Another Monaco has come and gone, bringing with it dignitaries and celebrities from around the world all neatly packed in to watch it all unfold. Cheering from rooftops, windows, multi-million dollar yachts or just standing on the street, no matter, this was the Grand Prix of Monaco.
The Monaco Grand Prix proved once again that it is the place to be. Along with the ‘beautiful people’ it also brought fierce competition within the ranks of Mercedes AMG Petronas and the team of Scuderia Ferrari.
While fans will blame Mercedes for the instantly infamous late pit stop Lewis submitted to, the ultimate racing faux pas certainly wasn’t just the strategists’ fault. It was the whole team’s fault. The entire weekend was in the world champions’ hands right up to the point where small things conspired to bring about the perfect storm of folly.
Magical Monaco. The name the streets live up to. Whether you’re sitting high on a yacht or are down in the gutter. Monaco is where legends are made.
Street circuits are the most difficult venues to race, but Monaco is in a league of it’s own. Wide corners and long run offs are replaced with steel barriers built years ago to absorb the impact of much slower cars. Any mistake, almost any over-correction, however slight, will send you straight into the steel wall.
Mistakes are not uncommon in Monaco. Any error can and will put you out of the race. On the other hand, it’s possibly the best circuit for a driver to show his skill. It’s a driver’s circuit, not a power course.
Last weekend’s temperatures made it difficult to keep warmth in the option tires. The super soft compound is difficult to heat. When you have a tire that won’t stick to a slow circuit, the driver pays the consequences. What could be worse? Rain was threatening all weekend, but with it only showing up during practice two it became a false alarm.
Qualifying came around after the traditional Monaco Friday break. The pole sitter in Monte Carlo has gone on to win 28 of 61 races, therefore, being on pole is the modern day equivalent of a win. Those are great odds considering whoever is P1 will always be ahead of the pack in the actual Grand Prix.
With everyone riding on super softs, Lewis Hamilton climbed to the top in the third session to take pole. Surprisingly, his teammate, Nico Rosberg followed. It wasn’t expected as he hadn’t come to the front during the limited practices. Rosberg now ties Jackie Stewart in three consecutive Monaco wins. But that didn’t stop Vettel in his Ferrari for slotting into third to show he’s still in the mix.
The race obviously started in Hamilton’s favor as he had the nose into the first turn while Vettel dogged the German, until Rosberg started to respond in the early laps, his teammate was already five to six seconds ahead of the pack.
Later in the race, the right buttons for disaster started being pushed. Worry came through the Silver Arrows when brakes in both cars began overheating. This is common for a street circuit since brakes are overused in the many tight corners but also a common problem with rear electric braking.
Accelerating to immediate deceleration is customary for this little Principality in the South of France. Strategy played a tremendous role. Paddy Lowe radioed to Rosberg: “be very aware of Vettel and his strategy when the time comes to pit.” Indirectly mentioning that Rosberg would most likely be on a similar strategy.
Ferrari was able to manage the pit stops, but Mercedes was able to manage the rubber. Both drivers stretched the super soft compound all the way until lap 38, whereas other teams were pitting during the teen laps. On lap 64, a potentially horrific crash put Max Verstappen in the wall at turn one when he ran into the back of Romain Grosjean’s Lotus. When the safety car finally came out to gather the field something unusual happened involving race leader Lewis Hamilton. The start of the plane crash.
Hamilton, seeing a large screen monitor along the track, saw the Mercedes crew standing outside the pit, apparently ready to service one of the Mercedes. It’s not uncommon for the crews to run out to appear as if they are about to perform a pit stop. Practice or a fake-out, it didn’t matter.
With only a handful of laps left and comfortably in the lead Hamilton frantically radioed his pits stating that his tires were shot and the car wasn’t drivable. Remember, he thought Rosberg was coming in for service, but the team didn’t tell him Rosberg was staying out, they quickly calculated simple math to determine that Hamilton would be ahead of Rosberg and Vettel when he came out. They miscalculated.
He came out of the pit only to find Rosberg and Sebastian Vettel ahead of him, he was now in third in third. Why would he do such a thing? His state of disappointment was exposed through a radio message: “what happened guys? I’ve lost this race, haven’t I?” Indeed he did. The World Champion couldn’t get by Vettel to take the fight to Rosberg before the race was over.
I don’t think Lewis realized what he had done, or rather the Mercedes team had done to him and they, to each other. It was a mistake that cost Hamilton the whole race, but to his credit, he took fault along with Mercedes for the incident. This was not what Hamilton wanted, he wanted Monaco, but that wasn’t going to happen. Not only did Rosberg win his third Monaco Grand Prix in a row, he’s now a mere ten points behind Lewis in the championship. The fight for points is close, it’s up to Rosberg to up his game as Hamilton is on a roll.
World Champions do not allow mistakes to carry over to the next race. Canada won’t see another Mercedes mistake.