Lewis Hamilton made up for his 2015 Monaco heartbreak, by winning the 2016 race in a brilliant drive around the Monegasque streets. In a wet-dry race, the Mercedes driver only pitted once, from wets to slicks, and held off the onslaught from a gutted pole man Daniel Ricciardo.
It was a race where what the timing of the first pit-stop was crucial, and what rubber was selected. The brilliant strategy call from Mercedes left Hamilton out until it was time for slicks, where he fitted ultrasofts, and emerged ahead from Ricciardo, who had a pit-stop problem. From there the Australian tried all he could, but to no avail. The Red Bull driver was particularly aggrieved with a defensive move at the chicane. Managing his ultrasofts from lap 31, it was redemption for Hamilton in Monaco.
Behind the two leaders, it was Sergio Perez who claimed an unexpected third for Force India, Sebastian Vettel was fourth, a result he would be disappointed with. Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button scored yet more points for McLaren-Honda with fifth and ninth respectively. On the line Nico Hulkenberg got past Nico Rosberg to just claim sixth. Carlos Sainz eighth, and Felipe Massa rounded out the points.
A safety car start
Due to the race starting behind the safety car, all were on full wet tyres. Immediately, Danill Kvyat hit trouble with his Toro Rosso being stuck in a “constant speed” setting. After a few tense moments, the problem was eventually solved, but he later retired after connecting with Kevin Magnussen at Rascasse.
The safety car came in on lap seven and it was Magnussen who dived for intermediates first. But at the same time as this it was Renault teammate Jolyon Palmer who brought out the virtual safety car after losing it on the pit-straight. The period was brief and racing soon resumed, for all but Kimi Raikkonen.
Going in deep at the hairpin, the Finn damaged his front wing, blocked Romain Grosjean and then eventually retired. It was around this time that the track began to dry and the bulk of the field pitted for intermediates. All except Hamilton. Rosberg, on a track where he won the last three, was surprisingly off the pace in the race with Hamilton passing him under a team order, allowing him to chase after the long-gone Ricciardo. When the pit-stops shook out, Rosberg, struggling with brake issues, placed behind Alonso, something he could not change.
In the tricky conditions there were many comings together at Rascasse, with the Magnussen-Kvyat incident, and there was also a coming together between the Sauber drivers, after an irritated Marcus Ericsson tried a lunge after Felipe Nasr had been told to let him through. For a team low on funds and a difficult car, a double did not finish due to an inter team collision was the worst possible result.
Verstappen’s genus horriblis
If Spain was the high of Max Verstappen’s career, Monaco was a low. Hitting the barrier at Massanet in practice, crashing in qualifying, he repeated the Massanet trick in the race and did not finish. Not comfortable all weekend, the young Dutchman will undoubtedly learn from this. In the tricky conditions, Magnussen hit the Portier barrier and had to retire and Vettel came close after a similar incident to Verstappen.
A brief virtual safety car for some debris and a late rain shower were inconsequential and the field survived them, except the Hulkenberg move on Rosberg, a move which reduced the lead for Rosberg at the summit of the championship from 26 points after Hamilton’s 44th career win, to 24, just a race win behind.
On the podium, a devastated looking Daniel Ricciardo slammed his team, saying he’d been “screwed” again, after the strategy mix-up in Spain. Red Bull put their mistake down to miscommunication between the strategists and the pit-crew.
Sergio Perez once again showed his class in looking after his tyres and after his McLaren Annus horriblis, he is showing he once again in contention for a top drive. After Raikkonen’s horror showing, could he be replacement for him at Ferrari?
For the first time since he clinched the championship in Austin, which was also a wet-dry race, Lewis Hamilton stood atop the podium. After his qualifying disappointment and last year, it was a deserved win for the Briton who heading to Canada in two weeks time, will hope he can continue with his new found momentum.