MIXED EMOTIONS IN MONACO
A bittersweet weekend for Mercedes - Nico with his third win in a row and a bad strategy call for Lewis.
He celebrated long into the Monaco night, surrounded by his childhood friends who’d returned to cheer him on. The boisterous celebrations had started many hours before and would continue until the sun rose and the inevitable hangovers arrived sometime on Monday morning.
For Nico Rosberg this was some moment. The boy who stared from his classroom window at the F1 Paddock on the harbour side below had earlier that day emulated some of the greats of the sport with a third win in a row on those famous streets he calls home.
Not that for 64 laps of the race a win looked likely. Far from it, Rosberg’s chances of a victory appeared as remote as snow in the desert until that fateful call to bring his team mate in for an extra pit stop behind the Safety Car. “I’ve lost the race, haven’t I?” Lewis Hamilton questioned over the team radio. The answer was far too obvious for a reply, despite there still being enough laps for him to try and pass the two ahead.
In one swift strategy call, an instant decision taken in the heat of a chaotic moment, fortune changed and from imperious winner, Hamilton assumed the role of unlucky loser leaving Rosberg to pick up spoils of victory.
I personally thought that Lewis was very mature in his reaction. Understandably distraught he spoke without acrimony and offered congratulations to his team mate for the win. Understandably too, he wasn’t keen to stick around long for the Podium celebrations, bad enough that victory had been taken away, the last thing he wanted to witness was Rosberg’s jubilation.
Those celebrations had many of you reaching for your mobile phones to fire off a Twitter complaint about unsportsmanlike behaviour but I challenge anyone not to celebrate in the way that Rosberg did. It wasn't his fault that the team got the call to pit Lewis wrong, Nico didn’t make the decision nor did he have any knowledge that it had happened, until he rounded Set Devote and didn't see Lewis ahead of him. So why shouldn't he be allowed to celebrate emulating Senna, Prost and Graham Hill with his crew? Wouldn’t you have done the same? I know I wouldn’t have been able to contain my joy.
Meanwhile the Mercedes debrief began on the pit wall above the team’s garage. Head of Motorsport Toto Wolff leading what form my view directly opposite appeared to be a heated discussion of what happened and whose fault it was? The fans outside the Sky F1 Commentary box all wanted to know the answer too, and just why Lewis had come in for a pit stop in the first place?
For once I struggled to come up with an answer. It seemed nonsensical to risk victory by pitting again. Even in a town where it’s not unusual to risk it all on the spin of wheel, this was a strange one.
Conspiracy theories abounded too. Once again the notion that a German team had favoured their German driver gathered pace, but not for one minute would I ever expect any team to sacrifice a definite one-two in a Grand Prix, just so that they could change the winner around. And they certainly wouldn't do it right in front of the board members of their parent company who had traveled to Monaco to enjoy the occasion.
Eventually of course we got an explanation from the team. But I have to say, even if Lewis thought he was vulnerable to attack if Nico and Sebastian had pitted for Super Soft tyres, even if he felt that he would be struggling too much on his Soft tyres, tyres that were cooling down, pressures that were dropping way lower than he would have wanted, track position in Monaco is king and he had track position.
Would Ross Brawn have made a difference were he still on the Mercedes Pit Wall? That was a question that was tweeted many times in the immediate aftermath. Well, his experience is hard to replace but Paddy Lowe is no novice and more than capable of handling situations like this.
In time, the Monday morning headlines, I particularly liked The Sun’s ‘Fool Monte’ just for its comic value, will all be forgotten but the issue I think now is how long it takes Mercedes themselves to forget, forgive and move on.
Lewis will have to make sure there is still 100% trust in the team. He’s not going anywhere soon after signing his new three year deal in the week leading up to Monaco. So he’s going to have to make sure there are no lingering issues that will affect the future. Tuesday’s de-brief back at the team base in Brackley is going to be vital and whoever heads that up, be it Paddy Lowe in his role as Executive Director Technical or Toto Wolff as Head of Mercedes Benz Motorsport, they need to make it less about blame and more about avoidance in the future. It’s easy to dwell on who got it wrong, but that’s exactly the sort of culture that breeds a lingering animosity. Knowing the guys at the team as I do, I’m sure that by the time we get to Montreal, they will have moved on and it will be business as near to usual as it can be.
As Mrs Croft put it when I spoke to her on Sunday night, “It’s like this. How many times do you come home and there are no toilet rolls? Or Diet Coke in the fridge? Or enough eggs for you to make breakfast in the morning? Virtually never, once or twice in all the years we’ve been together. Because I make sure it’s all sorted so you don’t have to worry. But nobody’s perfect and mistakes happen, like it did here for Lewis. It’s a mistake, it’s sport, it happens!” I can’t argue with that, although I would say that Mrs C is perfect and if she has ever forgotten to get me some Diet Coke in, I can’t remember it. Maybe she can call the next Mercedes pit stop strategy.
Can I just end the blog by saying how brilliant it was to bump into and chat to so many British fans over the Monaco Grand Prix weekend. You were out in force guys and it was great to see so many of you in the Principality. Fingers crossed I’ll bump into you again at Silverstone in July. Monaco can be an expensive place to visit to watch F1 - the yachts are certainly a little more pricey than the brilliant Drivers' Lounge where I’m told that there are still a few places left for some top notch hospitality over the weekend - but it seemed that everywhere I turned there were British fans soaking up for what for me is still one of the highlights of the season. It may be a procession to some, but Monaco will always be a beautiful carnival for me.