By Bob Constanduros
While the good people of Britain were celebrating that hero Lewis Hamilton was back on the top step of rostrum after eight months away, they should remember that his victory in Monaco came with a dose of luck – and a morsel of the team disorganisation that saw him lose out a year ago. This time, the loser just before half distance was Daniel Ricciardo, of course, and but for losing ten seconds to Lewis Hamilton in that bodged pit stop, he probably would have been on the top step and didn’t he know it.
Daniel had done everything right until then, leading from pole position, even enjoying a 13 second lead over the Mercedes duo when the disappointing Nico Rosberg was holding up his teammate after a mere 16 laps of the 79 lap race. That lead was still 11s when Ricciardo pitted to change from wets to intermediates, while Lewis stayed on wets and the Western Australian rapidly caught him.
On lap 30, everyone was stopping for tyres. Lewis went onto ultrasofts, and Daniel came in a lap later. Initially the team readied softs, but the realisation that these would be two steps harder than those worn by his main rival caused a late rethink and instead came the call for him to go onto supersofts, which were at the back of the garage.
Now you have to realise that the Monaco pit layout is quite complicated in comparison to elsewhere. The garages, to start off with, are quite small. Behind them, is the pit straight where the pit signals are given. Upstairs, above the garages, is where race direction is found, overlooking the pit lane. It was actually pretty amazing that Daniel lost only ten seconds in the mix-up; after all, the mechanics had to get the supersofts from the back of the garage and fit them.
They were helped by a quick in-lap from Daniel and a pretty slow out lap from Lewis on his slicks, so that as they came out of Ste Devote, turn one, the pair were side-by-side, but Lewis was on the racing line, Daniel in the pit lane still. Lewis took the lead, but for the next 32 laps, they were never more than two seconds apart. All three types of slicks were now being used, and the really unfortunate thing is that for a little while Perez and Vettel on softs were actually quicker than anyone else. This, according to one strategist, was because of the relatively low track temperatures, just 17 degrees when the race started in the wet. So Daniel might have been better off than Hamilton, but had lost the track position that is so vital at Monaco.
Admittedly Daniel lost time in the closing stages and the gap was 7.2s at the end but by then it was all over. Hamilton actually managed his ultrasoft tyres superbly in those close stages by pushing harder than ever, just to keep the temperatures up. Victory was his, from third on the grid, the same pattern as in 2008.
He had words of sympathy for Ricciardo who had lost victory for the second time in 15 days. And let’s remember that far from it being an emerging Ferrari in third place, just 6.5s behind the Red Bull was Sergio Perez in the Force India after a really excellent race, holding off Sebastian Vettel in the Ferrari. Just when we were expecting Ferrari to put pressure on Mercedes, it was Red Bull instead, with Force India denying the Italians some more points. The Silverstone team was the second highest points scorer behind Mercedes after Nico Hulkenberg slayed his 11th place demons with a distant sixth place.
Monaco for many is a race where it’s important to come away with what you can, anything. There were seven retirements and a few reputations to be rebuilt after that race. What’s more, we’re into a trio of doubleheaders now with Canada next where there’s virtually no margin for mistakes and then a week later another street circuit at Baku. The whole complexion of the championship can change in the next few weeks. It’s vital to be scoring when you can.
I talk about reputations to be rebuilt, and the list probably includes Nico Rosberg who appeared lacklustre, Williams who were off the pace, Verstappen who went from hero to zero, the Renault pair and even Kimi Raikkonen.
Rosberg was never really in the zone, and once temperatures were down, he could never push hard enough to recover them. I agree he looked way off the pace, but he did let his teammate past and there was a reason for his lack of speed. Every driver has to have confidence in his car, particularly when the barriers are so close and once constricted by any problem, it’s hard to get that pace back.
Williams have never been good on street circuits; the drivers admit that the car doesn’t have downforce and you begin to wonder if it’s time to ditch the piece of paper that they’re using as a template and start again. Verstappen and the Renault pair discovered just how hard Monaco can bite – their errors were fundamental and so was Raikkonen’s, who surely should have known better. It seemed the most innocuous retirement of them all.
Meanwhile, a young F1 reject was about to become a rare rookie victor in the Indy 500, so well done to Alexander Rossi. Both Manor rookies made it to the end in Monaco, too, so someone somewhere is doing things right.
Personally, I sat with my three co-commentators and tried to get an exciting message across, but I’m told that French commentators don’t do excitement. Is that right? One things they do have is a wonderful expression that someone is ‘en difficulte’ (there should be an accent on the final e there). What I love about that expression is that it can mean anything from quietly parking on the circuit to rolling end-over-end on fire. It is a one expression fits all!
What we have had, then, are six very decent races and as I mentioned, we’re now coming up to a trio of double-headers before the summer break. It’s going to be very busy, and lots could change. Bring it on!