Monaco delivered us a treat on Saturday afternoon as Nico Rosberg cooked up controversy on his way to his second pole of the season, his second in two years around the streets of Monte Carlo. Dan Paddock runs you through the talking points from qualifying for the Monaco Grand Prix.
Mirabeaugate – Rosberg v Hamilton – Toil and trouble within Mercedes
Let us be honest, there was really only one story that truly mattered from qualifying on Saturday and that was the furore over Nico Rosberg’s parking job down at Mirabeau in the dying minutes of the session. A move that, deliberate or not, ultimately secured him back-to-back Monaco poles.
All it took was just one snatched brake and an inauspicious slide down a slip road to ignite the bubbling relationship of Rosberg and his Mercedes team-mate Lewis Hamilton, who quite understandably felt pretty aggrieved by the whole situation.
Suggestions were flying that Rosberg, in a similar stye to his former team-mate Michael Schumacher in 2006, had parked his car in the dying moments of qualifying simply to aggrieve Hamilton, who owing to the waved yellow flags was forced to bail on his flying lap.
The Twitterverse was near implosion as the pair walked into the weighbridge, barely acknowledging the others presence, as fans and members of the media alike threw around their opinions on the matter in equal or less than 140 characters, myself included I must add – to make it clear, sorry Hamilton fans, but I saw no ill-intent in the move.
Nico had cheated Lewis, Lewis wasn’t good enough, oh my god it is Senna and Prost. You can imagine the commotion.
The story took another turn minutes later when news began to spread that Rosberg was under investigation by the stewards. This was actually only half correct, the stewards were considering to investigate the incident, the official investigation only came later, at 5.15 local time.
Two or so hours later the verdict was out. Rosberg was innocent, and would keep his pole.
But what of this? What does this encounter spell for the Mercedes team, who thus far have managed to keep their drivers’ battle for the championship rather tame? And more importantly, can the team move on from this?
What occurred on Saturday was in effect one driver suggesting, if only subtly, that he had been robbed and cheated by his team-mate. Now, we have seen disputes in the past when a driver has felt hard done by, perhaps his team have asked him to let his team-mate through, or they have handed him a questionable strategy, while the man in the other car has gone on to win. But in my time following Formula One I cannot conjure up an occasion when a driver has suggested that his own team-mate has out-right cheated him.
How then can one driver from this point on trust the other. It would not be too difficult to conceive that Lewis Hamilton has a want/need to ‘get his own back’ on Rosberg after the way todays incident played out.
Hamilton has already suggested in an interview with BBC Radio Five Live that he might have to take a note out of Ayrton Senna’s book to deal with the situation.
There is only one way the great Brazilian would have dealt with a perceived slight like this, and if Hamilton is to repeat that, then it will likely end with two Mercedes in the armco barriers on Sunday, if not here in Monaco, then at some stage later in the year.
Hamilton simply now must beat Rosberg on Sunday if he is to regain the upper hand in the mental war being waged by the pair.
For Nico Rosberg though, this pole position is a huge opportunity. Going on the record of last year, the German is nigh on unbeatable around these streets in the right machinery. And as Hamilton has shown in the past, he can lose focus when things are not going his way, just look at the later part of 2013, and the 2011 as a whole for example.
The season is still young, but after a run of near misses in Bahrain and Barcelona, Nico Rosberg now has the opportunity to reverse the tide of success within his Mercedes team.
Better yet, with the opening salvoes now exchanged, expect to see the situation within the Brackley-based outfit continue to produce fire works as the season continues.
Ricciardo 4 – Vettel 2 – The Red Bull battle wages on
In my qualifying analysis ahead of the Spanish Grand Prix I heaped praise on Daniel Ricciardo for his excellent start to the season, having just out-qualified his team-mate for a second consecutive race weekend.
The Australian followed up his third place on the grid with a sensible drive to his first rightful podium finish having used the undercut to pass Valtteri Bottas’ pesky Williams at the opening round of stops, after falling behind the Finn off the grid.
