on the grid to 10. across the line.
The race was halted when a manoeuvre by Marussia’s Max Chilton sent Williams’ Pastor Maldonado flying into the wall on lap 46, resulting in a significant damage to the barriers – alongside a drive-through penalty for Chilton and an early race finish for Maldonado. With the threat of the race breaking the regulatory two-hour curfew, the action was soon underway once more – just to see another crash on lap 63 between Lotus’ Romain Grosjean and Toro Rosso’s Daniel Ricciardo, introducing the second safety car period and seeing both out of the competition.
Against all odds, Force India had a good afternoon overall, as Adrian Sutil took his chances to eventually finish fifth – in front of Button and Alonso respectively; whilst disadvantaged and displeased qualifier Paul di Resta progressed from 17. to ninth in the course of the race.
To top off the list of retirees, Jules Bianchi crashed his Marussia on the same corner as Massa, bringing the final tally to seven DNFs [did not finish].
This year’s Monaco Grand Prix can serve as yet another example to explain, why it is considered the most important race of the season by the drivers. By winning it, Nico Rosberg made a significant leap in his career – but it will take the next few races to show, whether he can keep up the momentum and re-write history for Mercedes.