Glitz and Gloom in Monaco
Although the days leading up to the start of qualifying were sunny, an unfortunate wave of cloud and rain left the streets of Monaco with the most challenging track conditions of the calendar. The Mercedes were the clear favourites after all three practises, with Rosberg topping the time sheets. Massa’s car was still being frantically repaired from his accident in P3.
The obvious choice of tyre were the intermediates for everyone as all the drivers took the track bar three drivers whose cars needed repair after final practice. These were Adrian Sutil, Romain Grosjean and Felipe Massa.
Monaco’s first victim was Jules Bianchi, when just after leaving the pits, he pulled over at the entrance to Massenet suffering form an airbox fire. Impressively, the remaining drivers kept their cars out of the barriers.
Grosjean finally hit the track in the last few minutes, managing to redeem his poor practise times by setting the fastest lap and making Q2.
A furious Paul di Resta went out in Q1 due to a team error and his struggle for grip. The fact it was his teammate, Adrian Sutil who meant he was eliminated didn’t help the matter either.
The good news was that Giedo van der Garde powered his Caterham into Q2, although it came thanks to Ferrari’s inability to repair Massa’s car in time to post a time.
By Q2, the track started to dry, presenting drivers and teams the difficult decision on what tyres to use. The wise choise was slicks, although Alonso made a last-minute decision to abandon a hot lap to dive in the pits for a set of super-softs. Although Alonso neared the drop zone towards the end, he managed to claim a place in the final ten on his last effort. Jean-Eric Vergne suffered a similar tyre problem, but like Alonso, he switched tyres and just made into Q3.
The track was completely dry in the final part of qualifying so everyone hit the track wearing super-soft tyres. As the track’s temperature rose and rubber went down, the lap times tumbled with Vettel managing the top spot early on.
Alonso was one of the first drivers to change tyres for a last effort, enabling him to make two final runs, although he only managed sixth after Raikkonen just pipped him by a miniscule two-thousandths of a second.
Ferrari and Lotus weren’t realistically involved in the final battle; it was down to Red Bull and Mercedes. Webber hit top spot first, beating Vettel’s time, leaving the Mercedes to show their hand. Hamilton beat Webber’s by two-tenths, and behind him Rosberg was going even quicker. With less than a tenth of a second between pole and second, Rosberg made the front spot on the grid.
As the green lights lit up the start line, Rosberg managed to outsprint his teammate into the first corner, with Vettel hassling Hamilton and Alonso close to Kimi. Giedo van der Garde hit the rear of the Williams of Pastor Maldonado, whilst Adrian Sutil smashed his front wing on the rear of Button’s McLaren.
The next 6 laps remained a train of frustration as the Mercedes both saved their tyres, leaving the pack to bunch up. An even more frustrated Button came on the radio angry at teammate Sergio Perez: “He cut the chicane. He’s got to stop turning in on me guys.” Moments later, Perez managed to make a pass, and then built up a gap.
On lap 9, Caterham’s Charles Pic rolled to a stop at the exit of the pit lane, and then made hasty retreat as the rear of his car caught on fire.
A lap on and Paul di Resta stopped for a set of softs, so it looked like the two-stop strategy was set for the Force India driver. Jenson Button managed to get ahead of his teammate – Perez must have conceded the position after previously cutting the chicane in defence of his position.
A lot of teams constantly ordered their drivers to save the tyres, meaning slow laps and fairly bunched up pack. Nico Rosberg managed to maintain a two second advantage over his teammate, with Vettel a further 2.3 seconds behind.
By lap 23 it was clear Alonso had been saving his tyres, because he was now right on the gearbox of Kimi Raikkonen in fifth.
Mark Webber pitted from fourth on lap 25 – quite early for a one stop, suggesting a two-stop. Two laps later Raikkonen pitted for a new set of tyres, promoting Fernando to fourth. Another two laps on and Alonso pitted, rejoining behind Kimi Raikkonen and Mark Webber.
Poor Massa crashed on lap 30, an identical accident he suffered in practise. This bought the safety car out and Vettel jumped on the opportunity to pit. Unfortunate for Hamilton, he ended up rejoining in forth, losing two places – this meant Rosberg was now open to attack from Vettel.
After eight dull laps of safety car, Nico Rosberg finally put his foot down, leaving Sebastian Vettel behind. Lewis Hamilton forced a move on Webber at Rascasse looking for third, but Webber managed to keep at bay.
Fernando Alonso tried a move around the outside of Kimi Raikkonen, but that left the door open for Button, who tapped the back of the Ferrari. Sergio Perez then forced a move on Fernando at the chicane, and to avoid contact, Alonso cut the chicane and maintained his position. Both drivers then came on the radio, Perez saying Alonso maintained his position by cutting the corner, and Alonso saying he had to go off to avoid an accident.
On lap 46 Max Chilton cut across Maldonado and caused a massive accident, subsequently red-flagging the race. Both drivers were okay, and a previous update confirmed Massa was sent to hospital for checks.
Once back under way in Monaco, with the safety car peeling off, it looked like Raikkonen and Hulkenberg started on the super-soft tyres, whilst everyone else went for the more durable soft tyres. On the news hearing he’d have to concede a position after leaving the track, Alonso let Perez through for sixth place.
On lap 53 Perez has a go at Kimi at the chicane and both drivers are forced to cut it to maintain their places.
Lap 57 saw Alonso lost yet another place to Adrian Sutil at the hairpin, demoting him to eighth.
On lap 63, Romain Grosjean crashed for the forth time this weekend as he hit the back of Toro Rosso’s Ricciardo coming out of the tunnel. This brings out the safety car… again.
Lap 66 and the race restarted with the news that Kimi’s Lotus was losing water.
3 laps on and nearing the end, Sergio Perez attempted an ambitious move at the hairpin, and there’s not enough space for both him and Kimi, so the Fin closed the door. Perez then hit and bounced off the barrier and back into Raikkonen, ripping part of his bodywork away. Kimi pitted a lap later and took on fresh rubber, leaving the race last in sixteenth place.
It was all action as Button passed Alonso for seventh, Perez holding up the bunch in fifth with damage. A few laps on and it’s clear Perez is slow as Sutil passed him for fifth place behind Hamilton.
Nico Rosberg took a much-deserved win after taking pole and retaining his lead throughout. Vettel claimed second, Mark Webber third and Lewis Hamilton forth. Kimi managed to grab the last point in tenth place after rejoining the pack in last place only 8 laps previous.
A pretty frustrating race for not only the drivers, but also the viewers – Monaco will fuel the debate on the fragility of the Pirelli tyres and the cautious tactics implemented to keep their cars on the track.