In the two week run-up since the last Formula 1 race the Monaco Grand Prix came down to an internal battle between two team-mates, as the question on everybody’s lips was: which one of the Mercedes’ drivers will win this time? And as much as the Thursday practice sessions did not shine much light on the potential result, come Saturday afternoon it became quite clear who had the upper hand in the duel – and the pole-to-win Monaco tradition did not disappoint this time.
The Monaco qualifying session did not go by without controversy; in the final minutes of the last session Nico Rosberg spun on track, causing yellow flags, which impaired the final stint of all drivers – including his team-mate, definitely robbing him of his shot at a pole position. Lewis Hamilton made his displeasure clear when he told reporters after the session he would fight Rosberg “Senna style”.
But as the red lights went off on Sunday, Rosberg did not fault his start and shoot out to a dominating lead, somewhat tamed by an early safety car, unaffected by a second safety car spell caused by Sauber’s Adrian Sutil crash out, as the Mercedes driver gradually extended his lead to a 9.2 second lead over his team-mate.
Hamilton clung onto the German’s tail in the range of one-to-two seconds behind throughout the afternoon until lap 56 out of 78 when he suddenly dropped back dramatically – blaming a sore eye due to dirt getting into his visor. The drop was significant, but the sheer Mercedes power allowed for more than enough leeway to stay safe against the competition. Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo stood a potential chance of snatching Hamilton’s second place finish when the Brit dropped back, but eventually finished 0.4sec behind him to clench his first Monaco podium.
“To describe the feeling, it’s really nice to be up here. Could we have done better? I don’t know,” the Aussie said in an FIA post-race conference.
Indeed, Red Bull struggled that afternoon, with an early retirement from Sebastian Vettel due to a loss of power in the German’s car’s engine. And so did the rest of the family, as neither of the Toro Rosso drivers finished the race; firstly with a retirement by Danill Kvyat, who secured a top-ten grid starting position in qualifying, followed by Jean-Eric Vergne leaving the track in a cloud of smoke due to an engine failure later on.
But Monte Carlo delivered a total of eight DNFs (did not finish), resulting in two safety cars – the first one as early as lap one, after Sergio Perez’s Force India hit into the barriers after a collision with Jenson Button’s McLaren. The Mexican was the first retiree that day – together with Lotus’ Pator Maldonado who also suffered an engine failure – as did Valtteri Bottas who up to that point out-performed his team-mate once more. In the end Felipe Massa was the Williams’ point scorer, having finished 7.
The DNF list was completed by Sauber’s other dirver, Esteban Gutierrez, who crashed out on lap 61. The retirements allowed for some surprising results, such as an 8. place finish for Jules Bianchi. However, the Marrusia driver was eventually demoted by a place (five-second penalty) due to undertaking his former stop-and-go penalty for an unsafe pitlane release under safety car conditions. Nevertheless, the Frenchman gained the team its first points since its inception.
Both McLaren drivers also made it into the points in Monaco, despite a mediocre performance on Saturday; their relative success was offset by Ferrari’s struggles, limiting the points provision to Fernando Alonso’s 4. place finish, following a shaky afternoon. The Spaniard lost out on his 3. grid place at the start to his team-mate Kimi Raikkonen, but eventually came out victorious. The Finn was in a strong position to claim his first podium of his new Prancing Horse contract, but contact with Max Chilton’s Marussia, who was trying to un-lap himself during the second safety car period, sent him to the garage for a second pit-stop in the single-pit race, demoting him to a mere 12. across the line.
Rosberg’s second consecutive Monaco win has put him back on top of the chart – but only giving him a four-point advantage over his team-mate. The gap between the Mercedes and Ferrari in Monaco (over 32 seconds) reflects the leap in drivers’ standings, with Alonso placed third, but with a deficit of 57 points to Hamilton.
As the sixth race of the season, when teams are expected to be getting to grips with their packages and strategies under the new regulations, Monaco proved Mercedes’ domination – but the question over their leading driver still remains.
MONACO EXCLUSIVE: Watch my highlights’ video from the race here.