Mirabeau, Sainte Devote and the Nouvelle Chicane. Those three corners—in three separate moments—sealed Lewis Hamilton's fate at last weekend's Monaco Grand Prix (if such an ominous phrase can be applied to a second-place finish).
We will get to those three moments, but what is more important is that none of them have anything to do with his team's pit stops, the timing of which caused Hamilton to blast Mercedes' strategy on the team radio. And while his frustration at the time was understandable, it was misplaced.
He was not wrong, necessarily, to question his team—although publicly embarrassing your employer is never a good strategy—but he was wrong if he thought it was going to make any difference in the finishing order of the grand prix.
Hamilton's race was lost when his teammate, Nico Rosberg, went off at Mirabeau during qualifying, scuttling a potential pole lap for Hamilton; when Hamilton failed to get past Rosberg into the first corner, Sainte Devote, at the start; and when Adrian Sutil crashed his Sauber at the Nouvelle Chicane, bringing out the safety car during the pit stop window.
When the Brit was unable to pass his teammate at the start, he seemed content to follow Rosberg through Monaco's twisty streets, waiting for an opportunity to pass him during the pit stops.
On Lap 25, Sutil lost control, bounced off the wall and slid through the chicane, showering the track with debris. A few seconds after the terminally damaged Sauber stopped just off the circuit, Rosberg and Hamilton passed by. As they neared the pits, the safety car had not yet been deployed, so the two Silver Arrows continued for another lap.
Early on Lap 26, the safety car was sent out and Mercedes called both cars in at the end of the lap. Hamilton slowed slightly to allow the team to service Rosberg before he arrived in the pit box. Both stops were executed cleanly, and Rosberg and Hamilton remained first and second on the track.
Hamilton was not impressed, though, and TV viewers heard him on the team radio demanding to know, "What's the reason we didn't box the lap before?" He went on to tell the team, "We should've pitted on that lap. I knew I should've. I also knew you wouldn't call me in, guys."
Maybe he was hoping that the team would have brought him in the lap before, leaving Rosberg out, but that was unlikely to happen. Usually the driver ahead on the track is given the option to pit first, so if either Mercedes would have pitted earlier, it would have been Rosberg.
After the race, Mercedes executive director Toto Wolff said, per ESPN F1, "We tell the drivers they can do whatever they want, as long as it's not underhand." While the racing and the pit stops were all above board, the incident in qualifying is still open to interpretation.
Had the pit stops occurred under normal racing conditions, Hamilton would certainly have had a chance of getting past Rosberg—though it was by no means guaranteed.
At the post-race FIA press conference, Hamilton was still unsure as to what had happened with the stops. "I think they saw a crash and normally under the crash we could have come in and I really should have come in but the team didn’t call us in," he said. "We really should have pitted that lap."
Rosberg, though, was not troubled by the situation—probably because he benefited from it—saying, "I know I can rely on them to make the right call at all times so it’s not something that I’m thinking too much about, the strategy and should I be boxing now or not, because I know that they’re going to make the right call."
Prior to the season, it seemed that Ferrari's decision to pair two former world champions—Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen—had the biggest potential for fireworks. Just six races into the season, though, Hamilton and Rosberg have accounted for the majority of intra-team conflict.
In the end, the driver who lost was upset. We should not expect anything different from a man as competitive as Hamilton, although publicly questioning the team's decisions will not help.
Now, the once-friendly relationship between Hamilton and Rosberg has begun to deteriorate as it has become clear that they are the only realistic contenders for this year's Drivers' Championship. But as the friendship cools, their rivalry is heating up—and that can only be positive for Formula One fans.
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