- Mar 22, 2014
“Anything can happen in Formula One, and it usually does.”
Has there ever been a better example of that Murray Walker quote than what transpired on Sunday?
64 laps into the 2015 Monaco Grand Prix, it looked like there could only be one outcome for Lewis Hamilton, and that was his first victory at the circuit since 2008. And yet, in a matter of minutes, he found himself staring at the back of Sebastian Vettel’s Ferrari as his teammate Nico Rosberg led them both to the finish line. ‘Bizarre’ doesn’t begin to describe it.
So, let’s dive on into what turned out to be a very memorable Monaco Grand Prix.
For a man who calls Monaco home, it’s fair to say Lewis Hamilton is lacking for fond memories.
A year after Nico Rosberg’s ‘possibly intentional’ off in qualifying cost him a vital pole position, the Brit fell victim once again to a bit of internal sabotage, this time from his pit wall.
To say Hamilton was comfortably heading to his fourth race win of the season would be a colossal understatement. With a 25-second lead over Rosberg before Toro Rosso’s Max Verstappen brought out the safety car, the only way he was losing was if some dedicated movie fans chose that moment to re-enact the events of Iron Man 2. From the first session of Thursday practice, all the way up until that moment he had simply been a class above, and yet it was all undone as he proceeded to pit for fresh super-softs while his immediate rivals elected to stay out. From first to third, the only question to ask is: why?
Certainly the most common response to that question has been that there was no good reason. As was repeated on the Sky broadcast, “track position is everything in Monaco”, and Hamilton obviously had it to begin with. Had he simply stayed out, regardless of whether Vettel then pitted, he’d have all the clean air to work with, and only 2-3 laps to defend at the restart as he got heat back into his tyres. Considering the track and the driver Hamilton is, it would have taken a significant uptick in pace and an absolutely banzai move from the German to pass both Mercedes and take the lead.
However Hamilton and his team clearly didn’t see things that way, and while Ferrari boss Maurizio Arrivabene attributed this to Mercedes being “too convinced of their own power”, the truth is more likely to be the opposite. Arrivabene’s statement assumes Mercedes pitted Hamilton without regard for track position, but as Toto Wolff pointed out post-race, it was the erroneous belief they would retain it regardless that informed their decision to pit – they only did so because they believed the gap to second and third gave them enough time to get out still in front, and fresh tyres would be necessary to defend against a Ferrari that had done likewise.
Unfortunately they were relying on muddled information – Hamilton erroneously believed Vettel and Rosberg had already pitted for super-softs, making the move somewhat of a necessity. More importantly though, the team didn’t have their usual GPS information to track exactly where everyone was in relation to the safety car, which turned out to be the deciding factor, as it caught Hamilton early while Rosberg and Vettel were still driving to catch up. Certainly it seemed strange at the time, but they say numbers never lie – as long as you’re looking at the right numbers.
Essentially, in trying to play things extra-safe, Mercedes inadvertently risked everything. Will it matter in the long run? Who knows? Although if I had to make a prediction for the next two weeks, I wouldn’t bet on Lewis inviting his team ‘round for a barbeque.
Especially seeing as they’ve only won one race, is anyone more pleased with the way the first seven races of 2015 have turned out than Sebastian Vettel and the folks at Ferrari?
Despite clearly lacking the outright pace of the Silver Arrows, the Scuderia’s lead driver finds himself only 28 points away from Hamilton at the top of the table with 13 races – and a whole lot of in-season development – still to go.
And while 28 points may be too far away to immediately threaten, it’s certainly close enough to cause worry. We only have to look back to 2012 for an example of how this could play out, as then-Ferrari driver Fernando Alonso parlayed an out-of-nowhere Malaysian GP victory into championship contention once the team’s mid-season improvements were introduced.
Assuming the deep pockets of Ferrari continue to develop the very strong race-pace of the SF15, being so close to the Mercs in the interim could work wonders, given a few mishaps and both Silver Arrows stealing wins from each other.
There’s no denying Ferrari has a ways to go to catch up to Mercedes, but 2012 showed they don’t have to draw completely level with the championship leaders to be in with a shot. Alonso took two poles all season in 2012 (converting on only one) and was still in it to the very end. As long as the package improves, given the season we’ve had so far, being simply fast enough could prove very menacing indeed.
As it turns out, when two fan-favourites come together in Monaco, it’s not all smiles.
Battling for fifth in the post-safety car dash to the finish, Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo came together with Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen in a moment that probably won’t feature in either’s scrap book. Heading into Mirabeau, Ricciardo managed to get his nose alongside Raikkonen’s rear tyre just before the Finn turned into the corner. Not one to shy away easily, the Australian held his position and managed to bring his front wheels in-line, giving the Iceman a hearty shove as he made his way past.
Looking at it again, it’s hard to describe it as anything but “clumsy”, and you can understand why Raikkonen was irked the stewards failed to award a penalty. However the truth is, by the letter of the law Ricciardo was within his rights to do as he did. Having said that, the Circuit de Monaco is quite unlike any other on the calendar, and it’s possible to argue the usual decorum doesn’t always apply. The tighter confines of the track make going through corners like Mirabeau two-abreast nigh impossible, and regardless, Raikkonen had sufficiently left a space before turning in, something Ricciardo wasn’t able to take advantage of until the Finn had already braked and therefore decided on his line for the corner. The Australian should have accepted defeat for the moment and frankly, given his fellow competitor a bit more respect.
Of course, there’s also the matter of Fernando Alonso being awarded a penalty for a comparable move earlier in the race, and even Ricciardo seemed surprised in his post-race interviews that he hadn’t suffered a similar fate to the Spaniard. If nothing else, he definitely skirted the line. Known for his megawatt smile, it’s likely to have been replaced on Sunday afternoon by something of a sheepish grin.
What are your thoughts on Hamilton's pit-stop woes? Is Vettel a legitimate dark horse? Did Ricciardo deserve a penalty? Sound off below.