Germany’s Nico Rosberg celebrated a surprise hat-trick of Monaco Grand Prix victories yesterday after Mercedes blew championship-leading team-mate Lewis Hamilton’s chances with a needless pitstop.
The result, with double Formula One world champion Hamilton finishing third just when victory seemed assured, slashed Hamilton’s overall lead to 10 points after six races.
The Briton had led comfortably from pole position until he pitted for fresh tyres when the safety car was deployed with 14 laps to go.
“I’ve lost the race haven’t I?” the disconsolate Briton enquired over the team radio after rejoining in third place behind Rosberg and Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel, neither of whom pitted. “What’s happened guys?”
Afterwards, with the enormity of what had happened still sinking in, the stunned Mercedes driver said: “I can’t really explain the way I feel at the moment. I won’t even attempt to.”
“It was a mistake by the team,” said the team’s non-executive chairman Niki Lauda, himself a three times world champion. “Lewis said he was not happy with the tyres and they over-reacted completely wrong and called him in. There was no need, no reason. It was simply a mistake. I apologised already.”
Mercedes motorsport head Toto Wolff said he too had immediately said sorry to Hamilton, who had not put a wheel wrong otherwise and was seemingly destined for a long-overdue second win in the principality.
“What the hell happened there? That’s exactly the right question,” he said. “The simple answer is we got the maths wrong. The calculation wrong. We thought we had a gap which we didn’t have when the safety car came out.”
Wolff refused to blame any one person, saying the team won and lost together, and denied flatly there had been any skulduggery to favour Rosberg in front of the German manufacturer’s watching senior management.
The safety car had been deployed after Dutch 17-year-old Max Verstappen’s Toro Rosso smashed into the back of Romain Grosjean’s Lotus and crashed heavily into the barriers while fighting for a possible 10th place.
Rosberg’s victory was the German’s second in succession, after winning the previous round in Spain, and made him only the fourth driver to win three Monaco Grands Prix in a row. The others were Graham Hill, Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost.
“I’m very, very happy of course. I know it was just a lot of luck today. I will just enjoy the moment now. Lewis was a little bit stronger this weekend so I have to work hard.”
Russian Daniil Kvyat was fourth for Red Bull with Australian team-mate Daniel Ricciardo fifth and Kimi Raikkonen finishing sixth for Ferrari.
Mexican Sergio Perez was seventh for Force India while Britain’s Jenson Button handed misfiring former champions McLaren their first points of the season with eighth place. Brazilian Felipe Nasr was ninth for Sauber with Verstappen’s Spanish team-mate Carlos Sainz taking the final point for Toro Rosso.
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