Silky Russell & audacious Norris signal F1 golden era — MPH
Lando Norris and George Russell have long been touted as future stars, but this season has provided the best examples yet of their prodigious abilities
Mercedes made a wrong call under the late race safety car, so the wrong man won. Lewis Hamilton was denied what had been shaping up into a dominant victory through the team getting its numbers wrong in a high-pressure situation that was actually much more difficult to call in real time than it appears in hindsight.
Nico Rosberg was the beneficiary, thereby becoming a triple Monaco winner. It was difficult to know who to feel sorriest for: Hamilton for the unfairness of fate, Rosberg for the awkward situation it put him in – or the Mercedes guys who had to make the call.
Mercedes was panicking about having to make exactly this choice way back in China. Co-incidentally it was Max Verstappen who had triggered it that time too. This time, he’d buried his Toro Rosso deep into the St Dévote TECPRO barriers after a scary collision with Romain Grosjean’s Lotus.
It’s the nightmare situation for the strategist of the leading car. You’re running 1-2 with a big margin late in the race, then suddenly you’re in a safety car scenario, your time advantage wiped and the possibility – if you stay out – of your nearest rival pitting for fresh tyres that will be vastly faster, exiting the pits right on the tail of your guys, ready to pick them off when racing resumes.
But you’re forced to make the call on whether to stop before they do – in the knowledge that they will probably do the opposite. Because they have nothing to lose. Just as in China, Ferrari had enough of an advantage over those behind that it could, if it wished, pit without losing position. The prospect of Sebastian Vettel coming at them on fresh super-softs fed Mercedes’ paranoia.
The logic of Mercedes pulling in Hamilton was that its numbers suggested there was no downside. He’d get in and out without losing the lead – and be on fresh, fast, option tyres rather than worn primes that potentially took forever to get back up to temperature. It’s just that its numbers were out – by around two seconds. Those two seconds evaporated in the timing information coming to the team from the timing loops out on the track.
Because of the reception around Monaco, it’s the one race where teams cannot rely on a GPS live data stream. It performs too intermittently because of the hemmed-in geography of the principality. So Hamilton’s location was being tracked by update every time he passed one of the beams placed all around the track. The call – which was finally taken as Hamilton was just 50 metres from the pit entry road – was based around Hamilton going slightly faster than he actually was.
So Hamilton arrived at the crucial SC1 line (which defines the positions behind the safety car at the merger between pit exit and track) just behind Vettel and new leader Rosberg. “I’ve lost this race, haven’t I?” said Hamilton over the radio as they continued to circulate behind the safety car. “Not necessarily. You’re on much faster tyres than them.”
So he was now in the exact situation that Mercedes had imagined Vettel would be in had Hamilton not pitted: on vastly faster tyres, ready to pick the cars ahead off. Right? Two things: one, this is Monaco where passing’s never a given and two, the worn old prime tyres were not as disastrous as Mercedes had feared. Lewis had indeed lost the race – and would finish a distraught third.
There had undoubtedly been an element of confusion and pressured panic in the fateful decision to bring him in. There were many voices over the radio, a bombardment of information coming at them. Even Hamilton – thinking that Rosberg had already pitted – fed into that feedback loop by voicing concern about his falling tyre temperatures, thinking he’d be facing a new-tyred Rosberg on the resart. “We lost Lewis the race,” said the team’s boss Toto Wolff afterwards. “There’s nothing else to say but to apologise, apologise and apologise.”
Ironically, Ferrari had not at any time considered bringing Vettel in. Mercedes was fighting a phantom, a notion, in a situation triggered by a cross-threaded Toro Rosso wheel nut. For had Verstappen not suffered thus at his first stop, he’d not have been behind Grosjean at the fateful moment and there’d have been no safety car.
Both the soft prime tyre and the super-soft option were out of their temperature ranges on Saturday. The prime needed as many as five laps of warm up before they were anywhere near ready but even the options ideally needed two. Since last year the working temperature range of the super-soft has been increased. Both choices therefore were high working range tyres – on a low temperature track with a layout that doesn’t feed much energy in to the rubber, either through deformation or slippage.
