Monaco Grand Prix 2015: Winners and Losers from Monte Carlo Race
With 15 laps remaining in the 2015 Monaco Grand Prix, everything seemed set for a predictable finish. Championship leader Lewis Hamilton was nearly 20 seconds ahead of his Mercedes team-mate, Nico Rosberg, and was expected to become the seventh straight pole-sitter to take victory in the principality.
Then, Toro Rosso teenager Max Verstappen clipped the back of Romain Grosjean's Lotus as they braked for Sainte Devote, and Hamilton's perfect race went bust in the shadow of the Monte Carlo casino.
Hamilton made an ill-advised pit stop, allowing Rosberg to inherit the lead and bumping a joyous Sebastian Vettel into second place.
After the race, Hamilton was clearly disappointed. However, he did not call anyone out, and he said all the right things about winning and losing as a team. Unfortunately, that gracious attitude does not change the 17-point swing the Brit suffered in the drivers' standings relative to Rosberg.
With that in mind, here are the winners and losers from Sunday's Monaco Grand Prix.
Winner: Nico Rosberg
This one is pretty obvious. In being handed the victory, Rosberg's luck was like that of a gambler who correctly picks a single number in roulette.
The long-time Monaco resident spent most of the afternoon worried more about Vettel behind him than Hamilton in front. Even when the safety car came out in the aftermath of Verstappen's crash, it looked like a minor inconvenience for Hamilton, rather than a game-changer.
Throughout the race, television viewers repeatedly heard the team urge Rosberg, like jockey Victor Espinoza whipping American Pharoah to the line at the Kentucky Derby. The radio messages were in vain, though, as Rosberg could not close the gap to Hamilton.
In the end, it did not matter.
Hamilton pitted for new tyres under the safety car while Rosberg stayed out. At the restart, Hamilton was stuck behind Vettel and Rosberg cruised to his third-straight Monaco win.
In the post-race press conference, Rosberg admitted, "Lewis was stronger this weekend. He deserved it for sure and I got lucky in the end there."
As long as he knows.
Loser: Lewis Hamilton
The flip side of Rosberg's lucky win is, of course, Hamilton's unlucky—heartbreaking, even—loss.
Hamilton must have thought it could not get any worse than last year, when Rosberg cost him a shot at pole position and, ultimately, the race win. Well, it did.
With this year's race safely in hand, Hamilton would have moved 27 points clear of his team-mate in the drivers' championship, extending his lead again to more than the 25 points awarded for a victory—crucial in case of a DNF.
Instead, Rosberg narrowed the gap to 10 points with his second win in a row. With Vettel also sneaking past the Brit and into second, the German also kept himself in the championship picture, 28 points behind Hamilton.
Last year in Monaco, Hamilton publicly questioned Mercedes' pit stop strategy. This year, despite a far worse blunder, he refused to complain.
When asked in the press conference whether he would have full confidence in the team's strategy decisions at future races, he gave a one-word response: "Yes."
It took six races, but the reincarnated McLaren-Honda partnership finally brought home some points, thanks to Jenson Button's eighth-place finish.
No, it wasn't a perfect race for the Woking-based team, with Fernando Alonso being issued a heavy-handed penalty for a bump with Nico Hulkenberg on the first lap. Maybe the stewards just wanted some work, but really, what was Alonso supposed to do in that situation? Slam on the brakes and get rammed from behind?
The penalty proved irrelevant in the end, as Alonso retired with a gearbox problem. But McLaren are still in the winners column, so let's get back to the good news.
Button drove a clean race, although even he was surprised to finish where he did. "We were hoping to score a point today, and we scored four," he said in a team press release. "I certainly didn’t expect to finish eighth."
Monaco is a unique circuit, though, so it is not yet clear whether McLaren's improved pace there is a one-off, or whether it will carry over to a circuit like Montreal, which is next on the calendar and much more reliant on a powerful engine.
