Lewis Hamilton claimed his first victory of the 2016 season on the streets of the principality after Red Bull botched pole sitter Daniel Ricciardo’s pit stop. This was Hamilton’s second victory in Monaco eight years on from his first.
It was the safety car, and not Daniel Ricciardo – the man who had claimed pole position with a scintillating lap around the street circuit on Saturday- that led the field away as heavy rainfall had made conditions treacherous. After several laps circulating, and with the rain slowly abating, Ricciardo led the field racing. Jolyon Palmer in his Renault fell afoul of the conditions, sliding into the barriers down the start finish straight. The virtual safety car was deployed and the marshals cleared the debris.
Ricciardo set off again quickly extending a large gap to second place Nico Rosberg who was holding up a line of cars behind him, all unable to get past the slow-moving Mercedes around the slick, winding streets. It later transpired that Rosberg had brake issues as he struggled to seventh place, a position neither Mercedes driver is accustomed to. Rosberg was told to let his team-mate and championship rival past, and he duly complied. Hamilton set off after Ricciardo, but was unable to bring the gap down to under ten seconds. Kimi Raikkonen soon ended his race, sliding into the hairpin and trapping his front wing under his front wheels. He almost collected Romain Grosjean as he limped into Portier, leaving the Frenchman furious at being held up.
As the rain stopped, a dry line began to form on track. Jenson Button was the first to stop for intermediate tyres and began setting faster laps. This set off a chain effect of stops, and it wasn’t long until Daniel Ricciardo made his first pit stop. However, Hamilton continued to lap his wet tyres on a drying track. He was far slower than Ricciardo, who quickly found himself inspecting the Mercedes’ rear wing, but could not pass. Hamilton had track position, which in Monaco is far more valuable than outright pace. Ricciardo still had pace, which he used to massive effect when Hamilton finally pitted for a set of ultra soft tyres. Ricciardo had a comfortable advantage when he entered the pits to fit his own set of dry tyres, and should have exited the pits with such an advantage over Hamilton. But he didn’t. A horrific pit stop meant that any advantage, and with it the lead, vanished before the Australian’s eyes. When Ricciardo pulled up to his garage, he was left waiting for an agonising amount of time waiting for his pit crew to retrieve a set of tyres to put on his car. He emerged from the pits directly behind Hamilton. Ricciardo clearly had better pace, but Hamilton had track position.
His Red Bull team-mate, Max Verstappen went from hero to zero in spectacular fashion. After winning the last race in Spain, Verstappen crashed into the barriers on both Saturday and Sunday, hitting the barriers on the way into the Casino square. The virtual safety car was deployed again. After racing resumed Hamilton was under pressure from Ricciardo. Hamilton exited the chicane carrying too much speed defending his position, and slid across the chicane, cutting the track. Ricciardo attempted to pounce but Hamilton violently jerked his car across the track to block the attempt. Ricciardo was furious, but the stewards curiously decided against penalising Hamilton for either cutting the chicane or his robust defence.
Further down the order both Saubers collided, creating more heart-ache for the embattled Swiss team. The fact that it was entirely needless, and for 15th position, was but salt in the wound. The race began to settle down as the track dried further. Hamilton held station from Ricciardo, eventually crossing the line to claim victory.
The lead pair were joined on the podium by Sergio Perez for Force India. The Mexican had jumped Sebastian Vettel and Nico Rosberg in the first round of pit stops. Vettel had in turn jumped Rosberg, as had Alonso in the McLaren. They continued in this order until the final lap, when it once again began to rain. Nico Rosberg, struggling with grip was beaten to the flag by Nico Hulkenberg by two tenths of a second. It was a day to forget for the championship leader, who has seen his lead cut from 43 points to 24.
On the podium it was agony and ecstasy. Hamilton was delighted to have claimed his first win of the season, while Ricciardo was left to wonder what might have been, having seen his team cost him victory for the second race in a row. “Save it. Just save it. Nothing you could say to make that any better” was Ricciardo’s message to his pit-wall on his in lap.
Formula 1 now heads to Montreal and the Circuit de Giles Villeneuve for the Canadian Grand Prix on 10-12 June.