Hamilton regains mojo on streets of Monte Carlo as Rosberg falters; Ricciardo 2nd after pit foul up; Perez a surprise P3 for Force India
All season long Lewis Hamilton has been looking for the breaks to start going his way just as they had done his past two championship seasons with Mercedes. This Sunday in Monaco, in the most glamorous Grand Prix of them all, Hamilton’s woeful 2016 luck finally turned around when the Englishman got a break of his own and drove a superb race to grab the win and perhaps alter this year’s title narrative. On the tight street circuit, which last year saw his team throw away a certain victory with a poor strategy call, Hamilton benefitted greatly when team Red Bull also blew it in the pits for their then-race leader, pole-sitter Daniel Ricciardo. With the race starting under yellow for several laps in the rain and the track remaining wet once the weather passed and the contest finally got going in earnest, Hamilton’s strategists made the gutsy call to stay out on full wet weather tires until a true dry lined formed and then jump straight to slicks rather than easing onto intermediate wet tires first. Red Bull played it safe and stuck to that more conventional intermediate tire decision at first. Then Ricciardo, cruising with a handy lead, was called in for another pit stop for slicks on Lap 31 to match Hamilton in rapidly drying conditions. But Ricciardo’s crew was somehow caught by surprise and had no tires ready for the Aussie. In the ensuing mad scramble for rubber, Ricciardo saw his 35 second lead over Hamilton evaporate and by the time he he exited the pit lane he saw the sickening sight of the the Silver Arrow streaking by him at full chat. Hamilton, perhaps feeling he was owed one after last year’s screw up, knew exactly what to do with this gift and aggressively kept Ricciardo behind him for the rest of the race. At one point he even cut a a corner of the Nouvelle Chicane and practically shoved Ricciardo into the armco to keep him behind. While Ricciardo protested, the stewards made no call and that was as close as the crestfallen Aussie would ever get. As the laps wound down, the Red Bull’s tires went off and Hamilton stretched his advantage, cruising his way to what must have been a very sweet and redemptive victory.
Even sweeter for Hamilton his teammate and archival Nico Rosberg had a dismal race. Two weeks after the Mercedes duo took each other out on Lap 1 in Spain and earned no points, Rosberg saw his championship lead slip down to a mere 24 points with a poor seventh place finish. Plagued by brake issues right from the rainy start of the race, Rosberg could muster no real pace and had to hold off inferior cars for most of the day to even finish in the top 10. Even more galling, Rosberg was pipped at the very death by Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg for P6, a 2-point swing. After three consecutive victories in Monaco, Rosberg was dealt a significant setback in the Herculean effort required to snatch the Championship title away from his cocky English teammate. All the momentum that Rosberg had at the beginning of the season appears to have gone away these last two rounds. It remains to be seen whether the German’s sometimes fragile confidence can hold up to yet another sustained assault by Hamilton or if Rosberg will wind up wilting under the pressure and Hamilton will be crowned king yet again.
Force India not only placed Hulkenberg solidly in the points with his last-minute P6 but even better saw his Mexican teammate Sergio Perez hold off Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel for the last step on the royal podium with a tenacious P3. Despite his seemingly inferior car, Perez drove an excellent race in both wet and dry after qualifying P8 and it seemed as though Vettel’s Prancing Horse had nothing for the Mexican, especially after struggling first to get by the Williams of Felipe Massa in the last third of the race. But while Vettel had to settle for P4 his teammate Kimi Raikkonen clipped the wall on Lap 11 destroying his front wing and forcing the Finn’s premature retirement from the race. All in all a very poor showing from Ferrari in the premier race of the season, one aided and abetted by their subpar qualifying form.
On the other hand, McLaren showed continued improvement, with Fernando Alonso grabbing an impressive P5 and Jenson Button a decent P9. It would not be surprising to see McLaren compete for their first victory since 2012 before the year is up and put an end to that astounding run of futility for the storied team. Rounding out the Top 10, Toro Roso’s Carlos Sainz drove well for P8 and Felipe Massa outperformed his teammate Valtteri Bottas for the last points paying position at P10. Bottas had to settle for P12, behind Esteban Gutierrez after he was penalized 10 seconds for contact with the upstart Hass driver.
Joining Raikkonen in a race that always features a high number of DNF’s, Red Bull’s wunderkind Max Vertappen continued his habit of smacking the barriers just as he had done in practice and qualifying and crashed out in the race, a hard landing back to reality after his storybook win in Spain in his debut with the A-team. Both the Renaults of Jolyen Palmer and Kevin Magnussen also retired due to crash damage. And the Saubers of Marcus Ericsson and Felipe Nasr pulled their own mini-Mercedes act when Ericsson lost patience waiting for team orders to force Nasr to move aside and tried a dive-bomb move down the inside that ended both their races. For the struggling Sauber team it was a costly and foolish dust up, as there were no points on the line and Nasr likely would have let Ericsson by eventually.
Top 10 finishers in Monaco:
|2||DANIEL RICCIARDO||AUS||RED BULL RACING||+7.252s||18|
|3||SERGIO PEREZ||MEX||FORCE INDIA||+13.825s||15|
|6||NICO HULKENBERG||GER||FORCE INDIA||+92.999s||8|
|8||CARLOS SAINZ||ESP||TORO ROSSO||+1 lap||4|
|9||JENSON BUTTON||GBR||MCLAREN||+1 lap||2|
|10||FELIPE MASSA||BRA||WILLIAMS||+1 lap||1|
The next race is in Montreal for the Canadian Grand Prix in two weeks. Hope to see you then!