The Silver Arrows’ strategists
When they let Nico Rosberg stumble round holding up Lewis Hamilton as Daniel Ricciardo headed for the tall timber, it seemed that Mercedes hadn’t learned much since their infamous pit stop blunder last year. In all probability, this was a race that Red Bull and the Australian had covered, and the Silver Arrows were playing into their hands.
But once they’d told Nico to move over, their strategy in keeping Hamilton out on wets until it was dry enough for slicks paid off handsomely. Coming so soon after the disaster of Spain, this was a big success, perfectly timed - and a perfect recompense for what happened in the Principality in 2015…
Hamilton really needed this one. Win number 44 has been a very long time coming, and it seems ridiculous that his last success was as long ago as Austin, seven months ago last October. After qualifying, when he salvaged third on the grid after yet more technical gremlins, he seemed - and sounded - doomed, glumly playing down his chances of turning the tide on race day.
“There's nothing you can do with strategy,” he lamented. “These [ultrasoft] tyres are so hard it’s an easy one-stop.” How ironic then that even with the rain, Hamilton’s victory owed much to the durability of Pirelli’s new purple-striped rubber, which the world champion made last for 47 intense laps under pressure from Ricciardo.
In short, when Hamilton got his chance he grabbed it with champion’s hands, and while Rosberg pussyfooted round, the reigning world champion showcased his prowess just when some thought he was becoming damaged psychologically.
As a reminder, it was timely. As a statement of intent, it was mighty.
Force India’s mighty Mexican
Once he was seen as a bit of a wild man, but these days Sergio Perez is just a fast, tenacious and downright savvy Grand Prix driver. Checo, as he’s fondly known, was in play all afternoon not just for points, but for the podium. And when the chips were down, he took on and comfortably contained four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel - on the same soft compound Pirelli rubber. Better still, he never put a wheel wrong and just after the final pit stops was actually catching Hamilton and Ricciardo hand-over-fist for a while.
All in all, a tremendous afternoon’s work that won’t do his reputation any harm at all, and a big boost too for Force India, for whom the Mexican has now scored three podiums. Not only is that three more than his oft-lauded team mate Nico Hulkenberg, it’s also more than McLaren have managed in the time since they dropped Perez from their roster…
Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button didn’t challenge Ferrari the way that team boss Eric Boullier had predicted, and nor did they seem overly excited about fifth and ninth, but 12 points moved the team up to seventh in the constructors’ standings and closed the gap dramatically to sixth-placed Toro Rosso.
No, by Ron Dennis’s standards it’s not a win, but it surely isn’t a loss, either. McLaren-Honda are making progress, and that’s what counts. And how apt that their best result of the season so far - fifth for the ever impressive Fernando Alonso - should come on the same weekend that the Woking-based team celebrated 50 years in Grand Prix racing. Team founder Bruce, a Monaco retiree 50 years ago, would probably have enjoyed the Spaniard’s battling drive mightily.
And the losers...
Poor Daniel Ricciardo. Only those without a heart could fail to feel sympathy for the affable Australian who took a brilliant maiden pole on Saturday and led in some style in his adopted hometown on Sunday, before being let down by his team for the second race in succession when victory was in sight.
When he pitted for slicks on the 31st lap, in the middle of a major battle with Lewis Hamilton, his tyres weren’t ready, and whatever Red Bull say about the confusion caused by Monaco’s cramped garage space, there’s no excuse for that. It’s a testament to how quickly Ricciardo was going at the time that he still nearly got his nose ahead of Hamilton's when exiting the pits, despite being stationary for more than 13 seconds.
Just as Hamilton had to do last year in similar circumstances, Ricciardo - who bravely tried every trick in the book to regain the lead - just had to suck it up, but understandably grinning and baring it just wasn’t on the menu for the usually perma-smiling Honey Badger.
Helmut Marko admitted that Red Bull gifted the race to Mercedes, and he was dead right.
F1’s youngest race winner
Oh my, racing can be a cruel and unforgiving sport! Two weeks ago Max Verstappen was the toast of F1 after a superb, calculated victory over Kimi Raikkonen in Barcelona. But his second race weekend for Red Bull was as poor as his first was poised, with the Dutch teenager adding a further three crashes to the big smash he suffered in Monaco last year.
Back then Verstappen was castigated in some quarters, not least from Romain Grosjean who was the unwitting victim of his bold overtaking attempt. This year no one will go that far, but this was a timely reminder that as talented as Verstappen undoubtedly is, he’s not the finished product yet, and for all his ability - showcased with some typically fantastic passes in Monaco - he’s not immune to making mistakes either. His commitment however absolutely cannot be doubted.
“Why does this happen to me all the time?” said a bitterly sad and disconsolate Daniil Kvyat over team radio after his Toro Rosso got stuck in constant speed at the beginning of the race in Monaco, losing him a lap on the field almost instantly.
It was hard not to feel a touch of sympathy for the Russian - already under pressure and down on his luck after being relegated back to Toro Rosso to make room for Verstappen at Red Bull, Kvyat, desperate to salvage his weekend, blotted his copybook further by tangling with Kevin Magnussen as Rascasse and earning himself a three-place grid penalty in Canada, not to mention another haul of penalty points on his license.
On the podium after a sizzling performance in China just four races ago, now nothing is seemingly going right for the 22-year-old. You get the sense an arm around the shoulder wouldn’t go amiss.
The not-so-Prancing Horse
Yet again Ferrari failed to deliver the goods when it mattered in qualifying, as neither Sebastian Vettel nor Kimi Raikkonen was able to improve on their second runs. And yet again, though Vettel at least was able to show good pace in the race, they started too far back to make much of an impact. The four-time world champion was unable to find a way past Felipe Massa’s Williams when it mattered, and then could make no dent on Sergio Perez’s Force India.
But as frustrating as Vettel’s race was, the less said about Kimi Raikkonen’s dismal performance, the better.
Fourth, on a day when Red Bull and Mercedes were at the sharp end, and Force India third, is assuredly not what Ferrari chief Sergio Marchionne demands. The pressure is mounting…
Sauber’s warring team mates
Pointless after five races and confined to the lower reaches of the grid once more, what the struggling Sauber team really didn’t need was for their two drivers to become embroiled in an unnecessary and completely pointless dust up while disputing 15th place. Alas, that’s what they got.
Team principal Monisha Kaltenborn called the incident - which saw a disgruntled Marcus Ericsson, angry at Felipe Nasr ignoring team requests to move over, try an overly ambitious lunge on the Brazilian at Rascasse - "unacceptable behaviour".
Hard to argue with that…