Sebastian Vettel has extended his lead of the 2017 F1 drivers’ world championship to 25 points with victory ahead of Ferrari team-mate Kimi Raikkonen in the Monaco GP.
But Vettel’s victory – the Scuderia’s first at the Principality since 2001 – was clouded in controversy after he overtook Raikkonen in the pits after running for five laps longer than the Finn.
While Raikkonen struggled to warm up his tyres and then hit traffic, Vettel set a series of blistering laps to emerge ahead.
“I tried to push as hard as possible and I was surprised to come out in front,” admitted Vettel. “I can understand Kimi’s upset. There was no plan of any team orders or anything.”
Taciturn at the best of times, Raikkonen’s body language spoke volumes after the race when he stood stony-faced on the podium and barely acknowledged his team-mate.
“It’s still second place but it doesn’t feel awfully good,” said Raikkonen. “It’s one of those days where you wish you’d led a bit more.”
Vettel’s closest title rival Lewis Hamilton finished a distant seventh on a torrid weekend for the Mercedes driver. After starting just 13th, Hamilton finally found his groove midway through the race but couldn’t find a way past Toro Rosso’s Carlos Sainz during the final stages.
It was a damage limitation operation for Hamilton, who predicted before the race he wouldn’t finish any higher than tenth, but the three-time world champion is now a full race win behind Vettel in the standings.
“I came in this morning feeling terrible and didn’t sleep well last night,” Hamilton told Sky Sports F1. “The car was very difficult to drive this weekend.”
The race result was only the fourth in the last three years when a Mercedes car had failed to finish on the podium. “Our car was not quick enough this weekend,” rued Silver Arrows boss Toto Wolff. “I think we have a very quick car capable of winning races and championships but she is a difficult lady.”
Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo secured the final podium finish after mirroring Vettel’s long-running strategy to suddenly uncork some of the fastest laps of the race to leapfrog both Valtteri Bottas and Max Verstappen.
The Dutchman was decidedly unimpressed, launching an expletive-laden response over team radio and was further frustrated by spending the rest of the race tucked behind Bottas’ Mercedes as overtaking predictably proved a near-impossible task around Monte Carlo’s mean streets.
But the afternoon wasn’t entirely devoid of drama. Enlivening what was an otherwise unmemorable race, the Safety Car was deployed with 18 laps remaining after Jenson Button, on his comeback, collided with Pascal Wehrlein, overturning the Sauber in the process as it hit the wall at Portier.
Wehrlein declared himself unhurt after finally being extricated from his mangled car while Button was also forced to park up with suspension damage. It was an undignified end to Button’s comeback weekend in which the former world champion had consistently impressed but was at pains to stress its temporary character. Wehrlein, who will be scanned later this week, later branded Button’s attempted move as “silly”.
At the restart, Stoffel Vandoorne, who had been running in the points, crashed out under pressure from Sergio Perez, leaving McLaren without a single point this season.
At the other end of the table, Ferrari have returned to the summit ahead of Mercedes. It was the perfect end to a perfect day for the Scuderia – if not by entirely perfect means.
Monaco GP race result
1. Sebastian Vettel, Ferrari
2. Kimi Raikkonen. Ferrari
3. Daniel Ricciardo, Red Bull
4. Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes
5. Max Verstappen, Red Bull
6. Carlos Sainz, Toro Rosso
7. Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes
8. Romain Grosjean, Haas
9. Felipe Massa, Williams
10. Kevin Magnussen, Haas
11. Jolyon Palmer, Renault
12. Esteban Ocon, Force India
13. Sergio Perez, Force India
Did not finish: Lance Stroll (Williams), Daniil Kvyat (Toro Rosso), Stoffel Vandoorne (McLaren), Marcus Ericsson (Sauber), Jenson Button (McLaren), Pascal Wehrlein (Sauber), Nico Hulkenberg (Renault).