That defined the shape of the grid in that the Mercedes, as the car with the most downforce, was least affected – and the Ferrari challenge that Saturday morning practice suggested had been shaping up fell flat. The clouds arriving from the mountains shaded the track enough have the Pirellis right on the cusp of the temperature threshold at the beginning of qualifying, and falling below it by the end.
But even the W06 was having difficulty – as Rosberg repeatedly demonstrated by locking up heavily into St Dévote. He did it at the end of Q2, running up the escape road there (thereby bringing out the yellows that thwarted Jenson Button getting his McLaren into Q3) and he did it on his final Q3 attempt. Given that his first Q3 run had fallen 0.14sec shy of Hamilton’s, it ensured the latter finally achieved pole here at his ninth attempt.
Hamilton’s final lap knocked a further couple of tenths off his earlier benchmark – at just 1.5sec adrift of the all-time qualifying record (Kimi Räikkönen 2006, Q2). Hamilton’s pole was the 17th consecutive one for the team, equalling McLaren’s ‘88-89 record but still seven short of Williams in ’92-93.
Rosberg in fact looked to have the edge in Q1 and early Q2 as Hamilton struggled to find his rhythm. Pretty much every car’s balance had changed since the morning practice session, and a lot of fine tuning was still going on, especially as rain had washed out the second practice session on Thursday before anyone had a chance to do evaluation runs on the super-soft.
Hamilton had been at his attacking best from the beginning of the weekend but now in the opening two qualifying sessions there was understeer. Rosberg, by contrast, had done his usual and worked away at finessing and was quicker in both Q1 and Q2 in between lock ups. It would have been easy for Hamilton to have lost the plot at this point but he calmly re-grouped, taking the initiative with his engineer to make the small changes required.
He returned to the track in Q3 with the car giving him all the messages he needed – and the spectacular demonstration unfolded, the Mercedes fantastically supple and allowing both Lewis and Nico to use an outrageous amount of kerb through the swimming pool section.
The track had been subtly altered this year; Tabac was slightly re-profiled, turning left earlier but with the barriers crowding you in earlier – and the road had been cambered to help keep cars out of them. At the swimming pool the barriers on the first apex had been cut for better vision, the line through there re-profiled. On the tight right-hander out of there (turn 15) the barriers had been moved well back from the kerb, which now had a big ‘sausage’ element to its inside to prevent anyone taking liberties, as did its opposite number on the left.
But despite most of the circuit having been re-surfaced the bumps in the St Dévote and Mirabeau braking areas seemed to have been enhanced. Last year the cars had FRICS to help even the loads front-to-rear, but this year not so, and all weekend those two braking areas were causing all sorts of problems with locking of the unloaded wheels, exacerbated of course by the under-temperature tyres.
Third fastest Vettel was a full 0.8sec off Hamilton’s pole time, the cloud cover having exaggerated the gap to a Ferrari that struggles more to generate tyre temperature in cool conditions. Kimi Räikkönen was feeling this even more than Vettel, his softer initial input on the steering not helping in this situation. He’d hit the St Dévote barriers on Saturday morning and seemed a little tentative. He was a full 0.6sec adrift of Vettel and back in sixth but that gap was exaggerated by his being forced to abandon his final run after becoming stuck behind a Toro Rosso, enough to lose that crucial tyre temperature.
Sandwiched between the Ferraris were the two Red Bulls of Daniel Ricciardo and Daniil Kvyat, separated by 0.1sec. Daniel was frustrated that a pitlane communication problem had caused him to be in the wrong engine map on his final run, robbing him of power. He wasn’t even hooking seventh gear as he reached the St Dévote braking area. The team reckoned it cost him 0.2sec – which would have been enough to put him ahead of Vettel.
The improved form of the Red Bulls was being put down to nothing more than the very specific demands of the circuit, with no long straights to punish the Renault’s continued lack of power and good levels of low speed downforce. It featured a revised rear suspension, with the upper wishbones moved higher, giving more camber change to the benefit of traction.
Sergio Pérez – in a Force India featuring an all-new front upright and brake layout which improved brake cooling and weight distribution – is invariably mighty around this place and on Saturday he didn’t disappoint. He was fortunate to get through to Q3 in that Button would have demoted him out of the top 10 had it not been for the yellows, but Sergio maximised the opportunity.
