Everyone hates finishing second at Monaco.
Whether it’s Ayrton Senna in 1984, Nigel Mansell in 1992, Lewis Hamilton in 2007, or even Daniel Ricciardo last year, there’s something about the Monte Carlo streets that seems to make the pain of defeat feel all the more raw.
And so it was that this year, Kimi Raikkonen would become the latest man to accept the bitter taste of just missing out on a Monaco Grand Prix victory when it had seemed so within grasp.
A one-two for Ferrari it may have been, but Raikkonen’s post-race demeanor suggested that this would be far from a morale-boosting result for all of the Scuderia.
Raikkonen sets the early pace
Conditions were postcard-perfect as the field lined up on the grid for the start of the sixth race of what is becoming an enthralling 2017 season.
In what we all hope will be a season-long championship battle between red and silver, Mercedes had presented Ferrari with a golden opportunity in qualifying to strike a punishing blow in the standings on Sunday after Lewis Hamilton was eliminated in Q2, fighting desperately to find grip.
Surely, a second front row lock out in three races meant that Ferrari were already half way towards a one-two finish around these Monaco streets?
As the lights went out, both Ferraris leapt out into the lead with, Raikkonen successfully converting his pole into the lead as he rounded St Devote. Vettel rebuffed a half-hearted attempt from Bottas to sniff his Mercedes up the inside and the 20 cars duly entered into the early phase of the race in same form that they had started it.
With no crashes, collisions or even contact of note, the early Safety Car intervention that all the team’s strategists either feared or hoped would occur failed to materialise. Such was the lack of tyre degradation in practice, it appeared that the race would follow a predictable pattern of a one stop strategy as soon as the super soft tyre window was reached.
Raikkonen opened up a modest gap to his championship-leading team mate in second, with Bottas falling back by roughly half a second a lap from the rear of Vettel’s Ferrari. In this early stage, it seemed virtually certain that today would be the day that Ferrari finally snapped their 16 year wait for victory at Monaco.
Having started in the midfield, Lewis Hamilton was having no success in making progress through the field in the Mercedes. Staring at the back of Daniil Kvyat’s Toro Rosso, Hamilton appeared to have little power to get close enough to put the Russian under any significant pressure.
The task was made slightly easier for Hamilton when Nico Hulkenberg’s Reanult engine begin smoking up the hill from St Devote to Casino Square – a problem quickly identified by Hulkenberg’s engineer as a “major gearbox problem”. Hulkenberg pulled off at Portier, forced out of a potential points scoring position and into his first retirement of the season.
Sergio Perez had drama of a less severe nature, when the front wing of his Force India began to become dislodged as he exited the tunnel on the run down to the harbour chicane. The team pitted the Mexican for a new nose and a set of super softs before sending him on his way.
Further back, Jenson Button was attempting to enjoy his unique cameo appearance for McLaren in substitute for the Indianapolis-bound Fernando Alonso. A 15-place grid penalty for yet more Honda competent changes will almost certainly have reminded him of what he hasn’t missed about the sport and having started from the pitlane, Button was entirely reliant on Lady Luck to enjoy any meaningful progress through the field on this sunny afternoon.
Button immediately pitted on lap one, switching from the ultra softs he had been forced to start on for a new set of super softs that would surely last him for the remaining 77 laps. Pascal Wehrlein, who had also opted to pit on the first lap, was released into the path of the McLaren, dooming the Sauber driver to a five second time penalty.
It would prove to be not the only incident between the two drivers that afternoon.
Overcut strategy wins the day
Pirelli’s pre-race advice that the theoretical best strategy would be to take your sole stop on lap 28 was promptly ignored by the entire field. Max Verstappen was the first of the front runners to pit at the end of lap 32, with Mercedes immediately covering the move by boxing Bottas from third the next lap and retaining the position.
Then, it was Ferrari’s turn to stop. Raikkonen had the privilege of taking on fresh super soft tyres first on lap 34, but Vettel opted to stay out and attempt to press on on his older tyres to try and overcut his team mate to snatch the lead and, ultimately, the win from him.
Immediately, Vettel upped his pace, using the clear track to his advantage and lowering the fastest lap of the race to date. Behind Vettel, Daniel Ricciardo was also making hay in the sunshine and matching him for pace, looking increasingly threatening to Bottas and Verstappen who found themselves caught behind the yet-to-stop Toro Rosso of Carlos Sainz.
When Vettel finally pitted on lap 39, it looked like it would be touch and go to decide which of the two Ferrari drivers would resume the lead and, with it, the Monaco Grand Prix. A second smart stop from the Ferrari mechanics had the championship leader on his way in no time at all and all eyes turned to the pit exit to see which of the two prancing horses would reach Casino Square first.
Raikkonen blasted past the pits, but Vettel was already back on track and hurtling towards St Devote. Vettel was ahead. Just five extra laps helped to turn a one second deficit into a two second advantage. The lead and, seemingly, the victory was now his to lose.
Behind, Ricciardo had also made the sharp right after Rascasse to make his sole visit through the pit lane. Like his former team mate, Ricciardo had found great benefit from being able to push with a clear track. A benefit that also eneabled him not just to resume ahead of team mate Verstappen, but also leapfrog Valtteri Bottas’s Mercedes and up into third position.
Having seen his team’s attempt to help him past Bottas serve only to allow his team mate to take the pair of them, Verstappen was decidedly less than impressed.
“What a (censored by FOM) disaster,” bemoaned the Red Bull driver. While it was hard not to appreciate the young Dutchman’s frustrations, the irony of a Red Bull pit strategy call in Monaco ultimately benefiting Ricciardo was difficult to ignore.
