Formula One

The 2016 Monaco Grand Prix – Ricciardo’s pain, Hamilton’s gain

The Monaco weekend is upon us, so what better way to prepare for it than looking at a past race in the circuit? In this article we will take a look at what happened in the principality of Monte Carlo in 2016.

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Photo by XPB / Icon Sport

The build-up

Heading to the sixth round of the 2016 season, the championship was at a very interesting point, with lots of talking points heading into the event. The first four races of the season were won by Nico Rosberg and the dominant Mercedes team. In the meantime, things were not going as well for his teammate and the reigning champion, Lewis Hamilton. A collision with Valtteri Bottas in Bahrain and mechanical issues in the qualifying sessions at China and Russia had left the Briton a long way behind in the championship standings. In fact, Hamilton was 43 points behind Rosberg, behind Kimi Raikkonen as well.

The previous race was held in Catalunya and it was one of the most eventful in recent memory. Before the weekend, Red Bull had shocked the paddock by announcing the replacement of Daniil Kvyat with Max Verstappen. The move came just three weeks after Kvyat had grabbed the team’s only podium of the campaign up to that point, in China. In the next race, in Russia, he made contact with his teammate, Daniel Ricciardo, on the opening lap and left the team without points, while a crash with Vettel eliminated the German as well. Verstappen had opened the season very well for Toro Rosso, but the swap between the drivers was not expected at all and the eighteen-year-old was now part of the senior team.

Drama at Catalunya Ahead of Monaco

What took place in Catalunya during the race shocked even more people. Hamilton had qualified on pole position, ahead of Rosberg for an all-silver first row. Ricciardo and Verstappen occupied the second row in their Red Bulls, with the Ferraris of Raikkonen and Vettel behind them. When the red lights went out, Rosberg got a better start and led into Turn 1. However, on the run towards Turn 4, the German’s car started harvesting energy and lost speed. Hamilton attacked, but Rosberg responded and blocked the inside line. The Briton took to the grass, but the crash was inevitable and both Mercedes cars were out.

Ricciardo took over the lead, from Verstappen and Carlos Sainz, who made a great start from eighth on the grid. Later in the race, the Australian was still leading the way, with Vettel, Verstappen and Raikkonen following. Red Bull and Ferrari both decided to pit their leading drivers, in the hope their fresher tyres would help them catch back up to their teammates. It proved to be the wrong decision for them, but it opened the door for Max Verstappen to become the youngest F1 driver to win a race, at just eighteen years of age. Raikkonen was second, ahead of Vettel, while a puncture for Ricciardo left the Australian even more devastated, as he stated in post-race interviews, after the lost opportunity for a win.

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Photo by Hoch Zwei / Icon Sport

After such an eventful race, the anticipation for the next race was sky-high. Even if that race is held in the tight and twisty streets of the principality of Monte Carlo. But the Grand Prix was not a disappointment, far from it.

Qualifying at Monaco

Once again, it was proven how tough it is for drivers to tackle the Monaco circuit, with a few hitting the walls in practice. Felipe Massa, Jolyon Palmer, Sebastian Vettel, Rio Haryanto, Kevin Magnussen and Romain Grosjean all crashed in the first two sessions, held on Thursday as was tradition in Monaco. On Saturday morning, hours before qualifying started, Max Verstappen crashed at the top of the hill, in the Casino section.

The qualifying session for the Monaco Grand Prix is considered as the most important of the year, as the difficulty in overtaking adds to the importance of the starting grid spot for each driver. Red Bull repaired Verstappen’s car in time for him to take part in qualifying, but the team’s efforts were all for naught. The youngster crashed heavily during Q1 at the swimming pool complex and would start at the back of the field, ahead of just the Sauber of Felipe Nasr, which had an engine failure.

The fight for pole position was won by Daniel Ricciardo. It was the first pole position for the Australian driver, already the winner of three Grands Prix, all in 2014. It was also the first pole position for Red Bull since 2013. Ricciardo edged Nico Rosberg out by a tenth and a half. The championship leader, also the winner of the past three races in Monaco, was followed by Lewis Hamilton in the other Mercedes. The Briton had a troublesome Q3, as mechanical issues held him in his garage for the first few minutes of the session. Further back, Sebastian Vettel was fourth, with Nico Hulkenberg, Kimi Raikkonen, Carlos Sainz and Sergio Perez rounding out the top eight, although the Finn had a five-place grid penalty.

An eventful and wet Grand Prix

The teams and drivers woke up to a rainy Monaco on Sunday. The track was soaked by the time the race was about to get going and the drivers had no option but to start on wet tyres. The start took place behind the safety car, with rain still falling. Before the race even started, Daniil Kvyat had issues with his gearbox and pitted from eighth, losing a lap in the process.

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Photo by XPB / Icon Sport

The safety car came in at the end of lap seven, but there was trouble before too long. Jolyon Palmer aquaplaned in his Renault and crashed in start-finish straight. The race continued under Virtual Safety Car, with Ricciardo instantly creating a three-second buffer to Rosberg, who was under pressure from Hamilton. In the meantime, a few drivers gambled and switched to intermediate tyres. Another accident followed when Kimi Raikkonen crashed in the hairpin and retired on the 11th lap.

