Despite all its glitz and glamour, the Monaco Grand Prix started under a dark cloud after Red Bull and Ferarri launched a protest against Mercedes regarding a Pirelli tyre test conducted in Spain two weeks ago.
The teams claim their rivals carried out the tests in secret, and are seeking clarification about the legality of the test. But with Mercedes claiming they notified the FIA and it was all above board, the complaint was put on hold to be investigated after the race. So all the teams went into the afternoon knowing that even if the Mercedes did hold position and win, the results may not still stand come this time tomorrow.
The cars lined up on the grid as per qualifying on Saturday – apart from Max Chilton, who was given a five place grid penalty for changing his gearbox, and started from the back of the pack.
As the cars pulled away for their installation lap, most were on supersofts – with Grosjean and Massa gambling on the softs given their poor grid slots. They’d barely got underway before Bianchi stalled on the grid with an engine problem, and had to be pushed back to the pits, which is where he would start the race.
It’s always a tense moment waiting for the red lights to go out – especially in Monaco with such a tight first corner to get through. After seeing a 14-car pile-up at Ste Devote in yesterday’s GP2 race, everyone watching held their breath as the cars launched themselves off the grid.
As it turned out, it was a clean getaway. Hamilton had a look at Rosberg, and Vettel had a look at Hamilton – but ultimately, the cars got away in the same positions they started, with Rosberg quickly stretching out a lead during the first couple of laps.
Even so, there was some contact during the first lap. Sutil and Button touched briefly round the Loews hairpin, while both Van Der Garde and Maldonado were forced to pit at the end of lap one after a coming together ¬– during which Maldondo lost half his front wing – and both rejoined the race at the back of the pack.
It wasn’t long before Button and Perez were tussling for position on track, with Button soon on the radio to his team, urging them to tell the rookie to stop turning in on him. But he wouldn’t be the last driver to complain about Perez’s aggressive driving skills – and after Perez left the track at the Nouvelle chicane, he was ordered to give the place up to his teammate and let Button past.
As the race bedded in, Mercedes were clearly on the front foot, controlling the pace and conserving their tyres for later on in the race. It was telling that Van Der Garde and Maldonado were both lapping about a second quicker than the leaders now they were running around on fresh tyres and in clean air at the back.
But just when it looked like we were in for a boring race, Charles Pic stopped out on track at the pit lane entrance on lap nine, his car on fire – which it later transpired was caused by gearbox seizure. While it looked for a while like his unfortunate retirement would trigger a safety car, the stewards managed to clear it from the track under waved yellows, and the race continued on as before.
With the cars so close out on track, there were no spaces opening up for pit stops – so the teams were left to do some frantic recalculations as the majority switched to a one-stop strategy.
Webber was the first of the front runners to pit on lap 25, moving him from fourth down to 11th. But while there was little chance of gaining places during the pit stops, Di Resta proved that overtaking was possible on track as he moved past Massa to take 15th place for the first real overtake of the race.
A flurry of pitstops followed – and Rosberg responded by going even faster out on track. But just when it looked like the status quo was about to be restored, Massa suffered a massive crash at Ste Devote on lap 30 – a carbon copy of the crash he’d suffered in FP3 on Saturday. Given the precarious position of his car, the safety car was deployed – sending Vettel diving straight into the pits to make the most of the situation.
Thankfully, Massa seemed to be relatively unscathed, although he was sent to the medical centre to get a check-up. The Mercedes took the opportunity to nip into the pits for a fresh set of tyres too – but Hamilton ended up being the big loser, as the safety car released the Red Bulls early, leaving Hamilton behind them in fourth position.
When the safety came in on lap 38, Rosberg got the perfect restart, leaving a frustrated Hamilton desperately trying to get past Webber in any way he could. But while he had a couple of attempts at overtaking, he failed to make them stick – and the team later warned him to back off and conserve his tyres for the end of the race.