Hamilton’s only chance of making further progress into the top ten was to employed a similar tactic to Vettel and Ricciardo. By staying out until lap 45, Hamilton only lost a single position to Carlos Sainz Jr’s Red Bull, putting him in seventh position on merit.
Button almost turns race and Wehrlein on head
Back at the front, Vettel was finally ahead of his team mate and quickly began to open up a gap to Raikkonen that the Finn had been unable to do to in the first stint.
Fears over what 2017’s new, higher-downforce regulations could do for the prospects of overtaking around a circuit like Monaco were being realised. With the solitary stops for each of the cars now out of the way, it seemed like positions looked set to remain as their were over the course of the final 30 laps.
Button, having driven a frustratingly uneventful race so far, attempted to make his own entertainment by offering a late and ill-judged move up the inside of Pascal Wehrlein’s Sauber into Portier. It didn’t work and only the tyre wall saved Wehrlein’s world from being turned completely upside down by the move.
The Safety Car was deployed as Wehrlein’s Sauber sat, awkwardly, on its side propped up against the wall. It was as unusual a scene as it was a concerning one, but after a couple of nervous laps, Wehrlein was successfully extracted from the car, apparently fine.
With Button’s car also terminally wounded from the collision, the McLaren driver’s difficult one-off return to the sport, and probably his Formula One career, was now over.
It was a sad end to both, with Button apologising to the team for not returning Fernando Alonso’s car in much the same state in which he had been given it. But the grid penalty that will never be served will forever provide an amusing footnote to the former champion’s career.
Suddenly, the cars were now all within reach of each other once more. Verstappen took to the pits for a fresh set of tyres with renewed hope of being able to challenge Bottas on track, while Felipe Massa did the same in the Williams.
Tyre warm up had been the defining issue in qualifying and with drivers now restricted to painfully slow speeds behind the Safety Car, there were vocal concerns from Lance Stroll about how car performance would be affected by the drop in tyre temperature once the race restarted.
Concerns that seemed legitimate when Marcus Ericsson took off from the queue to unlap himself behind the Safety Car, only to promptly slide off into the barriers at St Devote in one of the more embarrassing retirements of recent seasons.
When the race resumed on lap 67, Vettel gingerly led from his team mate while, behind, Ricciardo was lucky to survive without broken suspension after a significant tap with the wall exiting St Devote.
Stoffel Vandoorne compounded another point-less afternoon for McLaren by also crashing into the St Devote barriers in similar style to Ericsson, all meaningful grip appearing to have abandoned the car.
Vettel consolidates championship lead
The immediate laps at the restart were run at a pace so slow, it was hard to believe that track conditions had not dramatically altered during the Safety Car intervention.
The sheer lack of tyre temperature also scuppered any realistic opportunities for drivers to attempt a serious overtaking challenge on their rivals, with the front runners all able to retain their positions.
Sergio Perez, however, decided that he was not prepared to simply accept his position behind Daniil Kvyat’s Toro Rosso and dared to try a very late lunge down the inside of the Russian into Rascasse. It was a clumsy attempt and the two inevitably collided, damage to the Toro Rosso ultimately forcing Kvyat to stop the car at Casino Square. Perez would receive two penalty points for his efforts.
Back at the front, tyre temperatures were back to normal and despite Raikkonen’s best efforts, there would be no opportunity for him to attempt to take back his lost early lead. Vettel jubilantly crossed the line to take Ferrari’s first Monaco Grand Prix win in 16 years, his second win around the Principality and his third victory of the 2017 season.
Raikkonen was forced to settle for that most disappointing of second places and did little to mask his frustrations during the podium ceremony. Vettel may have extended his championship lead to 25 points and the one-two may have moved Ferrari ahead of Mercedes in the constructors’ championship, but it was clear that not everyone in red would leave Monaco satisfied with the weekend’s result.
Daniel Ricciardo joined the two Ferraris on the podium, likely equally pleased to have executed his strategy so effectively to put him there but also that Red Bull showed themselves to be significantly closer to Ferrari and Mercedes this weekend compared to Spain.
Valtteri Bottas gave what he could to answer Ferrari’s performance over the weekend but was unable to make any real impact into Mercedes’s championship rivals before losing out to Ricciardo in the pits.
Carlos Sainz impressed once more with a brilliantly professional drive to sixth in what the Toro Rosso described as a ‘perfect’ result. He may not have featured much on the notoriously sketchy Monaco coverage, but those that matter will not have overlooked this performance.
Hamilton crossed the line in seventh, recovering as best he could from his 13th place start. As much of a brave face that the Mercedes driver put on after the race, this weekend will surely have felt like significant body blow to the reigning champions in what looks increasingly like a battle that will rage all season long.
Haas enjoyed a solid if quiet weekend, bringing home two cars in the points for Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen in eighth and tenth respectively for Haas’s first ever dual points finish. Haas’s success came at the expense of Force India, who failed to get both of their drivers into the top ten for only the first time this season.
With Sebastian Vettel having beaten his team mate to victory after one of Kimi Raikkonen’s strongest weekends since his return to the Ferrari team, it remains to be seen how much of an impact this race will have on the team dynamic that exists at Marenello.
While there is still such a long way to go in the season, Vettel’s third win from six races has made him a clear early favourite to become a five time world champion come the end of the year. For Raikkonen, winning in Monaco would have been the perfect way to bring him into contention for this year’s title.
As much as Vettel’s win has given him the upper hand over his Mercedes rivals, it has also served to do the same over his team mate.
It is now up to both Mercedes and Kimi Raikkonen to hit back in Canada.