While more and more drivers changed to intermediate tyres, Ricciardo kept extending his advantage, lapping 2.5 seconds faster than the two Mercedes cars behind him. His gap had grown to fourteen seconds by lap 16, when Rosberg let his teammate though. It was a surprising development, just two weeks after their controversial collision in Barcelona.

By lap 21, the gap between the leaders stabilised at thirteen seconds, while Rosberg kept dropping back, 25 seconds from the top, and he stopped for intermediates. Carlos Sainz and Sergio Perez followed on the next lap. Vettel, Hulkenberg and Alonso had also made the switch earlier, but to no gain, as all three were stuck behind sixth-placed Felipe Massa, who was yet to pit. Daniil Kvyat’s eventful afternoon ended early, after a collision with Kevin Magnussen at Rascasse.

By lap 23, when Ricciardo pitted, Hamilton was the only car still on wets. The Red Bull driver, now on inters, was second, nine seconds behind. A further twenty seconds back was a train formed behind Rosberg, with Perez, Vettel, Hulkenberg, Sainz and Alonso hot on his tail. On tyres much more suitable to the conditions, Ricciardo quickly closed his gap to the leader. Hamilton’s plan quickly became apparent, as the sun came out. The reigning champion hoped the track would dry quickly enough for him to switch from wet tyres straight to slicks. And indeed that’s what happened. Ricciardo caught him on lap 28 and followed him, unable to make an overtake despite his pace advantage.

Changing to Slick Tyres

Sergio Perez, Jenson Button and Marcus Ericsson were the first to try slick tyres on lap 31, just one before Hamilton finally pitted. Ricciardo took over the lead and set a very fast lap and then he also stopped for slicks. Seemingly, that would be enough to put him ahead of Hamilton, who struggled on his cold slick tyres during his outlap. Shockingly though, when he stopped in his box, Red Bull did not have his tyres ready! What should have been a three-second pitstop lasted thirteen and a half!

When he rejoined the circuit, Ricciardo was just one second behind Hamilton and he had 45 laps remaining to try and get past the reigning champion, but at Monaco that is a very tough task. Behind them, the new pit cycle brought new changes, with Perez now fourth, ahead of Vettel, Alonso, Rosberg, Hulkenberg and Sainz, with the championship leader still struggling for pace.

A narrow dry line had formed on the track, making overtaking even more difficult, since going on the wet surface on slick tyres would most likely result in an error. Even putting a wheel on the wrong patch of tarmac could result in a race-ending accident, as demonstrated by Kevin Magnussen on the 35th lap, who crashed at Mirabeau. Another accident took place just two laps later, this time for Max Verstappen, whose eventful weekend ended in the barriers at the Casino, in an accident reminiscent of the one he had in practice.

A two-lap Virtual Safety Car period followed and at its conclusion Ricciardo had a great opportunity to regain the lead. Hamilton made a mistake at the Nouvelle chicane when he got pressured, and the Red Bull driver tried to get past at the exit of the corner, but the leader closed the door firmly. Ricciardo complained about the blocking maneuver, but the stewards deemed it was legal.

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Photo by XPB / Icon Sport

A Teammate Collision

The race continued without significant action, until lap 50, when we had a collision between teammates. It was Marcus Ericsson and Felipe Nasr, when the Swede tried to overtake the Brazilian at Rascasse.

For the remainder of the Grand Prix, we had no noteworthy events. Therefore, Lewis Hamilton took the chequered flag in Monte Carlo! The victory came a year after an uncharacteristic strategy error by Mercedes cost him a certain victory in the closing laps. This time, he was the one who benefited from the mistakes of others, namely Red Bull, for his first win of the season. Ricciardo finished second, but the usually smiling Australian was dejected to lose the win in this fashion.

On the other hand, Sergio Perez was delighted with his third podium finish with Force India, a great result which came after brilliant calls in the drying conditions. Vettel was fourth, with Alonso fifth and equaling the best result for the McLaren-Honda reunion. Hulkenberg had spent most of the race behind Rosberg, but caught him sleeping and overtook him on the run to the finish line. It had been a very bad Grand Prix for the championship leader, who was about a minute and a half behind his teammate at the chequered flag.

Post-race reaction

Daniel Ricciardo was obviously devastated, feeling robbed of his victory. Speaking to media after the race, he was asked about his feelings:

How do I feel? Like I’ve been run over by an 18-wheel truck, for the second weekend in a row. I think I took Barcelona as well as I could have, but for me to stand here and still be positive after that… I can’t. I honestly can’t. […] Two wins, two weeks in a row, especially here…

We woke up to thunderstorms, I knew there was a curveball and it was another challenge to overcome and another reason to prove myself and I was doing that. I was quick at the beginning, I pulled away and then yeah… I have no idea. No idea what to say about the strategies, why I waited for tyres. It wasn’t my call, the team called me, so they should have been ready. I have nothing else to say, nothing good to say to be honest.

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Photo by XPB / Icon Sport

It was a bad afternoon for Red Bull, for both sides of the garage. The team came under fire by critics, who said the weekend proved that it was too early for Max Verstappen and his immaturity was proven by crashes during qualifying and the race.

A team with a significant morale boost was Mercedes, despite Rosberg’s lackluster performance. The team not only came away from the weekend with an unexpected victory, following qualifying, but it came after its two drivers worked together, when the German let the Briton through early in the race.

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