By Lee McKenzie
Until Sunday, the Monaco Grand Prix weekend had been pretty straightforward. Rain on Thursday brought a splash of excitement, but qualifying went as expected and it looked like the race would too.
From lights out I make notes on the race and by the end have bullet points of every driver’s grand prix ‘moments’. After the first round of pitstops we were all thinking that that was it and I’m sure a few of you had slipped out to put the kettle on or pick up a Sunday newspaper to glance at until the final 20 laps were over.
Max Verstappen’s crash was the catalyst. The wake-up call. The repercussions were bizarre and continue to amaze two days on – imagine how Lewis Hamilton feels. The irony is that the ‘precaution’ meant he lost the chance to win his second Monaco Grand Prix.
As he said to me on Sunday, he had not been thinking of the points this weekend. He holds this race in such high regard that for him it was all about taking victory on these streets. On his in-lap after the chequered flag he slowed down so much at the closest point to where he lives, I wondered if he was going to park it and head home! Any lower than third and having to appear on the podium and I think he might have been tempted. If his idol Ayrton could, then so could he.
His reaction after the race was measured but not all together surprising. Not so many years ago, situations like this would have thrown the world champion and he would have been monosyllabic and highly emotional. That’s under control now and last year he told me that when things went wrong in previous years, he used to lock himself in hotel rooms, not come out for days until he could get over things. Now though, he does have control over that aspect of his life and what matters to him is not the problems but how fast he can move on and come back from them.
Nico Rosberg was humble, not wanting to discuss the joys and importance of winning this race for the third time. He knows he was gifted the race, but he still put himself in the right place to capitalise on any error – the only thing that keeps the heat on simmer and not boil at Mercedes is that it was Rosberg and not Vettel who inherited the victory.
It was great to see Jenson Button in the points, but while McLaren has definitely made progress since preseason testing, to have another DNF from Fernando Alonso is not acceptable. When the cars get going it doesn’t seem so bad, but getting to that point in the first place seems to be the biggest challenge.
Max Verstappen made an incredible start to his weekend in free practice, finishing second, but he made a couple of errors, particularly the accident on Sunday which we’ve not seen before. He’s talented, but has a lot of pressure from the media, family and himself and this weekend it may have got too much.
Performing consistently well at Toro Rosso is Carlos Sainz, who has out qualified Verstappen 4-2 and is 12th in the championship with a few more points than his team-mate. Because there is so much focus on Max, Carlos seems to avoid being in the limelight quite so much. That’s great for him in many ways, as it means in his own rookie year he can just get on with the job without any hassle. But he’s more than holding his own at Toro Rosso and deserves plenty of praise.
Next up is Canada, another unforgiving circuit that sorts the wheat from the chaff. After the big, modern, new circuits that ease us into the season we are now at the tracks that bring people back down to earth, with an often physical bang. It’s a great time of year.