Nico Rosberg has become just the fourth driver in Formula 1 history to claim a third successive victory at the Monaco Grand Prix after capitalizing on a strategy error by Mercedes for race leader Lewis Hamilton under a late safety car period.
Hamilton held onto the lead from pole position and looked poised to go wire-to-wire, enjoying a 15-second plus lead over Rosberg before a crash between Max Verstappen and Romain Grosjean prompted the safety car to be deployed.
Mercedes opted to pit Hamilton for fresh tires, believing him to have enough of an advantage to retain his lead, only for him to rejoin the track in third place behind Rosberg and Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel.
With overtaking being so difficult, Hamilton was unable to wrestle back the lead, allowing Rosberg to ease home and claim his third straight victory around the streets of Monaco by 4.4 seconds.
At the start, Hamilton made a fine getaway from pole to hang onto the lead of the race as Rosberg came under pressure from Vettel and Daniil Kvyat for position, with the latter jumping Red Bull teammate Daniel Ricciardo for fourth place off the line. Further back, Nico Hulkenberg was forced to pit after just one lap after being pushed into the wall at Mirabeau by Fernando Alonso, who received a five-second time penalty for his part in the incident.
Felipe Massa also came unstuck following a run-in with Pastor Maldonado, leaving him a lap down on the leaders early on. Maldonado’s race lasted just eight laps, though, as a brake-by-wire system failure forced him to retire for the fifth time in 2015.
Hamilton quickly set about opening up a gap at the front of the field, moving into a 2.5 second lead over Rosberg. A front-brake issue meant that he could not initially pull away with the pace that Mercedes had been hoping for. The team remained them wary of a possible challenge from Vettel in third place as the Ferrari driver managed to keep both Mercedes cars in sight at the front.
The issue did not appear to be hurting Hamilton too much, though, as he managed to put another seven seconds on the rest of the field before pitting. Vettel continued to carve into Rosberg in the fight for second place, moving to within a second of the Mercedes driver ahead of the first round of stops. However, Ferrari opted against bringing him in too early in a bid to get the undercut on Rosberg, eventually giving him the nod on lap 37 of the race.
Predictably, Mercedes reacted by bringing Rosberg in just one lap later, managing to get the German driver back out just ahead of Vettel in second place. Hamilton pitted soon after his teammate, and with a healthy lead under his belt, he had little problem in retaining his advantage at the front of the field.
Further back, Kimi Raikkonen began to pile pressure on Daniel Ricciardo in the race for fourth place as Daniil Kvyat got caught up in traffic further back. The Russian managed to do enough to stay ahead of the duo, but Raikkonen’s blistering inlap allowed him to pass Ricciardo through the stops and get up into fifth position.
Despite being hit with a time penalty for his earlier run-in with Hulkenberg, Fernando Alonso managed to hold on to ninth place when he stopped. His race went little further, though, as another problem on his car forced him to park his car up at the first corner and leave Jenson Button to fight alone for the team in eighth place.
After pitting, Hamilton was able to put his foot down and open up the gap to Rosberg even further, moving it to over ten seconds within a few laps of getting back on track. From then on, the Briton simply had to control his pace at the front of the field.
Max Verstappen’s race came to a dramatic end with 15 laps remaining in Monaco after he hit Romain Grosjean when trying to make a pass at Sainte Devote. Thankfully, the 17-year-old walked away from the crash, but the safety car had to be deployed to allow his car to be cleared.
Mercedes took the decision to pit Hamilton under the safety car for fresh tires, believing that his lead was big enough for him to retain the lead of the race. However, Rosberg and Vettel carried on, allowing them to move ahead of Hamilton into first and second place respective.
Hamilton was quick to radio the team and ask if he had lost the race, but the team kept him calm, saying that he would have the advantage of fresh tires in the final stages of the race. The incident between Verstappen and Grosjean allowed Carlos Sainz Jr to move up into the points, but with eight laps remaining once the race resumed, there was still plenty to play for.
On the restart, Rosberg quickly pulled away from Vettel and Hamilton as the Briton toiled behind the Ferrari. Despite closing through the slow corners, the superior traction of the Ferrari allowed Vettel to pull away and hold onto second place.
In the sister Mercedes, Rosberg was having no such trouble. After being second best for the majority of the race, the German driver crossed the line after 78 laps to win his third straight race around the streets of Monaco and cut Hamilton’s championship lead to just ten points.
In second place, Vettel also benefitted greatly from Mercedes’ error as his strong start to life with Ferrari continued. Hamilton was less than impressed by the mistake, though, saying that it was “impossible to pass” in the late stages of the race.
Another beneficiary was Daniel Ricciardo, who used the safety car to squeeze past Kimi Raikkonen for fifth place. He was then allowed to pass teammate Daniil Kvyat by the team given his fresher tires, moving up him to fourth place. However, he fairly handed the place back to Kvyat at the line, allowing the Russian to score his best ever result in F1. A disgruntled Raikkonen was left to finish in sixth place ahead of Sergio Perez.
McLaren may have lost Alonso once again, but Jenson Button managed to finish the race in eighth place to pick up the team’s first points of the season and the first of the new McLaren-Honda era. Felipe Nasr and Carlos Sainz Jr rounded out the points in ninth and tenth place respectively.