Early Season Woes Become a Distance Memory for Hamilton in Monaco
The Sports Gazette reflects on the 74th Monaco Grand Prix which witnessed Lewis Hamilton secure his belated first victory of the 2016 season in what turned out to be not only a strategic master-stroke by Mercedes but also a self imposed calamitous series of events by the Red Bull team that left Daniel Ricciardo stranded and distraught.
After securing his first pole position in Formula One, Daniel Ricciardo was understandably confident of a victory in Monte Carlo on a track which is not only iconic worlwide but is also one of the most difficult in which to overtake making pole that more valuable. Come lap 32 a little before half way, events would take an unexpected turn, in what would in hindsight be a decisive moment.
Heavy rain descended on the glitzy and glamorous mediterranean state throughout the morning as an array of umbrellas lined the grid and the drivers scrambled for cover under the podium prior to the race beggining. Wet conditions usually but not always make for pulsating and dramatic races. The atmospheric crowd no doubt anticipated fireworks on the track.
With the rain not relenting quickly enough, the powers at be decided to start the race with a safety car which did not exit the circuit until lap seven where the race started proper. Championship leader Nico Rosberg started one place behind Ricciardo after finishing 0.16 seconds behind the Australian in qualifying. Having won the last three Grand Prix's in Monaco, many strongly fancied the German to make it four in a row.
With grip in the conditions a constant worry for drivers, the first to meet the unfortunate fate of colliding with the barriers was Renault driver Jolyon Palmer who lost control over a zebra crossing at Ste Devote. Kimi Raikkonen met retirement from the race after crashing out at a hairpin on lap 10 and was subsequently called to the stewards room after dragging his damaged car through the tunnel to the pits.
Up ahead, Ricciardo and team Red Bull's race was going to plan and the former built up an eight second advantage over Rosberg. He unusually seemed to be struggling for pace and come the 16th lap, the Mercedes team made the decision for Hamilton to pass Rosberg and chase down the Red Bull, after which he set a pretty fast sector two. Subsequently, it was suggested by the Mercedes team that Rosberg may have had a braking issue but either way in performance terms he was not having the best day at the office.
The likely change from wets to intermediates as the weather conditions improved prompted a tactical square off between Red Bull and Mercedes. The 26-year-old Red Bull driver pitted on lap 24 to make the switch while Hamilton and team Mercedes decided to leave it a little while longer, holding out for a reversal to slicks as the track continued to dry out. As Hamilton's tyres started to feel the strain, his newly found lead started to be whittled away by Ricciardo who was right on the tail of the Brit.
The Mercedes man eventually pitted come lap 32 switching to the ultra-softs. Ricciardo regained the lead only momentarily as by the next lap he was called back into the pits by his team. As what can only been described as a serious lapse of communication by engineers up stairs and the garage, their driver was left for an agonising 13 seconds in the pit as his team struggled to find and replace the tires with the super softs. No doubt this was the decisive moment of the race, a sloppy basic error that would cost Ricciardo severely.
He emerged from the pit lane behind Hamilton whose teams tactics seemed to be to try and hold out the race on the ultra-softs. Ricciardo's team-mate, the 18-year-old Max Verstappen who capitalised on the catalclysmic Mercedes crash in Barcelona two weeks ago, locked the car half way through the race at Massenet, crashing into the barrier after which he left the badly damaged car. For the youngster it was an unfortunate demise as up until then he was keeping good pace.
With Ricciardo still hounding Hamilton after the pit debacle, he made a move on lap 37 which Hamilton fairly as the judges agreed after taking the decision to deliberation closed his opponent off much to the annoyance of the Australian who raised his hand in anguish and voiced his anger on the team radio.
After calming words of support from the Red Bull team, Ricciardo carried on the chase bridging the gap and falling further behind but not getting close enough to make a pass. Meanwhile, looking back to the rest of the pack, Sergio Perez made decent strides in the Force India into third after starting seventh on the grid. Rosberg, however, found himself slipping further back into sixth not being able to pick up in the conditions and with the ultra-softs that he found himself on.
The virtual safety car which had already been deployed five times in the afternoon was again in effect come lap 48 after Sauber team-mates Marcus Ericsson and Felipe Nasr collided in what can only be described as a moment of madness for a team which have been struggling off the track.
As the front two were fighting their way through traffic coming into the last 10 laps of the race it seemed inevitable that Hamilton was going to make it a second Monaco Grand Prix following his first success back in 2008. Into the last five and the gap between his Mercedes' and the trailing Red Bull began to widen to around seven seconds. Hamilton passed the checkered flag in a time of 1:59:29, a victory which no doubt could be the igniter to his true Championship defence.
Once he exited his car by the podium, the jubilation and satisfication could not of been more evident as he jumped into his team and caught some brief words with pop sensation Justin Bieber who congratulated him on his performance.
Speaking after the race Hamilton said: "Today went the way that I hoped. I'm kind of lost for words really, I prayed for a day like this and it came true I am truly blessed."
The Mercedes risky tyre strategy which they employed mid-race certainly worked wonders to the irritation of their Red Bull competitors.
He continued: "I'm telling you that was the longest run, it was crazy how long it was. You don't know to what end they were going to go and I think probably the last lap was the time they were literally about to drop off."
Yet, displays of happiness were far from being strewn across the face of Ricciardo post-race who was visibly upset by the outcome, despite filling second on the podium. The miscommunication made by his team on lap 32 where he was left stranded was ultimately the seven second difference that split the drivers at the end of the race.
Ricciardo said: "Two weekends in a row now I've been screwed. I was called in the box, I got called so they should of been ready. It hurts, it hurts and I don't have anythng else to say to be honest."