Thinking that rain may have been imminent as that session began, he went out immediately and nailed his single new tyre lap, his precise aggression very evident. The rain held off and he fully expected then to be pushed to the back of the top 10 as the track grip ramped up. But it didn’t happen that way. The track temperature continued to fall, as did the grip, and his early effort comfortably eclipsed the Toro Rossos and the Lotus of fellow Monaco specialist Pastor Maldonado.
Carlos Sainz, against the run of play of the weekend up to Q3, was the faster of the Toro Rosso drivers, qualifying eighth, two places ahead of Verstappen. The STR10 was particularly badly affected by the cool track and by Q3 just could not get the tyres anywhere near their temperature window to the extent that Verstappen found only eight-hundredths of a second from his fresh set.
Furthermore, Sainz had missed a weighbridge request in Q1 – the penalty for which was exclusion from qualifying. He would have to start from the pitlane. Verstappen was a little crestfallen that the promise of earlier in the weekend – he’d been second quickest on Thursday morning, on his first ever visit to the place – had evaporated somewhat.
Maldonado always looked like making Q3, despite the Lotus’ propensity to lock its front tyres – a trait that’s been carried by Lotus cars since the beginning of last year. It’s one of life’s great mysteries that Pastor can commit to a level of precision around here that’s largely absent on other tracks. Whenever walls surround the course rather than run-off areas, he contains his wilder excesses, revealing the impressive speed beneath.
Just the few moments of holding him in the pits waiting for a gap in the traffic after the tyre blankets had come off was enough to prevent his tyres reaching operating temperature of 120deg C by the end of his out-lap. Ninth place was the outcome.
Team-mate Grosjean was out-qualified for the first time this year, 11th fastest in Q2 after locking up at turn 15 (the right-hander exiting the swimming pool) on his crucial lap – something that he’d been unable to prevent the car doing all weekend. The gearbox that had proved troublesome in Barcelona had been replaced and this entailed a five-place grid penalty.
The penalties of Sainz and Grosjean bumped Button up a couple of places – some compensation for Jenson’s yellow flag delay. The McLaren’s balance and brakes were strong, its low speed downforce likewise and the penalty of Honda’s horsepower shortfall was relatively small. Button was at least in a better position than team-mate Fernando Alonso whose car cut out on its first Q2 lap, leaving him 15th (13th after the penalties).
Nico Hülkenberg blew what was shaping up into a lap good for Q3 when he brushed the wall exiting the last corner, leaving him 13th – but that still left the second Force India ahead of the Williams team. Felipe Massa lined up behind Hulk while Valtteri Bottas didn’t even graduate from Q1. The adverse effects of the car’s lack of low speed downforce were exacerbated by the cool track.
Neither Sauber made it out of Q1, both Felipe Nasr and Marcus Ericsson suffering a similar situation to the Williams regarding downforce and tyre temperature. They sandwiched Bottas. Two seconds behind, completing the grid, were the Manors of Will Stevens and Robert Merhi. The weight difference of jockey-like Stevens and Merhi accounts for almost 0.6sec of lap time in a car that cannot be made light enough to compensate. On this occasion Stevens was quicker by 0.25sec.
The sun had been bestowing its favours upon the streets for a few hours as they lined up for the 2.00pm start. A track temperature of 37deg C was much more in line with what the super-soft and soft compound tyres had been designed for than Saturday’s conditions – and the strategic implications of that were significant. It promised to make the race a more conventional one, whereby stopping before your opponent – the undercut – would likely get you ahead at the single pitstop that most planned, so long as you were within around 1.5sec as you peeled off into the pitlane.
If the track had remained as cool as during qualifying, that wouldn’t have been the case. Because in those conditions the prime tyre took so long to warm up that you’d likely gain places if you could stay out a lap longer. The sun had probably rescued this event from being run at a very slow pace, where everyone would have been trying to ensure their tyres were in good enough shape to go longer to the stops than their rivals. Now that was no longer the case, the race could be run more aggressively.
