Nico Rosberg took his third consecutive Monaco Grand Prix victory as a certain victory for Lewis Hamilton was a wrecked by a late race strategic blunder that saw Mercedes pit the champion under a late-race safety car that dropped him to third place behind Sebastian Vettel.
Hamilton had led the race without threat for 64 laps but then Max Verstappen collided with Romain Grosjean and the safety car was deployed. Mercedes bizarrely chose to pit Hamilton for new supersofts but when he emerged he found himself behind Rosberg and Vettel, who had opted to stay out.
When the safety car left the track with seven laps to go, Vettel defended hard and despite having new quicker tyres Hamilton could find no way past. Rosberg carved out a healthy lead and marched to his third consecutive Monaco win.
At the start Hamilton held his advantage on th3 run to Sainte Devote but Rosberg almost lost out as Vettel attempted to pull alongside the Mercedes driver on the inside. To stay ahead Rosberg was forced to use the kerb on the outside of turn one.
That meant that Ricciardo, who was eyeing a move around the outside of the Mercedes found his route closed and he was passed in turn one by team-mate Kvyat.
Further back Fernando Alonso made good ground as the lights went out but tangled with Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg. The German was pitched into the barriers and lost his front wing. Alonso rose to P10 but the incident was put under investigation by the stewards. Alonso was soon handed a five-second penalty by the officials.
Williams’ Felipe Massa also had problems at the start, sustaining a puncture on his front right tyres. He pitted for a set of prime tyres and also a new front wing but dropped to P19.
By lap six Hamilton had built a two-second gap to Rosberg with Vettel still third ahead of Kvyat and Ricciardo. Behind them, though, Lotus’ Pastor Maldonado, in eighth place was in trouble, the Venezuelan radioing through to say he was having brake problems.
He was passed by Toro Rosso’s Max Verstappen and with the problems clearly mounting, Maldonado pulled into the pits to retire. Further back, Carlos Sainz, in the second Toro Rosso, had climbed to P15 after starting from the pit lane due to a penalty incurred during qualifying.
Sainz was the first to make a regulation stop, taking on prime tyres on lap 13 and he was soon followed by Valtteri Bottas and Marcus Ericsson who were direct ahead on track in P13 and P14 respectively. The response left the positions unchanged.
At the front, Hamilton who had been struggling with “warm” front brakes was advised to shift the balance rearward and after doing so began to find better pace and by lap 23 he was putting in fastest laps, a lap of 1:19.807 pushing the gap to Rosberg to 4.6 seconds.
The Mercedes pair were not able to shake Vettel, however, and the German seemed comfortably able to match the duo’s lap times to maintain the deficit to Rosberg at 1.6s.
Behind the trio Kvyat was now 7.8 seconds adrift with Ricciardo 3.6s behind the Russian. Raikkonen, less than a second behind Ricciardo, was pressuring the Red Bull driver hard but the Australian responded on lap 27 to push the gap back beyond DRS range. Behind the,
The Mercedes drivers, meanwhile were hitting traffic and while Hamilton complained that he had lost time clearing the Manors, Hulkenberg, Sainz and Ericsson, it was Rosberg who suffered, with the gap to the front stretching to eight seconds by lap 30. That allowed Vettel to close on his compatriot, though he could as yet make no challenge.
Meanwhile, Kvyat pitted from P4 for softs and then Verstappen made his stop for soft tyres. However, a problem with the rear right cost the Dutchman dearly and he dropped from P7 to P13. Alonso too pitted. He took his five-second penalty but the stop didn’t hurt as his pace in the opening stint had build a comfortable gap back to Nasr and the Spaniard emerged in P9.
Vettel eventually stopped, along with Ricciardo and Perez on lap 36, with all three taking on soft tyres. Mercedes immediately responded to Vettel’s stop and even though Rosberg’s stop was a slow 3.4 he still stayed ahead of the Ferrari driver in second.
Hamilton made his sole visit to the pit lane a lap later and following a three-second halt he comfortably rejoined in the lead.
With everyone having pitted for new tyres the order, on lap 39, was now Hamilton in P1, 8.2s ahead of Rosberg, who was 1.7s clear of Vettel. Kvyat was back in fourth place but Raikkonen had jumped past Ricciardo in the pit stops to steal fifth place. Perez held seventh ahead of the McLarens of Button and Alonso and the final points position was occupied by Felipe Nasr.
Alonso’s hopes of taking his first points finish for McLaren were ended on lap 43. The Spaniard had slowed dramatically on the previous lap and was passed by Nasr and then at the start of the next tour Alonso locked up and pulled off circuit at Sainte Devote where he radioed through that he’d had a gearbox problem. It was the first time the Spaniard had failed to finish in the Principality since 2004.
The order then began to stabilise and Hamilton worked his way to a 14-second lead over Rosberg by lap 63. Only Verstappen made a significant move. With space to work in Toro Rosso brought the teenage back to the pits for a set of new supersoft tyres and he quickly began to make inroads on the gap to team-mate Sainz.
He passed Sainz in a muddled phase when the Spaniard was attempting to let through Vettel and then passed Bottas when the Finn was being lapped. That put Verstappen in P11 and hard on the trail of Grosjean.
The Toro Rosso driver tried a similar move on the Frenchman when Vettel lapped the Lotus but Grosjean was aware of the threat and shut the door. Verstappen continued to snap at the Lotus driver’s heels, however, and on lap 64 he tried an audacious move at Sainte Devote under braking. Verstappen seemed misjudge Grosjean’s braking and ran in the back of the Lotus, losing his front left wheel and then ploughing straight on into the barriers.
He was unhurt but the safety car was deployed. That triggered a mass round of pit stops with the bulk of the field taking on new tyres. Rosberg, Vettel, Kvyat and Raikkonen stayed out, however and that meant that Hamilton, who stopped for new supersofts, dropped to third and would need to use the greater pace of his tyres to force his way past his rivals in the final laps.
Behind them Kvyat was fourth ahead of Raikkonen and Ricciardo, with Perez seventh. Button was still eighth and Nasr ninth but Sainz had climbed to 10th.
The safety car left the track at the end of lap 70 and Hamilton immediately set about hounding Vettel.
The German went into maximum defensive mode, however, and that allowed Rosberg to build a two-second gap by the start of lap 72.
Ricciardo, meanwhile was elbowing his way past Raikkonen at Portier to steal P5. The Aussie went down the inside of the Ferrari and as Raikkonen moved across to take the turn the pair collided and Raikkonen was shunted sideways, allowing the Red Bull through. The radio response from the Finn was irate and the incident was soon put under investigation. There was no further action fro the stewards, however.
At the front Hamilton could find now way past Vettel and Rosberg’s lead grew. By lap 75 he was 4.3s clear of the Ferrari and on his way to a third consecutive Monaco win.
Behind the leading trio, Kvyat was fourth ahead of Ricciardo with Raikkonen sixth ahead of Perez. Jenson Button took McLaren-Honda’s first points since the Gerhard Berger won the Australian Grand Prix of 1992, while Felipe Nasr was ninth for Sauber. Then final points position was taken by Toro Rosso’s Carlos Sainz.