Rosberg steals a win

MONACO REVIEW

The Monaco Grand Prix weekend reassured all of us that after three practice sessions, three sessions of qualifying and 78 tours of the principality’s winding circuit, there can only be one victor. Regardless of any controversies or rivalries.

And this time it was Nico Rosberg.

Followed home by Lewis Hamilton who was hounded in the dying moments by Daniel Ricciardo. Rosberg said later, that he had to win this round. Not only because it was his home race, but also because he needed to break the momentum of victories that belonged to Hamilton in the last four outings. With this win, he regains the lead in the Championship standings as well.

The momentum was well and truly broken earlier on Saturday at the Q3-Turn 5 incident which saw Nico run off at Mirabeau and then attempt a reverse gear manoeuvre that yellow-flagged the session. Hamilton was caught unawares. And he wasn’t happy. In fact he repeated the word ‘fair’ to describe his lap, his pace and his race weekend.

Given his current form, P2 was defeat. It was as nightmarish as coming last. His car let him down at Melbourne and now after being robbed of pole he felt his team let him down too. He felt he could’ve been called in earlier than his rival to pit after Sauber driver Adrian Sutil’s crash brought out the safety car. But he also clarified later that the team follows the race-leader-preference policy during pit calls.

Mercedes allow their drivers to race, but it seems they like to play safe when their cars are leading 1-2. That’s understandable. But one wonders if they sense that the momentum of winning is going to swing back to Hamilton at Montreal which is up next.

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Rosberg celebrates at Monaco. Image Copyright © Mercedes AMG

Daniel Ricciardo’s pace towards the end of the race suggests Red Bull Racing may have found some solutions at last. But in Monaco there are no high speed straights…and yet the silver arrows were a good 10 seconds ahead before Hamilton fell back to Ricciardo with an unusual problem. He had some debris in his eye which led him to drive with only one eye open!

Ricciardo was 1.5 seconds faster than the Mercedes but couldn’t find a way past. Which explains what little chances Hamilton had on Rosberg in equally-powered machinery.
It explains further the importance of pole position in Monaco and Nico’s celebrations at parc ferme after nicking it just in time. Although in a hollow sort of way.

Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg pulled off a memorable move on McLaren’s Kevin Magnussen at Portier, a corner that seldom sees overtaking, to finish P5 behind the never-say-die Fernando Alonso who took the checker in P4.

Behind them Jenson Button and Kevin Magnussen came home in P6 and P10, a decent performance from the otherwise lack lustre McLaren team. Williams’ Felipe Massa held on to P7 from Lotus’ Romain Grosjean on P8 but behind both of them was a fantastic run to P9 for Marussia Racing in the hands of Jules Bianchi. The team’s first ever points-finish after 83 Grand Prix starts, eclipsed their previous best finish of P12 at Singapore and Brazil in 2012.

After six rounds of the 2014 Formula One championship, it’s evident that Mercedes AMG Petronas are on course to clinch the constructors title. But the battle between it’s drivers both psychologically and physically has made the season a truly gripping one, even though the results are almost predictable. Nico Rosberg has had a glitch-free season and heads the table with 122 points. Lewis Hamilton has had two glitches so far. A mechanical failure which led to a DNF at Melbourne and an aborted flying lap at Monaco qualifying.

He was riding high before the glamorous weekend, but transformed into a monosyllabic, thought-provoking-answering-machine after experiencing a low blow from Nico.
His reaction suggests he’s never taken one before. Whether this punch has left him winded temporarily, or knocked-out permanently we’ll have to wait and see at Canada.

Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve is where Lewis took his maiden triumph in Formula One. It could well announce his second coming.

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PODIUM
P1 Rosberg – Mercedes AMG 1hr 49m 27.661s
P2 Hamilton – Mercedes AMG
P3 Ricciardo – Red Bull Renault

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Ironic

The stage is Monaco. The scene is Q3.

Nico Rosberg secures pole position in the circuit where it matters most. With a mistake on his ultimate flying lap. Critically, on everybody else’s flying lap too! The irony lies in the fact that his mistake at Mirabeau brought out yellow flags which meant Lewis Hamilton had to abort his ultimate attempt at P1. Leaving the previous lap time set by Nico to be considered fastest of the day.

Nico at Monaco. Image Copyright © Mercedes AMG

Nico at Monaco. Image Copyright © Mercedes AMG

The irony could go one further tomorrow on race day.

Hamilton is the only driver in the last decade to have won at Monaco from outside of pole position. With his controversial incident, did Nico unwittingly set it up for Lewis and statistics to take over? We can speculate for the next 24 hours only.

St. Devote has never brimmed with such excitement and tension before. Remember theres room for only single file discipline there…

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P1 Rosberg – Mercedes AMG 1m 15.989s
P2 Hamilton – Mercedes AMG 1m 16.048s
P3 Ricciardo – RBR Renault 1m 16.384s

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Battle of the Benzes

BARCELONA REVIEW

Rosberg rejoined the track 4.8 seconds behind Hamilton with 20 laps remaining. On the faster option tyre. Suddenly the Spanish Grand Prix had come alive and memories of the Sakhir thriller were revisited.