The thing is, the man has only gone and done it again this weekend. Ricciardo will line-up third for a second successive grand prix weekend, and better still, he will start ahead of his four-time world champion team-mate, Sebastian Vettel for the fourth time this year.
True, Vettel had complained of an ERS issue in Q3, which will have hurt his performance to some degree, but simply put, it had been Ricciardo that has been the faster of the two Red Bull team-mate all weekend, and it is hard to imagine the German having toppled the Aussie from third, working ERS and all.
While all eyes are expected to be on the Mercedes duo’s battle for the lead tomorrow, behind them – by quite a distance if Spain was anything to go by – lie the foundations for what could be a mighty scarp between the two Red Bull stable-mates.
For Vettel, the pressure is starting to build to reverse Ricciardo’s form, while for the Australian, expectations are now on the rise. Beating his team-mate and claiming podium number two would be a fine way to round out his first Monaco Grand Prix as a Red Bull driver. Vettel simply cannot let that happen.
After dazzling in Spain, Williams and Lotus face a woeful Monaco weekend
We have celebrated the great, now onto the bad. In Spain two weeks ago Valtteri Bottas impressed with a fine run to fourth on the grid on Saturday. His race pace was perhaps even more impressive still, running as high as third over the opening stint before ultimately slipping aback to fifth behind the faster Red Bull’s at the chequered flag.
Williams’ performance in Barcelona was one of the most wildly celebrated aspects of the Spanish Grand Prix weekend. Heck, I even said that they had leapfrogged Ferrari in the pecking order.
Here in Monaco though it is a completely different story. The Finn will start just 13th having never looked like possessing the speed to progress into Q3, while Felipe Massa was worse off still. The Brazilian will line-up in 16th after a run-in with Marcus Ericsson’s Caterham late in the dying moments of Q1.
With reliability still nightly impressive, and passing – even with the help of DRS – still extremely difficult around Monaco, Williams may as well kiss goodbye to any hope they had of reeling in Ferrari and Force India in the constructors’ championship this weekend.
Lotus, like Williams, left Spain with plenty to be encouraged about after Romain Grosjean secured the team its first points of the season with a solid drive to eighth.
The team talked up its chances following a successful post-Spanish Grand Prix test, yet the Enstone-based outfit has looked hopeless here all weekend.
As is the case with Williams, the team will be hard pressed to score points from as far back as 14th and 15th, especially considering how tightly packed the midfield is.
To add further insult to injury for Lotus, it holds the unenviable record that in fight attempts, neither of its drivers have ever finished a Formula One race around the streets of Monte Carlo – even if both Romain Grosjean and Pastor Maldonado have won here in GP2. I suspect you would get short odds on the likelihood of seeing one of the Lotus cars in the barriers before Sunday is out.
The honourable mention this weekend goes to Toro Rosso who managed to get both Jean-Eric Vergne and Daniil Kvyat into Q3 on Saturday. Vergne, who went well here last year will start seventh, while Monaco new boy Kvyatt will line up ninth, despite a heart-in-mouth moment in the opening part of qualifying as he dropped his car on the bumps at the exit of the tunnel, skating across the track at high speed and fortunately walking away with just a broken front wing.
The Russian, still just 20-years-old, continues to impress, having already picked up points on three occasions this year. If he can keep his nose clean on Sunday he could well make that four races from six.
A notable mention must also go to Fernando Alonso, who despite being hounded about his future over the last few weeks, turned up and delivered in that feisty fashion that he is so well known for, grabbing his Ferrari by the scruff of the neck and dragging it to fifth on the grid, just six tenths shy of Rosberg and Hamilton in the two Mercedes cars.
To make the point stick, Kimi Raikkonen was 1.4 seconds adrift of Rosberg’s session topping time, seventh tenths down on his Ferrari team-mate. Say what you like about Fernando Alonso’s character, but he is still without question the man every team boss would want in one of his cars, faults and all.
Images courtesy of Mercedes AMG PETRONAS and Octane Photographic