Round six of the 2016 Formula 1 season brought us to the paradise of the rich and famous – Monaco – for a more interesting race than we are usually treated to.
The race certainly didn’t start out that way. Rainfall prior to lights out meant the race started under the safety car, which led pole sitter Daniel Ricciardo (who had turned up the heat on the Mercedes duo with a blistering pole lap), Nico Rosberg, Lewis Hamilton and the rest of the pack around for the first few laps, to the rising frustration of the drivers after a short while.
Once the safety car came in it was a case of managing the blue-walled wet weather tyres for as long as possible whilst the track dried out, with strategic gambles coming into play. Ricciardo surged away of Rosberg, who was noticeably slower than Hamilton and ultimately ordered by Mercedes to let him through (an order that Rosberg followed with good grace – would Hamilton have done the same?).
(Rosberg lacked pace in the wet conditions)
By the time Hamilton cleared Rosberg he was some 13 seconds behind Ricciardo, who was managing his tyres and pace well, but Hamilton was doing likewise and was slowly clawing the gap back. Rosberg fell back, with the Ferrari of Vettel and the Force India of Perez lurking not too far behind.
There were accidents and problems galore quite early on. Kvyat’s Toro Rosso was stuck on the wrong speed setting, and Joylen Palmer lost control on the pit straight to prang the barrier hard and skid off the track. Raikkonen kissed the barrier at turn 7 and Kvyat broke his front wing (along with nearly crunching Magnussen’s Renault) at turn 17. Verstappen, fresh from his win in Spain, had been forced to start from the pit lane after crashing during qualifying, but fought his way up through the grid, only to lock his left front tyre coming through turn 3.
Interestingly, whilst the virtual safety car saw a few deployments, the actual safety car didn’t reappear.
(Kvyat had a bad day)
The most embarrassing accident came when the two Saubers collected one another, also at turn 17, after the team had ordered Nasr to let Ericsson by. Nasr wasn’t keen to comply and Ericsson made a move that failed, leading to two broken front wings and a retirement for Nasr.
(turn 17 was a trouble spot!)
Without a doubt the key moment in the race came when Red Bull pulled Ricciardo into the pits for his second stop. The Australian had already made one stop, replacing his full wet tyres for intermediates, whilst Hamilton had stayed out on full wets, trying to make them last long enough to change directly to slick tyres. Once Lewis had pitted for the ultra-soft compound, Ricciardo came in for the super-softs – only the team didn’t have the tyres ready, leading to a long delay whilst they found the right tyres. Ricciardo spent over 13 seconds stationary in the pits – that lost time almost certainly cost him victory, for when he came out of the pits, Hamilton was streaking by and taking the lead.
Not that Ricciardo didn’t fight back. A huge moment of controversy came at the chicane that is turns 10 and 11, when Hamilton partially cut the corner, and then squeezed Ricciardo as they set down the straight. The stewards investigated and decided no further action was warranted, but Ricciardo was incensed.
Whilst Ricciardo would trail Hamilton closely for the remainder of the race, he couldn’t quite get close enough to make a move stick. Hamilton would see out the race on the ultra-soft tyres (which held up far better than anyone expected) to seal his first win of 2016, and only his second win at Monaco.
(Ricciardo couldn’t quite get close enough to make an attack)
Further back, there was a solid drive from Force India’s Perez, who took a rare podium for the team, whilst Vettel was fourth for Ferrari after a fairly anonymous day, and Alonso took an excellent fifth for McLaren (with Button also finishing in the points in ninth). The second Force India took sixth, slipping by Rosberg at the very end of the race, to seal a bad day for Rosberg, whose lead in the championship has been cut to 24 points. Rosberg had some issues with brake temperature during the race but also seemed to struggle in the wet conditions – will he rue letting Hamilton by?
Was Hamilton Lucky?
A tough question. He certainly benefited from Ricciardo’s pit stop disaster, and his move to block Ricciardo was on the cusp of what’s reasonable. On the other hand, he managed his tyres brilliantly and timed his stop to perfection. He might well consider himself somewhat fortunate, at least privately, but he will also be pleased to stay out of trouble and take a much-needed first win in 2016.
Next up is Canada, which can bring wet weather thrills all its own!