Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton mastered the variable conditions in Monte Carlo on Sunday, winning a pulsating Monaco Grand Prix.
The reigning champion drove superbly to take the chequered flag, having started in third position on the grid. Pole-sitter Daniel Ricciardo finished second in his Red Bull, with a poor pit stop proving costly, while Force India's Sergio Perez produced an impressive drive to take third.
World championship leader Nico Rosberg had problems with his brakes early on and could only muster a seventh-place finish.
Here are the race results, per Sky Sports F1:
This is how the drivers' championship is shaping up:
|F1 2016: Driver Standings|
|1||Nico Rosberg||Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team||106|
|2||Lewis Hamilton||Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team||82|
|3||Daniel Ricciardo||Red Bull Racing||66|
|4||Kimi Raikkonen||Scuderia Ferrari||61|
|5||Sebastian Vettel||Scuderia Ferrari||60|
|6||Max Verstappen||Red Bull Racing / Scuderia Toro Rosso||38|
|7||Felipe Massa||Williams Martini Racing||33|
|8||Valtteri Bottas||Williams Martini Racing||29|
|9||Sergio Perez||Sahara Force India||23|
|10||Daniil Kvyat||Scuderia Toro Rosso / Red Bull Racing||22|
|11||Romain Grosjean||Haas F1 Team||22|
|13||Carlos Sainz||Scuderia Toro Rosso||16|
|14||Nico Hulkenberg||Sahara Force India||14|
|15||Kevin Magnussen||Renault Sport F1||6|
Inclement conditions in the principality meant the race had to start behind the safety car, with a narrow circuit made even more difficult by a wet track.
As we can see courtesy of the Mercedes Twitter feed, Hamilton was getting annoyed by the ponderous start:
On Lap 8 the safety car did come in, but just as quickly, the race was called off again, as Jolyon Palmer slipped up on the zebra crossing, sliding along the barriers and into the wall. It meant more frustration for the drivers, especially Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen, who clipped the outskirts of the track and lost his front wing.
Here’s a look at that error from the Finn, per F1 journalist Gianlu D’Alessandro:
When the grand prix did settle down into some steady racing, Ricciardo was able to build a gap to the Mercedes duo. Rosberg was struggling in the difficult conditions, though, and with a stream of cars backed up behind him, the race was beginning to get away from Mercedes.
On Lap 16, the team made the decision to let Hamilton, who was looking much more comfortable in the conditions, pass his team-mate. With open road to attack the leader, the impact was immediate, per DW Sports:
As the sun pierced the clouds, the track started to dry out, and more and more drivers came in to change to the intermediate tyres, including race leader Ricciardo. But Hamilton stuck it out on the wet tyres, which allowed the Red Bull man to come back at him for a second time on a much-quicker set of wheels.
The Mercedes man’s plan was to skip the intermediate phase and hang on for the slick tyres later in the race. The Brit also preserved track position by keeping out on track—something that's vital in Monaco.
The reigning champion was taking a risk with the strategy, as noted by F1 journalist James Allen:
When Hamilton did come in, the stop triggered a string of drama. In the wake of his team-mate’s stop, Rosberg lost time and was jumped by Sebastian Vettel in the pits. Then when Ricciardo came in, the Red Bull team didn’t have his tyres ready due to a communication error, which left him stationary for seconds.
It was a lapse that allowed Hamilton to keep the grand prix lead, although on the ultrasoft tyre he immediately came under pressure from Ricciardo, who had the more adaptable super-soft compound. The Mercedes man was given some relief, though, when Max Verstappen crashed, which brought out the safety car for another brief stint.
The battle resumed not long after, and with Perez and Vettel also beginning to close the gap to the front two, a gripping finish looked inevitable, especially given the tyre compounds being used by the four men involved, per the F1 Twitter feed:
As the laps ticked down, Hamilton was getting increasingly confident at the front of the field, with his pursuer unable to sustain any consistent pressure.
All eyes were on whether the ultrasoft tyre would deteriorate in the final stages, but the Brit had managed them well throughout the second half of the race and ultimately pulled away from the Red Bull late on.
Eventually, he was able to enjoy clinching his second victory at the most iconic Formula One race in the world. And as a sweetener, Nico Hulkenberg passed his rival Rosberg in the final stages, which relegated Rosberg to seventh place.
Afterwards, emotions were contrasting. "I prayed for a day like this so I feel truly blessed," said Hamilton, per BBC Sport. "That was the longest run (with ultrasoft tyres); it was crazy how long it was. Probably the last lap was the time they were about to drop off."
Meanwhile, Ricciardo was far from happy. "I guess from the outside we put on a show, but it shouldn't have been exciting," he said, per BBC Sport. "Two races in a row I've been screwed. I got called in to box, I didn't make the call. They should have been ready."
This was a drive of the highest calibre from Hamilton. Not only did the Mercedes man cope with some treacherous conditions up front in the race, but he also utilised exceptional tactical acumen and kept his composure amid a frantic battle. Getting on the top spot of the podium for the first time this season will be a huge boost for the Brit.
Rosberg will be disappointed with this showing, and it would have been galling for him to let his team-mate through early on. Still, the German is in a strong position at the summit of the driver standings and must ensure he doesn't allow Hamilton to build momentum in the weeks to come.