Lewis at times was so anxious with his race engineers that it seemed he was suspecting the team’s strategy and finishing preferences. The pit wall crew calmed him down and let him know exactly where he was losing time to the German. He demanded more info and pit-stop rationale constantly, knowing Nico was gaining on him rapidly.

The gap was down to .663 of a second on the penultimate lap! He had the AMG Hybrid W05 #6 car filling his mirrors menacingly. It wasn’t clear if he was panicking to keep his winning streak intact or whether he felt Nico’s superior car set-up would comfortably clinch the race. Or did he not want to tangle again, banging wheels to decide P1?

But he held on stoically. Win number 26 was his. And fourth on trot from his teammate.

In the post-race conference the mind games were evident. Lewis reiterated that Nico had the better and faster car in Spain. Yet he won. Rosberg insisted he would’ve had Hamilton if there were one lap more. But that’s his theory. If it were one lap shorter Lewis would’ve probably been even more difficult to beat.

Meanwhile team Mercedes AMG Petronas are earning the respect of Formula One fans for allowing their racers to race. That’s as important for the brand as the transfer of technology to their road cars.

LH44 surrenders in victory. Image Copyright © Mercedes AMG

LH44 surrenders in victory. Image Copyright © Mercedes AMG

Behind the Mercedes intra-team mind games and on-track strategic battles, Red Bull Racing showed first signs of waking up to take the fight. Daniel Ricciardo drove a lonely calculated race to cover any threat from Williams driver Valterri Bottas to record his first podium finish. He finished 49 seconds behind Hamilton and about 27 seconds ahead of his charging World Champion team mate.

Vettel begins to recover. Image Copyright © RBR

Vettel begins to recover. Image Copyright © RBR

Sebastian Vettel drove a fighting race of recovery after being shifted down to start at P15 by the stewards. His car lacking straight-line speed and not working perfectly to his corner-entry preference the four-time champ is making slow but sure progress back to the top. The lack of testing pre-season courtesy Renault’s engine woes has hurt him big time.

We’re experiencing a precision racer being put to the test. It was interesting to watch him make quick work of both the Ferraris and Bottas’ Williams. The RBR10 might come back to him before the season is out but most certainly will not help him fight for the championship with the Silver Arrows, who are in a class of their own. Atleast for now.

At Ferrari, Kimi Raikkonen expressed concern about the team’s strategy to pit Fernando Alonso first although he was behind on track position. But the more telling quote from him post-race was “…we cannot be happy with sixth and seventh places, because we are a long way off where we want to be.” The Italian team’s updates at Barcelona weren’t making a visible difference. They could, however take consolation from the fact that their traditional arch rivals McLaren are deeper in performance trouble with Jenson Button and Kevin Magnussen finishing P11 and P12 respectively. The Force India’s rounded off the bottom of the top ten finishers with Sergio Perez overcoming Nico Hulkenberg once again.

If there’s one race on the calendar where any of the top six teams have a fairly reasonable shot at victory it is Monaco.

The tight twisty street circuit offers very few overtaking opportunities, so all emphasis will be on qualifying. Both Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg are now residents of the principality. A win would impress the neighbours mightily. It’s no secret who has the momentum for pole position on Saturdays. But on race Sundays the armco barriers at Monaco have historically taken no prisoners.

Mercedes versus the chasing pack. It’s going to be a classic street fight.

PODIUM
P1 Hamilton - Mercedes AMG 1hr 41m 05.155s
P2 Rosberg - Mercedes AMG
P3 Ricciardo – Red Bull Renault

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.168s

That’s under two tenths.

Lewis Hamilton takes P1 in Spain. Image Copyright © Mercedes AMG

Lewis Hamilton took P1 again, in Spain. Image Copyright © Mercedes AMG

The knock out blow to team mate Nico Rosberg was like the blink of an eye.

Earlier, Lewis looked a bit out of rhythm. It seemed Nico had set up perfectly and was going to repeat the P1 performance of 2013. But that was Q1 and Q2.

In Q3, after Sebastian Vettel reported “…no drive” in his RBR10 and brought out the Red Flag and after Jenson Button stormed to P8 in a hard tyre shod McLaren, Hamilton delivered his lap of precision.

He is peaking. It seems that his career graph is hitting the highest possible peaks. Surely it must be impossible to get any better. The man himself confesses “I haven’t experienced this level of performance before.”

So another lights-to-flag demonstration tomorrow? Possible. But Lewis’ poor finishing record in Barcelona suggests it might not be as easy as that.

P1 Hamilton – Mercedes AMG 1m 25.232s
P2 Rosberg – Mercedes AMG 1m 25.400s
P3 Ricciardo – RBR Renault 1m 26.285s

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