This was all theoretical of course – especially given the lack of dry running on Thursday afternoon. Only the two Manors, Bottas’ Williams and Alonso’s McLaren began the race on the prime soft tyre. Everyone else had the red-striped super-softs. They were around 0.8sec faster and would only become slower than a fresh set of softs after about 30 laps – thereby defining the natural point for the pitstop.
The first part of Hamilton’s strategy was to ensure he reached St Dévote before anyone else – and that went perfectly as he was cleanly into the lead. Rosberg was struggling to get as good a launch as Vettel’s Ferrari on the row behind and they were fighting over territory on the approach to the corner, Nico braving it out around the outside and cutting across to claim the place, giving Seb a bit of an oversteer moment as they began the long steep climb up the clifftop hill towards Beau Rivage and the crest beyond.
Ricciardo had been forced by the two-abreast Rosberg/Vettel to stay out to the left – creating a blink-brief opportunity for his Red Bull team-mate Kvyat to dive up the inside, which he judged beautifully, a wisp of front tyre smoke as Daniil claimed fourth place. Behind them in the colourful snaking pack were Räikkönen’s Ferrari, Pérez’s Force India, Maldonado’s Lotus, Verstappen’s Toro Rosso, Hülkenberg’s Force India – and Massa.
The latter two tangled on the exit of the corner, the Williams squeezed between the Force India and the wall, damaging its nose and a front wheel rim, Felipe having a long limp back to the pits and losing almost a lap there.
Hülkenberg’s loss of momentum was pounced upon by Button as they went up through Massenet at the top of the hill and into Casino Square, where Jenson succeeded in going around his outside. Hülkenberg was immediately under attack from the other McLaren as they charged down the hill towards Mirabeau, 130mph down to around 50mph in little more than 1.5sec on a downhill braking zone on tyres not yet up to temperature.
Alonso saw the hint of a gap down the inside, moved into it – but locked up slightly, enough to slide the McLaren into the side of the Force India, nerfing it into the barriers and knocking off its front wing. Alonso would later be given a 5sec penalty – to be served at his pitstop. Hülkenberg, after stopping for a new nose, would rejoin a long way back and drive beautifully for the rest of the afternoon, for no reward.
Moving up as Hülkenberg had disentangled himself from his broken wing at Mirabeau were Nasr’s Sauber, Grosjean’s Lotus, Bottas’s Williams, Ericsson’s Sauber and the Manors of Stevens and Merhi. Sainz, from his pitlane start, would split the Manors before the end of the lap to begin a beautifully judged drive into the points. This entailed a very aggressive opening stint on the super-softs.
Hamilton was immediately into his rhythm up at the front, pulling out a few tenths on Rosberg each lap, with Vettel keeping the second Merc under pressure and pulling away from the Red Bull pair and Räikkönen. Pérez circulated on his own not far behind.
A gap had opened up behind Sergio as Maldonado had almost immediately felt his brake pedal getting longer due, it seems, to a hydraulic leak. Verstappen was on him by the fourth lap, aggressively probing for a way by – and he even lost a piece of the Toro Rosso’s front wing endplate as he got a little too close at the swimming pool exit. He finally nailed him with a brave move into, and through, St Dévote, the pair millimetres apart as they came through there side-by-side. A couple of laps later the Lotus trailed into the pits, out of brakes, and was wheeled away into the garage.
Hamilton’s pace had his lead out to 3sec by the tenth lap but already he was having to manage his brake wear, lifting and coasting for a few laps to bring the rear temperatures down. He’d been lapping in the low 1min 20sec as he built his gap over Rosberg which, given the fuel load, was an aggressive pace. As he went into lift-and-coast mode, he was around 0.5sec slower – and the gap over Rosberg stabilised at around 2.5sec for the next 10 laps before Hamilton was finally given the all-clear on brake temperatures.
By this time Vettel was within 1.5sec of Rosberg, Räikkönen a similar distance behind Ricciardo. This was well within undercut range, albeit a little early in the race to try. It would have been a brave move, consigning themselves to over 50 laps on the prime tyre – but it would have gained them each a position. Ferrari decided against it. But passing on track, as ever around here, was proving near-to-impossible. Sainz would later show that it was in fact possible to get a set of the primes to last 66 laps, having pitted from behind Ericsson as early as lap 12.
