Conclusions from the 2014 Monaco GP
A friendship has become a rivalry and a team has come two divided camps, Hamilton makes his own strategic mistake, Monaco again fails its own test and Marussia make their point
By Pete Gill. Last Updated: 27/05/14 9:22am
It's war at Mercedes
And the worst kind of war, with the Mercedes team divided into a state of civil war and two mutually-mistrustful camps by their leading men, bickering over the spoils of victory, spoilt by the excess of their car's superiority. There will be no reconciliation after this, nor even an attempt; the breach has become seismic and irreconcilable.
The surprise for some, if not many, will be that the two team-mates stayed matey, at least in public, for so long. Open warfare has been inevitable ever since those distant days at Jerez during the back end of January when it became clear that Mercedes had spawned a monster. It was always going to end like this; F1 drivers, by their very nature, are competitors first and foremost, not friends. Hamilton might have sounded childish and churlish when he announced the termination of his friendship with Rosberg, but it's the friendship itself which was adolescent. In the grown-up world of F1, and in an exclusive fight for the World Championship which will define each man's legacy, a rivalry is the mature thing to accept.
Sportsmanship? Forget it, and for good reason: F1 has always been far more than a sport, although the pity of Rosberg v Hamilton this weekend is that it never even flickered into the realms of good sport with both qualifying and the race descending into a joyless anti-climax. In hindsight, the breach in their relationship was always likely to occur in Monaco and around a circuit too restrictive to let good sport breathe for long. The Principality, it could be reasonably argued, got the sport, and weekend, it principally deserved. This is a place to be seen and heard, not to race, and if it's a showpiece of style over substance that you are serving up then don't complain when only a soap opera turns up.
As a sporting occasion, Monaco 2014 was an also-ran. The outcome of the grand prix was effectively determined the moment Rosberg's mistake at Mirabeau triggered an end to proceedings on Saturday. Only Rosberg can know for certain whether there was any element of deliberate intention in his mistake, but the overriding pity is recognition of the perversity which immediately saw an error
instantly elevated into an advantage. Is there really nothing in the regulations to thwart this sort of thing? Few could quibble with an amendment that permits Q3 to be extended in the event of a yellow flag in the final minutes - an amendment the sport have had almost ten years to introduce since Michael Schumacher parked the bus at Rascasse in 2006.
Hamilton's reaction, amounting to a pointed refusal to offer Rosberg the benefit of the doubt, was telling and defining. The friendship, dating back to their boyhood, ended then. It was only confirmation which followed a day later, and it only a rivalry - and relief - which remains, although it has a lot of growing up to do before it reaches the level of Senna and Prost. From Rosberg's shameless qualifying celebration, to the disclosure he waited until Hamilton went to the toilet before delivering his post-session debrief and the claim that Hamilton complained that Rosberg's pre-race kickabout was interrupting his concentration, this was Senna-Prost in shortpants. It impressed nobody and nor should it.
The friendship might have belatedly matured into a rivalry but this is a rivalry which still has plenty of growing up to do.
It's already about time it did.
Hamilton makes his own strategic mistake
It hardly requires a PR expert to recognise that Hamilton played a poor hand after the race. Speaking from a position of weakness after suffering defeat, he picked the wrong moment to forsake the friendship and paid the price by appearing petulant. His unflattering comparison of Mercedes' strategy set-up was equally ill-judged; yes, McLaren might have called him in for an opportunistic pit-stop, but had he been driving a McLaren on Sunday he'd also have been a lap behind.
Nor should Hamilton escape culpability for failing to grasp the opportunity to alter course during the race.
According to calculations made by Sky F1, almost 30 seconds elapsed between Hamilton passing the stricken Sauber of Adrian Sutil - another former friend, of course - at the exit of the tunnel and reaching the pit entry. Plenty of time for Mercedes to call him in, had they been so minded to break their own unofficial rule that the lead driver on the track holds strategic sway, and also plenty of time for Hamilton to drive the situation himself by telling the team he was coming in. Mercedes were hardly likely to refuse to change his wheels if he showed up at the end of the pitlane. Take the chance and deal with the consequences later? It was surely worth a try.
It may not exist in team, but there's another 'i' in strategist, Lewis.
Testing times to understand Monaco
Since time immemorial, the mean streets of Monte Carlo have been depicted of the ultimate challenge of a driver's ability, courage and concentration. Only this weekend, Fernando Alonso hailed the sport's showpiece event as the first among equals of races to be won in F1. There is, we told, nowhere quite like Monaco...to which the armchair resident may be inclined to reply 'that's just as well' because it is increasingly challenging to appreciate what all the fuss is about.
The most damning statistic surrounding the event is that only once in the last 11 years has a driver failed to win the race after starting out on pole position. Just how challenging can the fabled challenge of Monaco be when less than one in ten fail it? The difficulty of passing another car there has made it an easy pass for a pole-sitter, and the giveaway - unless you believe that his error was no such thing - was Rosberg crumbling under pressure in qualifying before delivering a serene performance on race day, safe and secure in the knowledge he couldn't be overtaken on track. Monaco itself is starting to fail its own test.
But testing success for Marussia
So much for the argument that the hassle and expense of in-season testing puts smaller teams at a disadvantage. But for the inclusion of four such events on to the schedule this year, Marussia might well be still waiting for their first points in F1, with the team openly acknowledging that their breakthrough result this weekend owed a substantial debt to the work done over the two-dayer at Barcelona earlier this month.
"A lot of this weekend's clear step stems from the progress we made at the recent Barcelona test," admitted team boss John Booth in the wake of Jules Bianchi's ninth place. "We were cautiously optimistic about our performance increment, but we really needed to see it translate into a good race here in Monaco before we could feel too confident."
It's a result which could be worth over £20m to the team at the end of the season when the year's prize-money is divvied up - a small price to pay for an extra couple of days in Catalunya - and a significant one in reverse for Sauber, now tenth in the standings, and Caterham, who are reputedly now up for sale. Marussia, by contrast, have made their point at the fifth year of asking.
On a weekend when too much sounded false and hollow, it was truly the result of the day.