Lap 42, and Perez was desperate to make a move on his teammate again – and after Button had a slight coming together with Alonso, Perez took the opportunity to make a move. Just two laps later he had a look at Alonso as well, forcing Alonso out off the track to defend his position. But although Alonso retained his place, he was later forced to concede it to Perez, having been deemed to gain an unfair advantage from going off the track.
Lap 46 brought another big shunt – this time between Chilton and Maldonado, sending the latter plunging into the barrier. Maldonado walked away from the crash unharmed, but the same couldn’t be said about the barrier – leading to a red flag period while the marshalls put the barrier back together and cleared the track.
As the cars took up their positions on the starting grid, they faced an anxious wait to see when the race would be restarted. It may have been frustrating for viewers to have a period with no action on the track, but it gave the teams the chance to change their tyres, eliminating the need for any further pit stops during the race.
The race restarted at 3.35pm local time under the safety car – and when Bernd Maylander dove back into the pits on lap 48, Rosberg once again got the perfect restart, and was soon stretching out a small gap ahead of second place Vettel.
Chilton was given a drive-through penalty for causing the collision with Maldondo, and there was soon some exciting action on track to talk about, too. Sutil overtook first Button and then Alonso at the hairpin, while Raikkonen was forced to go off the track to avoid a collision with Perez – and later voiced his displeasure over the team radio by calling Perez and idiot!
But in true Monaco fashion, we hadn’t seen the last of the safety car. As Grosjean came out of the tunnel on lap 63, he was unsighted by Ricciardo, plunging into the back of the Australian at the Nouvelle Chicane and sending debris flying all over the track. As the safety car came out once again, Ricciardo retired, closely followed by Grosjean – and the pair were announced to be under investigation for causing a collision on track.
The safety car came in on lap 66, which also coincided with the race reaching the two-hour mark. But with the red-flag period added on, there was still another 25mins of the race left to run – and the cars would just about make it to the chequered flag before the time ran out.
The closing 10 laps of the race proved to be eventful – another overtaking attempt by Perez on Raikkonen ended with Kimi’s car suffering a puncture, sending him diving into the pits for new tyres. He rejoined the track in 16th place, leaving it looking like his 22-race points scoring record was about to come to an end. Somehow, though, he managed to battle his way through the pack, and was in 10th by the time the flag dropped. Checo didn’t come out of the tussle as well, however, and was forced to retire four laps from the end of the race.
Up front, things were pretty much as they had been for the majority of the race. Despite a last minute surge from Vettel, he’d left it too late to make any kind of impact on Rosberg’s lead.
Rosberg was the first to see the chequered flag, quickly followed by Vettel, Webber, and a frustrated Hamilton in fourth. Rosberg was delighted to win his first Monaco Grand Prix, putting him and father Keke Rosberg in the record books for being the first father-son pairing to have won in the principality.
1. Nico Rosberg – Mercedes 2:17:52.056
2. Sebastian Vettel – Red Bull +00:03.888
3. Mark Webber – Red Bull +00:06.314
4. Lewis Hamilton – Mercedes +00:13.894
5. Adrian Sutil – Force India +00:21.477
6. Jenson Button – McLaren +00:23.103
7. Fernando Alonso – Ferrari +00:26.734
8. Jean-Eric Vergne – Toro Rosso +00:27.223
9. Paul Di Resta – Force India +00:27.608
10. Kimi Raikkonen – Lotus +00:36.582
11. Nico Hulkenberg – Sauber +00:42.572
12. Valtteri Bottas – Williams +00:42.691
13. Esteban Gutierrez – Sauber +00:43.212
14. Max Chilton – Marussia +00:49.885
15. Giedo van der Garde – Caterham +01:02.590
16. Sergio Perez – McLaren retired, 72 laps
17. Romain Grosjean – Lotus retired, 63 laps
18. Daniel Ricciardo – Toro Rosso retired, 61 laps
19. Jules Bianchi – Marussia retired, 58 laps
20. Pastor Maldonado – Williams retired, 44 laps
21. Felipe Massa – Ferrari retired, 28 laps
22. Charles Pic – Caterham retired, 7 laps By Sarah Ellis