Monday 19 March 2018

Ruthless Rosberg in cruise control to deny Hamilton


Mercedes GP driver Nico Rosberg is carried aloft by his team following his victory at the Monaco Formula One Grand Prix
Mercedes GP driver Nico Rosberg is carried aloft by his team following his victory at the Monaco Formula One Grand Prix

David Tremayne

He'd threatened Senna-like vengeance on team-mate Nico Rosberg were they to run side-by-side down to the first corner yesterday afternoon, but when it came to it, Lewis Hamilton didn't get close enough then, or at any other time, on the streets of Monaco.

The rivalry between the two Mercedes team-mates had enlivened the season's first five races, in a year when victories have so far been divided only between them. But Rosberg's mistake on the final qualifying runs generated controversy and raised expectations of a mano-a-mano duel after Hamilton made it clear he felt Rosberg had deliberately frustrated his own qualifying effort.

Sadly, this was Monaco, a great place to watch these artists at work, but hopeless if you want to see drivers of equal ability in equal cars trying to overtake.

Rosberg, on the pole he won under a cloud, got the drop at the off, and for the next 78 laps Hamilton was forced to chase the other Mercedes W05 Hybrid through the metal-lined streets.

One chance had come and gone at the start. The next came when Adrian Sutil crashed his Sauber heavily at the chicane on the 25th lap. Hamilton wanted to come into the pits then, but the team elected to bring in both of their drivers a lap later after the safety car had been deployed.

In his heart, Hamilton knew that was the way it had to be. Mercedes have a rule that the guy in front gets the first stop. It worked for him against Rosberg in Bahrain and Barcelona where he took narrow victories. Now it worked here for Rosberg.

The third chance was to get close enough to try a pass, but he never quite managed that despite pushing lap after lap and rarely being more than two seconds away.

The game of cat and mouse stalemated until the 65th lap, when Hamilton suddenly dropped from 1.6sec behind to 3.9sec. Gradually that gap grew, to the 9.2sec by which Rosberg eventually won. The reason, as Hamilton explained, was unusual.

"I got some dirt in my eye. I usually make sure my visor is closed but there was quite a bit of wind coming in and when I was close to Nico a bit of dirt got thrown up into my left eye.

"I can tell you, driving with one eye is just not possible round here! So in the low-speed corners I was trying to open the visor and clear it out, but that was only making it worse and I lost a lot of time."

By then he was having to worry less about the growing gap to Rosberg, and more about the way Daniel Ricciardo was catching him as the Red Bull man sensed a chance of second place.

As Hamilton brushed the barriers twice while frantically blinking to clear his eye, the Australian got right on to his tail but, like the Brit when he had been in that position with Rosberg, Ricciardo couldn't quite pull off a move.

"It's really nice to be on the podium in Monaco," Ricciardo declared.

And well he might have been happy, on a day when two rivals ahead of him met trouble and Fernando Alonso couldn't pressure him for long in a Ferrari good enough only for a distant fourth. The Spaniard finished ahead of Nico Hulkenberg in his Force India and then Jenson Button, with Felipe Massa seventh for Williams.

In the points for the first time in their history were Marussia with Jules Bianchi eighth. Ricciardo's Red Bull team-mate and four-time defending champion Sebastian Vettel's frustrating season continued as he quit after five laps with a power unit failure.

"The start was not very good and I dropped from third to fifth," said Ricciardo, "but then Vettel had his problem (his gearbox stuck in first gear) and I was fourth, then I saw (Kimi) Raikonnen get his puncture while we were running under the safety car, so I was third again. I got very close to Lewis at the end. I believe he had an issue so I put the pressure on, but third was the best we could do."

However angry he might have been the previous night, Hamilton had to suck it up and second wasn't a disaster.

"This weekend I had very good pace and drove with all my heart and did what I could, fairly," he said. "I leave today quite happy and go to the next race with more energy and determination."

Meanwhile, Rosberg wore a huge smile as he savoured a great drive to his second consecutive victory around the streets of Monte Carlo.

"It's a special win, of course," he said, after reclaiming the world championship points lead from Hamilton. "Lewis had momentum and results going his way as we came here, but I managed to claw that back this weekend."

His only real problem was having to save fuel for a while, something he admitted caught him off guard.

"That was a tough moment, as I had to change my driving style and use different gears and lift and coast, but the team got me to do what I had to do and once I got in the groove again when the situation had stabilised, it was okay."

His father Keke won here for Williams in 1983 and now he's added a third victory to the family name. "It makes me very happy to make my parents proud and having family and so many friends here makes it all that more special," he said.

Whether the breach in his friendship with Hamilton was worth the price is still open to considerable debate. (© Independent News Service)

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