Nico Rosberg goes lights-to-flag in Monaco to defend crown

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Nico Rosberg has gone lights-to-flag to win the Monaco Grand Prix ahead of Lewis Hamilton, who managed to hold off Daniel Ricciardo in the final few stages of the race when the British driver struggled with his vision.

The German driver defended his Monaco crown, having won the race last year, and also matched his father’s tally of five grand prix victories in Formula 1.

After a tense qualifying session yesterday between Rosberg and Hamilton, they settled their differences cleanly on track today with Rosberg beating his teammate and re-gaining the lead of the drivers’ championship. However, Hamilton vented his frustration over the team’s pit strategy following two safety car periods in the race today, but was forced to settle for second place.

However, the real star of the race was Jules Bianchi, who finished eighth on track to score Marussia’s first ever points in Formula 1, having made its debut back in 2010. He was dropped to ninth following a five second penalty, but it still gave them two precious points.

The start saw Rosberg make a fine getaway to stay ahead of Hamilton, whilst Sebastian Vettel slotted into third place. His teammate, Daniel Ricciardo, was less fortunate, and dropped behind the fast-starting Kimi Raikkonen. Sergio Perez and Jenson Button went into battle, but the Force India driver came off worse as he ended up in the wall at Mirabeau, bringing out the safety car on the first lap.

On lap four, the race resumed and Rosberg stayed ahead of Hamilton. However, Raikkonen was on the move again as he passed Vettel for P3, but it turned out that the world champion had lost drive. He dropped down to last place, and after a pit stop he was able to get back on track for another lap before retiring from the race. Hamilton began to turn up the heat on Rosberg, and was on his rear wing in no time. The German driver held it together, though, and kept his teammate at bay, gradually opening up the gap.

Further down the order, Daniil Kvyat hit trouble with his car after making a great start, and was forced to park up his car and retire, bringing his first race at Monaco to a premature end. Jenson Button and Valtteri Bottas were the beneficiaries, moving up into P10 and P11, whilst Kamui Kobayashi was in the ‘magic’ 13th place for Caterham after 13 laps. Adrian Sutil was another man on a mission, making some brave overtakes at the Loews hairpin where – traditionally – overtaking is impossible.

Hamilton radioed to his engineer with concerns about his tires, but the team assured him that everything was in order. Rosberg enjoyed a lead of around 1.5 seconds at the front, and a lock-up at Mirabeau raised a few smiles in the paddock.

Esteban Gutierrez, Jules Bianchi and Max Chilton all were handed a five second stop/go penalty by the stewards for starting out of position on the grid, which they all duly took at their first pit stops.

In the battle for third place, Ricciardo made serious inroads on Raikkonen to get within half a second of the Finn. The Red Bull’s charge was stopped when the safety car was deployed to clear the debris caused by Adrian Sutil crashing into the wall on the exit of the tunnel. This sparked a mad dash to the pits for a fresh set of tires, but the order at the front remained unchanged after the stops.

Hamilton was quick to ask the team why he was not pitted one lap earlier, showing his discontent as he was still stuck behind Rosberg. They informed him that he did not have to stop again in the race, meaning that it was a straight fight to the end between the two Silver Arrows.

Having been in third place, Raikkonen was forced to make another pit stop after being hit by a lapped Marussia, costing him the chance of a podium finish. This did release Daniel Ricciardo up into third place ahead of Fernando Alonso.

On the restart, the Mercedes drivers once again set about re-establishing their lead, and Rosberg remained ahead of Hamilton, with the Briton still stewing over the decision not to pit one lap earlier. However, Rosberg was told to manage his fuel carefully for fear of running out later in the race.

Jules Bianchi was a man on a mission for Marussia, forcing his way past Kamui Kobayashi when Kimi Raikkonen made a move on the Caterham. The Frenchman was running in P12 at one point as he looked to give the team its best result of the season, and fought well to keep Vergne behind him around the tight corners of Monaco. Eventually, the Toro Rosso driver suffered an engine failure and had to retire from the race with 26 laps to go.

In the battle for the small points, Valtteri Bottas began to struggle with his tires, creating a train with Gutierrez, Raikkonen and Massa all looking to find a way past the Finn. However, it turned out to be an engine failure which eventually forced him to stop at the Loews hairpin.

Luckily, a safety car period was not required to recover the car. It did promote the train of cars up a place, and put Bianchi up into P11. However, he was under investigation for serving his five second stop/go penalty under the safety car, which is not permitted. Bianchi moved up into the top ten when Esteban Gutierrez spun at La Rascasse, ending both his race and Sauber’s hopes of some points.

At the front, Rosberg began to open up the gap to Hamilton, leading by over four seconds. The Briton reported that he had something in his eye and was struggling to see, allowing the German to pull well ahead and extend his lead. Hamilton once again got angry with his engineer over the radio, saying he “didn’t care” about the gap to Ricciardo despite the Red Bull closing in with fastest lap after fastest lap.

As Hamilton hit traffic, Ricciardo clung onto the back of the Mercedes with a few laps remaining. However, Raikkonen and Magnussen came together at the hairpin and ended in the wall, elevating Bianchi up into eighth place. Both drivers were able to continue, but had dropped down a few places.

In the final few stages, Ricciardo came close but not close enough to pass Hamilton. For Nico Rosberg though, there was sheer jubilation as he secured his second win in Monaco, and re-took the lead of the drivers’ championship.

The Thermal Club wants an IndyCar race, and series executives liked its initial impact at test

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THERMAL, Calif. – Many teams in the NTT IndyCar Series questioned the relevancy of having a two-day preseason test at The Thermal Club.

The team owners, drivers and engineers believed the 17-turn, 3.067-mile race course that winds and twists its way through a gated private community (about 45 minutes southeast of Palm Springs) had no relevance to any track on the 17-race schedule.

To the leaders of IndyCar, however, there was plenty of relevance to hosting its “Spring Training” at a sort of motorsports country club that caters to extremely wealthy residents who also are automotive enthusiasts.

“Both with our stakeholders and the media that covers IndyCar, we wanted them to know that we are going to do things differently,” Penske Entertainment CEO Mark Miles told NBC Sports from the private VIP viewing area that overlooks the long straights and twisting turns of the course. “This is going to be a year when we expect our growth to go to a whole new level.

“What better way to send that message than to be at a place we have never been that is exceptional?

“The quality of this place; the facilities are off the charts. The customer service, the welcoming feeling you get from the staff here. The track itself is fast. The drivers are having a great time on it.

FRIDAY SPEEDSThird session l Fourth session l Combined

‘AN AMAZING PLACE’: IndyCar and its big plans for Thermal

“It really sent a message to our other promoters and our drivers and team owners that something is up. We want fans around the country and the sports industry to know that something is going on with IndyCar this year.”

The Thermal Club is a concept driven by Tim Rogers, who made his fortune by supplying gasoline to 7-Eleven stores in 36 states. He wanted to create a private community that mixed multimillion-dollar homes and luxury villas with a high-speed race course.

The two-day IndyCar “Spring Training” was the most ambitious motorsports project yet for The Thermal Club.

Rogers wants it to be the first step in a long-term goal for the community.

“Our endgame is we want to host an IndyCar Series race at The Thermal Club one day,” Rogers told NBC Sports as IndyCar hit the track again Friday morning. “This was a good trial to see how the facility can handle it and if the facility works for them.”

Felix Rosenqvist makes laps in the No. 6 Arrow McLaren Dallara-Chevrolet during the first day of NTT IndyCar Series testing (Andy Abeyta/The Desert Sun / USA TODAY Sports Images).

The two-day test was closed to the general public. It was open only to credentialed news media, members of the Thermal Club and a limited number of their guests.

With the spectacular backdrop of the Coachella Valley that is rimmed with snow-capped mountains, The Thermal Club could provide a great setting for an NBC telecast of an IndyCar Series race (and possibly line up a big sponsor for a return on its investment with a larger than normal audience during a ripe time such as the first weekend of February).

NASCAR is using that same model Sunday at the Los Angeles Coliseum by hosting the Busch Light Clash. The National Football League’s AFC and NFC Championship games were last weekend and next Sunday is the Super Bowl.

“That could work, but we have room where we could separate the public and the private members area, too,” Rogers said. “We could accommodate 4,000 or so of the general public.

“This would be a premium event for a premium crowd.”


Rogers’ dream of The Thermal Club began 11 years ago. He will talk to IndyCar about a return for Spring Training next year with hopes of getting a date on the schedule for 2025.

“Whatever fits,” Rogers said.

Miles and Penske Entertainment, the owners of IndyCar, Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and the Indianapolis 500, realize Rogers has an ambitious dream of getting a race on the schedule.

Miles, however, isn’t ready to indicate that a race at Thermal is part of IndyCar’s future (though drivers seem open to the concept).

“Tim and everybody at The Thermal Club have done a phenomenal job of being hosts here for this test,” Miles said. “Everybody is very happy we are here, and I expect we will find a way to continue to be here. Whether that means a race and when is really a bridge we aren’t ready to cross yet.

“We really like opening the championship season each year in St. Petersburg, Florida. We’ll have to see. But it’s a great way to start the season in this way, and right now, we are happy to be here.”

Indycar Series Test - Day 1
Defending IndyCar champion Will Power takes laps at The Thermal Club during the first day of the track’s first test (Matthew Ashton – AMA/Getty Images).

On track, it was a successful two-day test session with 27 car/driver combinations that will compete in IndyCar in 2023. It’s the largest field for IndyCar since the 1990s. There were a few spins here and there but no major incidents across 2,560 laps.

Kyle Kirkwood led the final session Friday while getting acquainted with his new No. 27 team at Andretti Autosport. Kirkwood has replaced Alexander Rossi at Andretti, whom Kirkwood drove for in Indy Lights.

His time of 1 minute, 38.827 seconds (111.721 mph) around the 3.067-mile road course was the fastest of the fourth and final session. But the fastest speed over two days was defending Indy 500 winner Marcus Ericsson of Chip Ganassi Racing in the Friday morning session (1:38.4228, 112.182 mph in the No. 8 Honda).

Callum Ilott of Juncos Hollinger Racing was second in the final session at 1:38.8404 (111.707 mph) in the No. 77 Chevrolet. Rookie Marcus Armstrong of New Zealand was third at 1:38.8049 (111.707 mph) in the No. 11 Honda for Chip Ganassi Racing. Alex Palou of Chip Ganassi Racing was fourth at 1:38.8718 (111.672 mph) in the No. 10. Defending NTT IndyCar Series champion Will Power of Team Penske rounded out the top five at 1:38.9341 (111.602 mph) in the No. 12 Chevrolet.

Ericsson was the fastest in combined times followed by Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing’s Christian Lundgaard at 1:38.5682 in the No. 45 Honda, Kirkwood, Ilott and Armstrong. Positions 3-5 speeds were from the final practice session on Friday.

Indycar Series Test - Day 1
With members’ houses in the background, Romain Grosjean navigates the turns of The Thermal Club in his No. 28 Dallara-Honda (Matthew Ashton – AMA/Getty Images).

Drivers didn’t know what to expect before hitting the track. After the two-day test was over, NBC Sports asked several drivers what they learned from The Thermal Club.

“I think it’s a first-class facility, no doubt,” two-time NTT IndyCar Series champion Josef Newgarden of Team Penske said. “I think the entire facility here at Thermal really rolled out the red carpet for us. They did a tremendous job.

“It was a fairly flawless test, I would say, for two days. I think the great thing about this was we had a two-day test, which was fantastic. You got to have this warmup; this preseason build. That was the biggest positive for me, is that we were here, we were running cars. It was a great facility to do it at.

IndyCar Thermal Club test
Josef Newgarden said his No. 2 team (which has a new lead engineer) used The Thermal Club test as an opportunity for building cohesion (Matthew Ashton – AMA/Getty Images).
Indycar Series Test - Day 2
Josef Newgarden (Matthew Ashton – AMA/Getty Images).

“I think the track was a lot more fun than we anticipated. It was challenging, definitely technical. I don’t know how relevant it is. For us, it wasn’t really relevant to anywhere we’re going, but that’s OK.”

But even though the track has no sector particularly similar to any road or street course on the schedule, there still were benefits.

“In a lot of ways, it is relevant,” Newgarden said. “For us it was relevant for building the team up, trying to work in a competitive environment, be competitive together. That’s everything. So regardless of is the setup going to apply to a certain track or another, (it) doesn’t really matter.

“For us, it was applying the principles of how we’re going to work together. From that standpoint, it was very productive for everybody. Raceability-wise, it’s hard to say. It was chewing tires up. Big drop-off from run one to two. I think from a race standpoint, that would be quite positive. You’d have big tire deg here.

“You’d have to do more work on runoff areas if we wanted to race here, but it’s possible. I don’t think it would take much effort to do the things to run an actual race.”


Indycar Series Test - Day 1
Will Power (Matthew Ashton – AMA/Getty Images)

Kirkwood found speed in his Andretti Autosport machine, but he used the test to create a smooth working relationship with his new crew.

“I wouldn’t say that we found something here that is going to translate to anywhere, right?” the 2021 Indy Lights champion said. “This is a very unique track, although it was a lot of fun to drive, and it kind of surprised me in the amount of grip that it actually produced.

“It was quite a bit faster than what we expected.”

Many of the NTT IndyCar Series teams will test later this month at Sebring, Florida, as they prepare for the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg to kick off the season March 5.

“It’s a very nice facility, a nice area, it’s pretty cool to have two days of testing here with a lot of high-profile people,” two-time NTT IndyCar Series champion Will Power of Team Penske told NBC Sports. “It’s a very technical, tough track.

“It’s pretty good.”

Indycar Series Test - Day 2
IndyCar drivers turns laps on the second day of testing at The Thermal Club, which is nestled in the Coachella Valley that is ringed by mountains in Southern California (Matthew Ashton – AMA/Getty Images).

The Thermal Club received rave reviews, welcomed IndyCar and provided exposure to the movers and shakers of the business community that own the luxury villas and homes in this ultra-rich community.

Could it be a venue of the future for a series that sells lifestyle as much as on-track competition?

“This is a fantastic facility and the circuit is a fast circuit,” team owner Bobby Rahal told NBC Sports. “It’s pretty exciting to watch the cars run around here. I think it would be attractive to people.

“I’ll leave that up to Mark Miles and (IndyCar President) Jay Frye and everybody else whether we have a race here, but why not?

“It’s a great place.”

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500