They tried throwing rain at him in qualifying. They even threw a red flag in there for measure. But ultimately nothing was going to prevent Nico Rosberg from securing his second Formula 1 victory in commanding style around the streets of Monte Carlo.
Rosberg’s pole margin over team-mate Lewis Hamilton wasn’t as large as expected but it was an advantage nonetheless. The German converted that benefit into the lead at the end of the first lap, despite neither Silver Arrows making a strong start. Both Red Bull drivers rocketed off the line but the tight confines of the Monaco streets meant they couldn’t make any inroads at the start. Vettel remained ahead of Webber.
The opening thirty laps were more reminiscent of a Sunday afternoon drive. Rosberg led Hamilton, Vettel, Webber and Raikkonen but no-one was fussed about pushing or challenging as they preserved their tyres. Webber was the first to blink, shortly followed by Raikkonen.
Felipe Massa was the man who forced Mercedes’s hand. The Brazilian was making progress but he suffered a carbon copy of his practice crash and hit the barrier on the run to Ste Devote. A dazed Massa was taken to hospital but later discharged without serious injuries. The safety car was deployed to clear up the debris, but crucially it was deployed shortly after Vettel made his stop. Mercedes instructed Hamilton to drop further behind Rosberg, but the Brit saved too much time, which allowed him to be jumped by both Vettel and Webber. Thus Rosberg had lost his rear gunner… not that he actually needed one!
Rosberg soon extended his advantage while Hamilton immediately attacked Webber. The Brit pulled alongside last year’s winner into Rascasse but Webber slammed the door shut on the run into Anthony Nogues. Hamilton continued to harass Webber until the race was interrupted on Lap 46.
Matters towards the back of the grid came to a head as Esteban Gutierrez passed Max Chilton into the Nouvelle Chicane. As Chilton recovered, an opportunistic Pastor Maldonado took the outside line on the run down to Tabac. Chilton didn’t see Maldonado and moved over on his rival, launching the Williams into the air and subsequently the barrier. The angle of the impact resulted in the barrier curling itself around the Williams, blocking most of the circuit and forcing the race to be suspended while repairs were carried out. Maldonado suffered minor injuries while Chilton copped a drive through penalty for his actions.
The race resumed after a 25 minute delay and most of the front runners, bar Raikkonen, switched to a new set of option tyres. The top four started to spread out but behind them, it was chaos.
Raikkonen was now under threat from the McLaren of Sergio Perez. The Mexican was having an entertaining afternoon, having battled with team-mate Jenson Button on the opening lap. Button voiced his displeasure over the radio and soon found himself back ahead of Perez. Button tapped Alonso at the hairpin and Perez took advantage with a sublimely judged move into the Nouvelle Chicane. Perez repeated the trick on Alonso but it was a bolder attempt and forced the Spaniard to cut the corner. During the race’s suspension, Alonso was order to allow Perez through and he subsequently acted on this prior to the restart. Perez’ ambition outweighed his talent on his third attempt as he tried to pass Raikkonen but was squeezed out. Raikkonen was forced to pit for repairs while Perez limped on, only to retire with a few laps to go as debris from the collision damaged his brakes. It was remarkable that he didn’t retire in the initial contact, but his luck finally vanished.
That move left Adrian Sutil in a fine fifth place. The German caught both Button and Alonso napping at the Loews hairpin. Button took advantage of a slow Perez to creep up on the inside of Alonso, cementing a subdued afternoon for the Spaniard. He suffered with debris during the final stint but that didn’t explain his relative lack of pace earlier on in the race.
Jean-Eric Vergne equalled his best ever result with eighth, ahead of a recovering Paul di Resta. The Brit pulled off a couple of audacious moves into Sainte Devote, emphasising Force India’s strong pace. Raikkonen recovered from his contact with Perez to secure the final point for tenth.
Team-mate Romain Grosjean endured a woeful weekend. After two session ending shunts in practice, the Frenchman couldn’t make his alternative strategy and ploughed into the back of Daniel Ricciardo. For his actions, Grosjean cops a 10 place grid penalty for the Canadian Grand Prix.
Nico Hulkenberg just missed out on the final point after being passed by Raikkonen on the final lap while team-mate Esteban Gutierrez was thirteenth. The Mexican bemoaned the timing of the safety car for Massa’s accident. They were split by the remaining Williams of Valtteri Bottas while Chilton and Giedo van der Garde completed the field. Jules Bianchi sustained front wing damage in the red flag incident and later crashed out at Sainte Devote. Compatriot Charles Pic retired early on when his Caterham caught fire.
The result leaves Vettel with a comfortable lead in the championship as the field heads to Canada in two weeks’ time. But what will the fallout be from Mercedes’s secret test?