Friday 24 November 2017

Hamilton left shell-shocked after Mercedes mishap hands victory to Rosberg

Nico Rosberg celebrates after his ‘luckiest’ victory in Monaco yesterday
Nico Rosberg celebrates after his ‘luckiest’ victory in Monaco yesterday

Daniel Johnson

The biggest boffins in Formula One allowed complex algorithms to overrule common sense with catastrophic consequences. The calculator said Lewis Hamilton would emerge from the pits ahead of Nico Rosberg, but Mercedes' sums were wrong. Defeat had been snatched from the jaws of victory for the crestfallen Englishman, gifting Rosberg his third successive triumph in the Monaco Grand Prix.

Blunder does not quite do justice to the scale of the error, which even handed Sebastian Vettel second ahead of Hamilton. A stunned, flabbergasted paddock was racking its brains for anything on this scale in the history of the sport. There were no suggestions forthcoming.

Hamilton has known disappointment, acrimony and embarrassment aplenty in Monte Carlo, but nothing quite like this. The shell-shocked reigning champion spoke with grace in the face of his most inexplicable defeat, but he was evidently struggling to come to terms with it.

Not only had he to compute losing a race he cherishes as much as any other, when he was in absolute control for 64 of the 78 laps, but he now finds himself just 10 points ahead of Rosberg in the world championship. As with all strategy calls, Hamilton will have had his say, but it is the engineers who have all the information and must ultimately decide.

"I can't really express the way I'm feeling at the moment so I won't try to," he said. "This race has been close to my heart for many years. It was a great feeling in the race. I could have doubled the lead if I needed.

"I'll come back to fight another day - at the moment I can't think of anything else." After the race he offered a few, conciliatory words to the team before leaving Rosberg to spray the champagne, walking away from the celebrations. The most baffling strategic mishap in recent memory unfolded like this. For the vast majority of this race, Hamilton was supreme. He led from the start and never looked under pressure. But on lap 64, Max Verstappen careered into the back of Romain Grosjean.

With Hamilton 25.7 seconds ahead, the 'virtual safety car' was deployed for the first time in Formula One (it works by bringing all the cars down to a certain safe speed). Then, with Verstappen's car firmly wedged in the barrier, the stewards put out the actual safety car, slowing the field further still.

Near the end of Hamilton's 64th time round, the team's engineers on the pit wall were still crunching the numbers. Hamilton had seen the mechanics out in the pits on a television screen and presumed Rosberg had already been brought in, telling the team to consider a stop. He was worried about the tyres losing temperature, leaving him vulnerable to an attack at the finish.

Driving around Rascasse, just 50 metres from the pit entry, the call came from Pete Bonnington, Hamilton's race engineer, to come in for a stop. By now the gap to Rosberg was down to 21 seconds. It was not enough.

"I came in with full confidence that the others would pit," he added afterwards. "It was a collective decision."

Hamilton crawled out of the pits to find Rosberg well in the lead and Vettel just fractions ahead. Immediately, there was panic and confusion.

Rosberg could hardly believe his good fortune. "This was the luckiest win I've ever had, and I feel for him (Lewis)," the German conceded.

Hamilton scarpered back to his apartment to stew on this most mystifying defeat, while the inquest began for Mercedes.

It will take more than a few strong drinks to get over this one. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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