For now, though, the team can celebrate no longer being tied with Manor in the basement of the constructors' standings.
Loser: Pastor Maldonado
Poor Pastor Maldonado. Even if you dislike him enough to start a website tracking his crashes, you have to feel for the guy.
While his team-mate, Grosjean, had scored points in the three races before Monaco, Maldonado had only finished one race, Bahrain, where he was 15th.
In Monaco, for the first time this year, Maldonado out-qualified Grosjean. Everything seemed to be going well when Carlos Sainz Jr. was forced to start from the pit lane, bumping Maldonado from ninth to eighth. Then, miracle of miracles, he made it through the first few laps of the race cleanly.
But like Seinfeld's George Costanza, who thought God would never allow him to be successful, Maldonado was again on the wrong side of luck—his brakes failed. Race over.
Somehow, despite Maldonado taking his fifth DNF in six races, he remained positive, saying per a team press release, "The car has huge potential so we just need to keep calm and move onto Canada, we’ve been unlucky but we can’t change the past we can only change the future."
Winner: Sebastian Vettel
Last season, Sebastian Vettel managed just four podium finishes all year. In his first six races with Ferrari, he has already scored five, including a stunning victory in Malaysia.
Vettel was already on track for that fifth podium finish on Sunday before the safety car caused Mercedes' strategy computers to self-destruct, but Hamilton's misfortune did give him a bump up to second place.
As previously mentioned, it also helped keep Vettel on the periphery of the fight for the drivers' title, as he is now just 28 points behind Hamilton.
"In the key moment of the race, Inaki Rueda, our race strategist, told everybody to keep calm and stay out on track, while the Mercedes came in for fresh tyres," team principal Maurizio Arrivabene explained in a team press release. "I am aware of the fact that we were lucky, our competitors are intelligent and very strong, but we outsmarted them this time."
In terms of the intra-team battle at Ferrari, Vettel continued his thorough beat down of Kimi Raikkonen. The German has outqualified his Finnish team-mate at every race this year and finished ahead of him in all but one. Quite the turnaround from 2014, when Vettel was outclassed by Daniel Ricciardo at Red Bull.
Loser: Max Verstappen
In his first Monaco Grand Prix, Max Verstappen was this close to being a big winner. Instead, thanks to a late-race crash with Grosjean, he ends up in the loser column.
For a while on Sunday afternoon, the 17-year-old Dutchman was putting on a passing clinic at the Circuit de Monaco, where it is notoriously difficult to overtake. Particularly brilliant was his manoeuvre of tucking in behind Vettel after being lapped by the Ferrari and then following the German through as he lapped other cars.
After passing Sainz and Valtteri Bottas, television viewers heard Grosjean's race engineer say to watch out for Verstappen's Toro Rosso behind Vettel. When Verstappen tried to follow Vettel through on the entrance to the hairpin, Grosjean cut him off.
A few laps later, on the run to the first corner, Verstappen hit the back of Grosjean's car and went flying into the crash barrier. Thankfully, neither driver was hurt—Grosjean even finished the race.
Afterward, Verstappen accused Grosjean of causing the accident. Per ESPN F1's Nate Saunders, he said:
The lap before I braked on exactly the same spot but clearly in the lap we crashed, he braked 10 to 15 metres earlier, and if you are that close to each other and going to 80 from 290 there is no room and you can't go anywhere. I really tried to avoid it and maybe it looked like an overtake but he braked way earlier than the lap before, normally the whole race you are braking within five metres.
Unsurprisingly, Grosjean did not agree. In a team press release, he said, "Unfortunately, I think he forgot the braking point. The move was a bit optimistic, fortunately neither of us were hurt but it cost us a point today. He is learning, of course I have made some mistakes in the past so I can understand."
The stewards agreed with Grosjean, issuing Verstappen a five-place grid penalty at the next race and two penalty points on his Super Licence.
Follow me on Twitter for updates when I publish new articles and for other (mostly) F1-related news and banter: