Lewis Hamilton banished the woes that blighted his start to the 2016 Formula 1 season by producing a career-defining drive to win the Monaco Grand Prix for a second time.
Hamilton started from third on the grid in wet conditions, but made a risky strategy work in the early part of the race to capitalize on a mistake by Red Bull in the pits to pass Daniel Ricciardo for the lead just before half-distance.
Hamilton and Ricciardo then spent the entire second half of the race rarely separated by more than a second, offering a classic battle that Monaco is renowned for.
Ultimately, it was Hamilton who won the fight to pick up his first win of the season and cut the gap to Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg in the drivers’ championship to just 24 points.
With rain falling throughout the morning, race control announced with 10 minutes to go before lights out that the safety car would lead the field away, with all drivers required to start on full wet tires. A line began to emerge through the spray after five laps, prompting some to call for the safety car to peel in.
Eventually, race control turn the race to green on lap eight, with Ricciardo leading the field away. However, the race was quickly neutralized once again when Jolyon Palmer crashed out on the main straight, resulting in a Virtual Safety Car.
Once the race returned to green, Ricciardo was able to forge an immediate lead as Rosberg struggled for grip and with his brake temperatures. Mercedes teammate Hamilton continued to hound him for second place, but could not find a way past. With the track continuing to dry, the first drivers were able to make the switch to intermediate tires and began to lap quickly. The leading drivers now had a big strategy call to make.
With Ricciardo now 11 seconds clear at the front, Mercedes called for Rosberg to let Hamilton past so he could cut the gap at the front. The Briton duly pulled out 10 seconds on his teammate in just a handful of laps before Rosberg made the switch, leaving just himself and Ricciardo on the full wet tires after 20 laps.
Ricciardo blinked on lap 23, making the switch to intermediates as the sun began to peek through the clouds, but Hamilton continued on in the hope of extending the stint before the track was ready for slick tires.
Losing grip on his worn wets, Hamilton soon found himself coming under pressure from Ricciardo for the lead. However, he was able to hold the Red Bull driver back as the track continued to dry before pitting from the lead on lap 31, switching to the ultra-soft tire.
Mercedes timed the call perfectly as the majority of the field also pitted on the same lap, making the switch to slick tires. Ricciardo continued to feel his way around on intermediates for one more lap before pitting, only to find his crew still scrambling to get his tires ready. His 20-second lead over the field evaporated, and the Australian emerged from the pits staring at the back of Hamilton’s Mercedes.
Ricciardo was able to close up quickly as he put his super-soft tires to good use, appearing more comfortable on them in the early phase of the restart. After a brief cool-down period under the Virtual Safety Car after Max Verstappen crashed out, Ricciardo latched onto the back of Hamilton once again going through the tunnel, forcing Hamilton into a mistake at the Nouvelle Chicane. The Briton pushed Ricciardo towards the wall on exit, prompting Ricciardo to raise his hand in anger and vent over the radio to his Red Bull engineers.
All the while, Force India’s Sergio Perez found himself coming into play at the front. Both he and Sebastian Vettel had jumped Rosberg in the pit stops on the soft compound tire, meaning they did not have to make another stop. If Hamilton and Ricciardo could not make their softer – and therefore less durable – tires last until the end of the race, Perez and Vettel were waiting to capitalize.
Hamilton was able to open up a two second lead in the laps that followed his near run-in with Ricciardo, with the stewards deeming their clash not worthy of any disciplinary action. Ricciardo now knew that if he wanted to win the Monaco Grand Prix, he’d have to pass Hamilton on-track.
Another Virtual Safety Car was called with 28 laps to go after Sauber teammates Marcus Ericsson and Felipe Nasr collided at La Rascasse, allowing Ricciardo to close up on Hamilton once again. With traffic also coming into play, Ricciardo lined up a move at the exit of the tunnel once again, only to be blocked off and forced to bide his time.
Hamilton had to manage his tires carefully throughout the closing stages of the race, ensuring he did not overwork them while also keep Ricciardo at an arm’s length. When he managed to open up a gap, the race was put under another VSC due to debris on the main straight, appearing to fall from one of the balconies above the circuit.
The Briton took it in his stride, monitoring the gap to Ricciardo once the race got back up to speed before producing another set of fast laps to open the gap back up to three seconds with five laps to go. From there, he was able to ease to victory, crossing the line after 78 laps to record his first win of the season.
For Hamilton, the result was much-needed. After a miserable start to the year that had seen him lead just a single lap in the first five races, to bounce back with a drive worthy of a three-time champion showed that Hamilton remains a serious force to be reckoned with in this championship.
Ricciardo eased his way home in second place, knowing for the second race in a row that an error from the team had cost him a possible victory. Had it not been for the slow pit stop, he would easily have emerged from the pits ahead of Hamilton – such fine margins prove so decisive in F1.
Perez held on to third to claim just the fourth podium finish in Force India’s history – his third for the team – after fending off Vettel in the final few laps, leaving the Ferrari driver to settle for P4.
Fernando Alonso perfected his strategy calls to rise to fifth at the start of the slick stint, and was able to keep Rosberg back for the remainder of the race. Rosberg did make a pass at one point at the exit of the tunnel, only to lock up and miss the chicane, forcing him to give the place back. The German driver ultimately came home in seventh after slowing on the final lap and falling behind Nico Hulkenberg.
Carlos Sainz Jr. ended the race eighth as the sole finisher for Toro Rosso after teammate Daniil Kvyat was forced to retire after a run-in with Kevin Magnussen while running two laps down. Jenson Button finished ninth for McLaren to give the team a double points finish, while Felipe Massa rounded out the points for Williams in P10.
Esteban Gutierrez narrowly missed out on his first points of the season, finishing 11th as the lead Haas with teammate Romain Grosjean down in P14. Valtteri Bottas ended the race 12th for Williams ahead of Manor’s Pascal Wehrlein, whose teammate Rio Haryanto finished as the last classified finisher in P15.