MONTE CARLO, Monaco — Lewis Hamilton put his championship challenge back on course with a masterful victory in mixed conditions at the Monaco Grand Prix, beating Daniel Ricciardo who missed out on what should have been Red Bull’s second victory in as many races.
The result brings Hamilton’s run of eight races without a win to an end and moves him to within 24 points of Mercedes team-mate Nico Rosberg in the championship. Rosberg had a day to forget after struggling for pace throughout the race before losing sixth position to Nico Hulkenberg coming out of the final corner on the final lap.
Hamilton’s victory hinged on the switch to slick tyres around lap 31 and lap 32, which Mercedes nailed while Red Bull floundered. A 13.6s pit stop for Ricciardo saw him shuffled behind Hamilton and he was unable to regain first position thereafter.
Force India’s Sergio Perez pulled off an impressive drive to take third place, with the Mexican closing on the lead two drivers in the final laps of the race while keeping Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel behind. Some 70 seconds further down the road Fernando Alonso finished fifth for McLaren ahead of Hulkenberg in sixth and Rosberg in seventh. Carlos Sainz, Jenson Button and Felipe Massa took the final points on offer.
Heavy rain as the drivers lined up on the grid resulted in eight laps behind the safety car before the cars were allowed to go racing with a rolling start. Despite several calls from drivers to restart the race earlier than lap eight, the conditions were still treacherous and Jolyon Palmer lost the rear of his car on the pit straight, slamming into the barriers and ending his race in the run-off area at Ste Devote. Kimi Raikkonen’s race came to an end two laps later when he hit the outside barrier at the Loews Hairpin, folding the front wing under his Ferrari until he finally pulled off the track and into retirement at the Nouvelle Chicane.
At the front Ricciardo set about building a lead over the two Mercedes drivers in second in third. Rosberg was struggling to maintain brake temperature and held up Hamilton for several laps before Mercedes called on its drivers to swap position. In a remarkable display of team spirit, Rosberg agreed to let Hamilton past on lap 16 on the run up to Beau Rivage — a decision he may live to regret by the end of the championship, but one that allowed Mercedes to secure victory on the day. In the space of a lap Hamilton pulled a lead of 4.9s over his team-mate and started inching closer to the Red Bull in the lead.
At around the same time the drivers that had made an early switch to fresh intermediate tyres started to show promising pace compared to those still on full wets. Max Verstappen was among the drivers making progress through the field and made up four places in the space of two laps as he picked off Felipe Nasr, Kevin Magnussen, Pascal Wehrlein and Valtteri Bottas. Verstappen managed to get as high as ninth later in the race, but his charge from a pit lane start eventually came to an end against the barriers at Massanet on lap 35.
Rosberg was the first of the top three to stop for intermediate tyres on lap 21 before Ricciardo followed suit on lap 23. Crucially, Hamilton opted to stay out on his original set of wets and in doing so inherited a lead from Ricciardo. Such was the advantage of the intermediate tyres that Ricciardo was back on the rear of Hamilton’s car just four laps later, but in Monaco track position is key and Hamilton was able to hold off the faster Red Bull until lap 31 when he stopped for a set of ultra-soft slick tyres.
Ricciardo stopped a lap later, but his tyres were not ready in the pit lane when he arrived and 13.6s later he had lost the advantage he needed over Hamilton to regain the lead. After the race he revealed that the team had made the call for him to stop, making it all the more baffling that the tyres were not ready. Ultimately the mistake lost Red Bull the race, although that did not stop Ricciardo attempting to pass Hamilton on track in the remaining 56 laps.
The closest Ricciardo came was on lap 38 as he pressured Hamilton into the Nouvelle Chicane and the Mercedes driver failed to make the second apex. The Red Bull got a better exit onto the short straight along the harbour, but Hamilton squeezed him onto the still-damp fringe of the track where he lost the rear of the car and did will to keep it out of the wall. The stewards investigated the incident but found that Hamilton had left enough space and opted not to penalise the Mercedes driver.
A second opportunity arose on lap 52 as Hamilton was baulked on the exit of Portier by Rio Haryanto and the Red Bull closed through the tunnel. But Hamilton was wise to the move and positioned his car in the middle of the road, making it impossible for Ricciardo to pass.
A threat of rain lingered in the air in the closing laps of the race, but just held off long enough to allow Hamilton to win. Ricciardo finished 7.3s off the Mercedes by the chequered flag with Perez — who moved ahead of Vettel and Rosberg with a pit stop for slicks on lap 22 – just over six seconds behind in the Force India.