Monaco Grand Prix - day four


The weekend began with Lewis Hamilton taking a kicking – a bit of tabloid mischief aimed at the Englishman’s lifestyle choices, including his decision to bring pet bulldog Roscoe to the Monaco track before action began. Hamilton is by no means the first driver to do such a thing, mind: Kimi Räikkönen took a mutt to the 2006 Belgian Grand Prix and delighted in taking it to the McLaren motorhome – a ploy apparently designed to irk Ron Dennis, whose employ the Finn was about to leave. Most considered that to be irreverent, rather than irresponsible.

By the time the chequered flag had fallen on Sunday, the focus was on more earnest matters. It was during Monaco’s immediate pre-race build-up that word filtered through of a recent Pirelli tyre test in Barcelona, during which Mercedes drivers Nico Rosberg and Hamilton had covered 1000 kilometres… at the wheel of the current Mercedes W04. And any in-season testing is supposed to be conducted with chassis a couple of years old, to minimise the risk that any unfair advantage might be conferred.

Pirelli and Mercedes insist everything is above board, that the three-day test was approved by the FIA and conducted for legitimate developmental and safety reasons – with one eye on 2014 and the other on addressing recent tread failures. All well and good, but – that being the case – you have to ask why rivals felt the exercise was kept so quiet, a detail Mercedes-Benz’s business executive director Toto Wolff denied. “There was absolutely nothing secret,” he said. “After the Spanish GP we left everything in plain view at the track – cars, trucks, engineering offices, everything…” Ferrari sporting director Stefano Domenicali confirmed, however, that he only learned of the test on Saturday in Monaco, in the wake of a meeting between members of the Grand Prix Drivers Association.

By Sunday noon, Red Bull and Ferrari had lodged formal protests – in the name, of course, of “clarity”. Domenicali said: “We lodged a protest because it is the only way to obtain clarification when there is doubt about a regulation. For us there was no doubt – cars from the previous two years should not be used for any kind of activity during the season. If such things are possible, though, we’ll be the first to put our hands up, because we have always pushed for in-season testing to be allowed.”

FIA stewards met with representatives of Red Bull and Ferrari after Sunday’s race, before listening to what Mercedes and Pirelli had to say. No formal decision had been reached at the time of writing, but Wolff denied Mercedes had done any development work of its own during the test. “We weren’t sure what we were running,” he said. “We just went with whatever Pirelli gave us.” It can’t have helped the plaintiffs’ collective agitation, however, that the W04 proved so effective throughout last weekend. “Whenever you test,” said Red Bull sporting director Christian Horner, “you learn something.”

For the first time this year the Mercedes was as competitive over a stint – albeit at a famously low-degradation track – as it was over a single lap. Sebastian Vettel was gracious in defeat and complimented winning compatriot Rosberg warmly – although he felt the outcome might have been different had Monaco’s architects made their streets a little wider. “I got a fantastic start,” he said, “and thought I might be able to pass both Mercedes drivers, but there was simply no room. During the opening laps I was supposed to be following the Silver Arrows, but they were more like a couple of buses at that stage.” Added Horner: “It was obvious that Mercedes was trying to stretch its first stint to turn the race into a one-stopper. That bunched the whole field, so there would have been no clear gaps to drop into if we’d attempted a different strategy.”

The race appeared to be heading for a safe Mercedes one-two until Felipe Massa crashed at Ste Dévote. It was almost a carbon copy of the Brazilian’s Saturday morning mishap and led to both safety car and race order being scrambled. Despite being able to separate the Mercedes drivers, however, the Red Bull duo could do nothing to dislodge the three-pointed star’s present talisman.

That’ll be the one without the bulldog…

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