Grosjean was getting similarly frustrated behind the other Sauber of Nasr, and was brought in to try to undercut his way past on the 17th lap. But they’d been suckered. Nasr stayed out an extra two laps, pushing hard and lapping 0.5sec faster than before. It was enough to foil Grosjean’s undercut attempt, the low-wearing and faster options on Nasr’s car actually still grippier than the fresh primes on Grosjean’s. This had consigned the Lotus to a very long second stint – something that would later play its part in the race-changing Verstappen accident.
As Rosberg was informed of Vettel’s undercut threat, so he pushed harder to gradually eke himself out of range. Hamilton was going yet-faster though, his lead out to over 4sec when Pete Bonnington was back on the radio warning him that his brake temperatures were again becoming a problem. Hamilton was essentially just juggling his pace against the brake temperatures – the only thing preventing him from simply disappearing into the distance.
This just may be the Merc’s Achilles heel, for it was similarly marginal in Bahrain. But to really expose and punish it would require someone to get close enough. For now, Hamilton had it all under control.
As ever, Red Bull’s race pace wasn’t as competitive as its qualifying, simply because of the energy efficiency of the Renault engine. Kvyat had dropped over 8sec back from Vettel by lap 25, with Ricciardo a few seconds back from there and under pressure from Räikkönen.
1 N Rosberg Mercedes 1hr 49min 18.420sec
2 S Vettel Ferrari +4.486sec
3 L Hamilton Mercedes +6.053sec
4 D Kvyat Red Bull +11.965sec
5 D Ricciardo Red Bull +13.608sec
6 K Räikkönen Ferrari +14.345
7 S Pérez Force India +15.013sec
8 J Button McLaren +16.063sec
9 F Nasr Sauber +23.626sec
10 C Sainz Toro Rosso +25.056
11 N Hülkenberg Force India +26.232sec
12 R Grosjean Lotus +28.415
13 M Ericsson Sauber +31.159
14 V Bottas Williams +45.789
15 F Massa Williams +1 lap
16 R Merhi Manor +2 laps
17 W Stevens Manor +2 laps
DNF M Verstappen Toro Rosso
DNF F Alonso McLaren
DNF P Maldonado Lotus
Just around 5sec behind Räikkönen were Pérez and the quickly closing Verstappen, these two around 5sec ahead of the two McLarens of Button and Alonso. Fernando on the harder tyres was generally matching Jenson’s option tyre pace for the first 20 laps and had hopes of being able to use his likelier greater pace at the end. But this pace was taking more from Alonso’s tyres. His primes were finished earlier than Button’s options and Fernando was urging the team to bring him in soon.
Approaching 30 laps, we were near the time when fresh primes would be faster than used options – but still they stayed out up front, Mercedes not yet finding a good gap to drop Hamilton into. He needed to pull away a little more yet. Kvyat was brought in from fourth on the 28th lap.
Verstappen felt he had more pace than Pérez and the Toro Rosso was brought in from just 1sec behind on lap 29. The fate of the race turned upon this stop as the right-rear wheel nut on Max’s car was cross-threaded. The mechanic saw what had happened, undid the nut, removed the wheel – but still there was a problem with the fit. The seconds ticked away, the undercut attempt obviously thwarted. It was now just a question of how many more places he’d lose. He was underway after an agonising 20-plus seconds and rejoined behind Bottas.
Hamilton’s advantage over Rosberg had expanded quite dramatically as they came to lap traffic and as the stops approached was out to around 8sec. Ferrari brought Vettel in on lap 36, but he’d already fallen just a little too far behind Rosberg for the undercut to work – and he encountered a Manor on his in-lap. Mercedes responded with Nico on the next lap and got him out still ahead. Hamilton was in the lap after and was underway without losing the lead.
Ferrari had brought Räikkönen in from right upon Ricciardo’s tail and this had allowed Kimi to finally jump ahead of the Red Bull as Daniel rejoined the next lap. Räikkönen then set about closing the gap down to Kvyat. A brief straight-on moment at the chicane from Kimi got Ricciardo back on his tail briefly, but the Ferrari was soon pulling away again.
