What a difference a day makes, as the song goes. After qualifying on Monaco pole Daniel Ricciardo had the broadest of grins, somehow even wider than his habitual one. Lewis Hamilton, starting third after more bad luck, was conspicuously gloomy. But 24 hours on, come the end of the race, their demeanours were almost exactly reversed.
That though doesn’t really tell the tale as both had right to feel content with a personal job well done. In modern F1’s most challenging circumstances – Monaco with all of its nearby barriers and rain – it was near enough two hours of flawless inspiration from the pair as they left the rest for a race of their own. Appropriately the sport’s best two wet-weather drivers probably. As well as the two bravest.
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Ricciardo looked the quicker throughout, plus he had an advantage of 14 seconds established early after Hamilton was rather bottled up by his struggling team mate Nico Rosberg for a while, before Nico resolved to release his stable mate. Lewis therefore realised that to prevail he needed to do something different. Which he did.
Almost alone he eschewed a stop to switch from full wet tyres to intermediates, reckoning he’d need to change onto dry weather tyres shortly anyway and, crucially, the move would get him track position ahead of Ricciardo. And Monaco is still Monaco – to pass you need to be several seconds a lap faster.
Even so the race still appeared to be in Ricciardo’s hand. He stalked Lewis and when the track was dry enough for slick tyres after Lewis pitted the Australian put in a swift in-lap on his scrubbed in rubber to give his pit crew plenty of time to make his own change and get him back out still in the lead.
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But they took that time and more, as they made a mess of it, not having new tyres ready when Ricciardo arrived. And it wasn’t the usual case of the driver taking his team by surprise, Ricciardo was clear later that he was called in and well in advance of arriving. Instead it seems it was an old-fashioned mess up.
From then the day was largely done, and indeed Lewis was still ahead at the end. Monaco is still Monaco. It got tight a couple of times, particularly on lap 38 when Lewis under pressure cut the chicane and then rather cut Ricciardo up on the way out. The stewards investigated it but agreed no action was required, which was just about right. The only remaining source of doubt was that Lewis had put on ultra-softs (compared with Ricciardo’s super-softs) which would need careful nursing to make it to the end. This Lewis did to a nicety.
Nico, struggling with grip and in traffic after a poor stop of his own, staggered home seventh to make Lewis’s day even better. Sergio Perez in third, Sebastian Vettel in fourth and Fernando Alonso in fifth, among a few others, put in fine and brave performances too.
Whatever else Monaco is it’s a place where things can be guaranteed to happen. And a place where the best drivers of the age put in their most exhilarating work. This time, we got all of this.
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