It’s touted as the race for everyone to challenge the Mercs, due to lack of need for power, as well as the shorter lap (meaning shorter gap that might be bridged). It’s a slow track as well, where every mistake is magnified. From an observers’ point of view though, it looks terribly fast, with those barriers SO close to the tires and the track so darn narrow.
In Q1, the Mercs and Red Bulls went on softs instead of supersofts, which is kind of expected given the advantage both have. There was a scary stop by Kvyat, who lost his rear. He somehow didn’t smash the entire car at the chicane; only the front wing was smashed. But I guess he can be forgiven for that mistake. He’s never raced here before competitively, and when pushing in these new torque-y, less downforce cars, it’s easy to make mistakes.
There was clearly lots of traffic, and the track continued to evolve as time went by. JEV went top near the end, but it posed little danger to the Mercs and Red Bulls. Ericsson also crashed into Massa who gave him space. Massa then stopped when he tried to continue, and that was qualifying over for him as they couldn’t get his car back to the garage.
The yellow flags from the Ericsson/Massa incident messed up the Saubers’ laps, but they haven’t been doing so well anyway, so I doubt they would have made Q2. As for Q2, like in Q1, the Mercs went out first again, probably worried about traffic. In Q2, Vettel laid down a great time with intermittent problems to his KERS,
Rosberg kept ahead of Hamilton as in Q1, until the end when Hamilton hit back with a better lap. Kvyat also recovered from his crash earlier, doing great by going into Q3, which is amazing for his first competitive race here. Magnussen also out-qualified Button, who locked up on his last lap and had to abandon it. Finally, Hulkenberg didn’t perform as well as Perez, which seems to be the trend for the last few races.In the end, given the times, Mercs are still way ahead of RBs (like 0.5s). It’s an amazing advantage they have, especially given that they were going to be most challenged by other teams at Monaco.Then came Q3.
There was an insanely small gap between Hamilton and Rosberg, but Rosberg got a better first Q3 lap. Most other cars also did the same, with a banker lap, then put on new supersofts and got ready for final laps. Ricciardo made it ahead of Vettel at the end, while Kvyat couldn’t beat JEV as he did in Q2. Magnussen made it ahead of Kvyat, which made it a good day for most rookies (besides Ericsson).
But the big controversy was with the Mercs. They were the last cars out of the pits, and Rosberg came out right ahead of Hamilton. Then, Rosberg made a mistake, which caused yellows, and Hamilton had to slow down. Rosberg got pole based on that, which clearly annoyed Hamilton (as evidenced by his cagey interviews afterwards). Right after they parked, Rosberg was celebrating like mad, which is pretty lame given it was sort of a hollow victory.
Up and down the pitlane, it seems that quite a few people think it’s a cynical move by Rosberg to prevent Hamilton from getting pole. I got annoyed by his celebrations, which were in bad taste IMO. But I don’t really think it’s him trying to cause yellow flags to ruin Hamilton’s lap. But this fight is boiling over very nicely now, and it could get even more tasty as the season goes on.
Bring on the race!
Well, that was an exciting race, despite the lack of overtaking which is typical of Monaco. Maldonado stalled right before the formation lap, and had to start on the pitlane. In a frantic start, Vettel and Raikkonen got ahead of Ricciardo, while Rosberg finally fixed the starts that saw him lose out in Bahrain and Spain.
Perez was then bumped by a McLaren and crashed out in the first lap, prompting the safety car. After that, Vettel saw car trouble, and Raikkonen was up to 3rd as Vettel pitted. He only lasted one more lap before he had to retire the car.
Out in front, Hamilton and Rosberg traded fastest laps at the start, pulling way ahead of the other cars. But Hamilton’s strongest sector was sector 3, where overtaking was not optimal. The best overtaking spot would be the chicane right after the tunnel, but Rosberg was never close enough for Hamilton to launch an attack there.
Behind them, Kvyat had a car problem, which effectively gave Caterham a 13th place. Ricciardo also started to catch Raikkonen, while Sutil pulled off a few good overtakes, even if he ran over the pavement as he dived down the inside of the hairpin. However, all that good work went to waste as he crashed out where Kvyat did, coming out of the tunnel.
That led to safety car 2, which prompted angry radio messages from Hamilton, as he wanted to pit immediately, but Mercedes made the safer decision to wait for the safety car to come out before pitting the lead car. Given that at Monaco, the best way to overtake is really to beat someone via strategy, it was no wonder he was mad.
Meanwhile, Raikkonen had to double-pit during the safety car period as a Marussia clipped his rear tires and caused a puncture, which destroyed his race and left him fighting through the pack. Massa crept up to 6th because he didn’t pit, which was a strange decision that seemed to hinge on another safety car.
As the safety car period ended, Hulkenberg pulled a great overtake right before the tunnel on Magnussen, diving down the inside at Portier. Then, Bianchi bumped into Kobayashi thrice, somehow not crashing the both of them as he overtook the fellow backmarker and causing damage in the process.
Then came radio messages saying that fuel consumption on Rosberg’s car might go critical, and that he had to stop using longer gears. It was an opportunity for Hamilton, who didn’t have to fuel save (and seems to use less fuel in every race). But that opportunity turned out to be nothing as Hamilton couldn’t catch him during this period of fuel-saving.
Vergne had to retire with engine problems, and Bottas had an engine problem too, smoking billowing out of his exhaust as he stopped on track. With a ton of retirements, Marussia was up in 11th with Bianchi. Then Gutierrez’s back wheel clipped the barrier, and spun out to waste a good chance for points. This meant that Bianchi was in 10th, but he would get a 5s penalty again for doing his stop-go during the safety car period.
Then Hamilton started losing a lot of time, and when asked by his team, claimed that he had dirt in his left eye and couldn’t see. This opened it up for Ricciardo to chase down Hamilton, even as the leading cars lapped practically everyone.
Doing a fine job was Hulkenberg in 5th, who had Magnussen and Button chasing him down but unable to pass him. Magnussen was then taken out of the game as Raikkonen failed to overtake him at the hairpin, running out of space and bumping into the barriers. This meant that Bianchi was up to 8th, which would effectively be 9th after his 5s penalty.
Those are the first points Marussia have ever scored, and pushed them above even Sauber in the Constructors’.
As the race neared its end, Ricciardo managed to catch Hamilton and was all over him. But he just did not have enough grunt in the straighter portions of the track to get close in the corners, and Hamilton managed to just about keep ahead as he took 2nd behind a very comfortable Rosberg.
Alonso drove a VERY lonely race down in 4th, but he was the last man on the leading lap, which poses the question: is the regulation change too big a hindrance to new teams, since they don’t have the budgets to cope? Will the gap widen even more as the season goes by?
But no one really cared about those questions as the blazing Hamilton/Rosberg rivalry took off, with both drivers unwilling to speak or even make eye contact on the podium. Rosberg snatched the championship lead back from Hamilton (which I don’t think he really deserves, due to Hamilton’s unfortunate retirement in Australia), but with Canada one of Hamilton’s favourite tracks, it could well be those two trading the lead all the way down to Abu Dhabi. What a season that’ll be.