Alonso had pitted on lap 32, Button three laps later, still ahead. But this interesting little in-team contest was brought to an end on the 41st lap as the under-body temperatures of the McLaren had caused a sensor to shut down the gearbox, Fernando suddenly finding himself unable to select gears as he braked for St Dévote. Button pressed on, still within 6sec of Pérez, though now almost 50sec adrift of the lead. Pérez had briefly had thoughts of pressuring Ricciardo but as Daniel stepped up the pace, so he concentrated just on maintaining the gap to Button.
Verstappen had found no hole in Bottas’s defence of his 11th place and so Toro Rosso, with nothing to lose, brought him in for a second stop on lap 47 and fitted a fresh set of options. When Bottas ran out of rear tyres 10 laps later he too was brought in for a second stop, this ensuring Verstappen was now ahead of him.
Max in fact was hunting down Grosjean’s very old-tyred Lotus for 10th, having just been lapped by the leaders. Hooking himself onto the back of Vettel, and on his fresh tyres having no trouble in keeping pace with the Ferrari, he was hoping to use the blue flags created by Seb to surprise Grosjean. Sainz had earlier eased his passage, under instruction from the team.
Grosjean, advised by his team, was wise to the blue flag ruse and he dealt masterfully with it, allowing Vettel by on the run between Mirabeau and Loews hairpin, but hanging Max out against the wall. Verstappen, on his vastly gripper rubber, continued to pressure the Lotus everywhere. If he could just get past, then Nasr’s ninth place might also have been within reach.
On his 63rd lap – the race’s 64th of 78 – Verstappen was on the DRS again down the old pit straight and gaining fast on the Lotus as they headed towards St Dévote. Initially he was moving to the left of the Lotus but as they approached the right-handed kink preceding the corner, Max tried to switch sides – by which time Grosjean, on his old rubber, was already on the brakes.
Max had simply misjudged it – and the Toro Rosso’s left front hit the Lotus’s right rear with a big speed differential, launching Max into the air, and from there, hard into the St Dévote TECPRO barriers. “He was just way, way too late with his move,” said Grosjean. “The data shows I actually braked five metres later than on the lap before. I was braking as late as I could with my tyres as they were.”
After Grosjean spin-turned and resumed – losing places to Sainz and Hülkenberg – it was a relief to see Verstappen eventually extract himself from the car and a great testimony to the modern F1 car, the HANS device and the TECPRO barriers. He will doubtless be sore this week, but is essentially unharmed. He will start the next race with a five place grid penalty for causing the accident.
The ‘virtual safety car’ – introduced in the wake of Jules Bianchi’s Suzuka accident – was triggered at this point, whereby drivers have to slow to a set speed and the gaps between cars are thereby frozen. You are allowed to pit only for new tyres. Had the virtual safety car remained in place, it can be assumed that pretty much everyone would have pitted for tyres – because by an anomaly in the way the track and pitlane are configured at Monaco, it was actually around 10sec quicker, even with a 3sec stationary time.
So Mercedes wouldn’t have faced such a dilemma. But after a few seconds race director Charlie Whiting – seeing that Verstappen was not immediately getting out of the car and wanting to be able to bring the medical car on track if needed – gave the order for the actual safety car.
This changed the picture – as the gaps between the cars were no longer frozen. Hamilton’s lead was 25sec. The size of that lead actually worked against him, was a factor in the paranoia that followed. It meant he misunderstood the situation that was unfolding – as he explained afterwards: “I saw on the big screen that my team was out [in the pitlane] and I thought that Nico had pitted. Obviously [because of the size of the lead] I couldn’t see the guys behind so I thought they were pitting. The team said to stay out. I said, ‘these tyres are going to drop in temperature,’ and what I was assuming was that these guys would be on options and I was on the harder tyre. So, they said to pit.
“Without thinking I came in with full confidence that the others had done the same.” Hamilton was paranoid that he’d be taking part in the restart as a sitting duck on old tyres, with Rosberg and Vettel on new ones. Hence he pushed the team to bring him in. A team that was already wavering on what to do because of its certainty – misplaced, as it turned out – about what Ferrari would do. A team that had the added confusion arising from its intermittent GPS coverage.
Hamilton encountered the safety car at Tabac on his in-lap and its pace – and how far behind Rosberg and Vettel were – meant that his earlier 25sec lead had been cut to 10sec as he entered the pitlane.
Rosberg could not believe what his eyes were telling him as he exited St Dévote and saw up the hill just a safety car. Where had Hamilton gone? Then as he closed up to the safety car he looked in his mirrors, “and saw a Ferrari and a Mercedes wheel banging”. Vettel and Hamilton were doing this in their eagerness to beat the other to the crucial SC1 line there that defines the order at the merger point.
Vettel was just ahead – and was instantly on the radio letting everyone know as much. “Full credit to the design department for our longer nose,” he grinned afterwards. “Actually I was already aware of the situation with the SC1 line because I’d had something similar here with Jarno Trulli in 2008.”
Had Hamilton reached that line ahead of Vettel, we might assume that Mercedes would then have requested their drivers to switch position when racing resumed. “I don’t even want to get into that,” said Toto Wolff in response to the question.
Would Ferrari have pitted Vettel if Hamilton had stayed out? “No,” smiled Maurizio Arrivabene. “Inaki Rueda, our race strategist, told everyone to stay calm and to stay out on track regardless of what Mercedes did. I’m aware that we were lucky, that our competitors are intelligent and very strong, but we outsmarted them this time.” The pragmatic response, rather than the data-driven one, was the right one on this occasion. This was Monaco after all.
But the paranoia about whether those worn old prime tyres could be got back up to operating temperature was legitimate. Although the track temperature was much higher than the day before when even fresh versions of these tyres were taking five laps to reach temperature, a worn tyre with very little tread left can often be impossible to bring back up to temperature once it has cooled. “This is like sending divers swimming with lead tied to their feet,” said Vettel over the radio before the restart. It turned out not to be quite that bad.
Hamilton wasn’t the only one who pitted. Ricciardo, Nasr, Pérez and Button all did so too. This was all determined by their respective gaps to their rivals, once the safety car replaced the virtual safety car. Ricciardo had enough of an advantage over Pérez that Red Bull could use him for the new tyre gamble whilst leaving Kvyat out (because bringing Daniil in would have potentially lost him a place to Räikkönen). The safety car picked up Button at Mirabeau, leaving Pérez free to create a gap for himself by going at the safety car delta time rather than the slower pace of the safety car – thus giving him security to be in front regardless of what JB did. It was essentially a free pitstop.
Racing resumed at the end of lap 70. The Ferraris were slower to warm up the tyres than the Mercs – allowing Rosberg to pull out a good gap immediately. Hamilton however was trapped, regardless of his rubber advantage. “There is nowhere to pass,” he lamented, clearly upset. Ricciardo on his fresh tyres got a run going on Räikkönen down to Mirabeau, didn’t quite have himself fully alongside but was committed, nudging the Ferrari into a half-spin. Ricciardo was through, Räikkönen was complaining, but the stewards decided it was legitimate.
At this point Red Bull wanted Ricciardo on his new tyres to be able to have a go at Hamilton, and perhaps the others too… But it needed Kvyat to move out the way first. “Daniel’s on a different strategy to you,” Kvyat was advised. “Good for him,” Daniil responded. But once he was assured that Ricciardo would give the place back if he couldn’t pass anyone, Kvyat reluctantly led his team-mate through. After failing to find a way by, Ricciardo did as promised on the last lap – and gave Kvyat his fourth place back.
So Rosberg joined Graham Hill, Ayrton Senna and Michael Schumacher in the ranks of triple Monaco winners, Vettel was an opportunistic second, Hamilton a distraught third. Behind Ricciardo were Räikkönen, Pérez, Button, Nasr and Sainz.
Hamilton stopped at Portier on his slow down lap and stayed there for some time. This was where his great hero Senna infamously stepped out of his car and disappeared to his nearby apartment after crashing in 1988. Hamilton’s apartment is around a 10min walk from that spot. Was it possible he was thinking of emulating Senna? Or was he just gathering his emotions?
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