Formula Spy's Thomas Maher on the fallout from Monaco and what's to come in Canada
Nico Rosberg is a silly man. A very sporting and fair one, but a silly one nonetheless.
Having started the Monaco race from P2, he held that position early on and led his main championship rival on track at the circuit most famed for a lack of overtaking opportunities. Lewis Hamilton sat forlornly behind Nico, lap after lap, while Daniel Ricciardo sprinted away at the front. Nico's 40+ point lead over Lewis in the Driver's Championship was looking handy, as the German driver struggled around with brake issues that would plague him throughout the afternoon. That was until Nico decided to lift off the throttle on the exit of St. Devote and allow Lewis to charge past on the run up the hill. Admirable, when you think about it. One member of the team knows he can't compete for the win, so lets his teammate through to have a go. Nico fell back down the order over the remaining laps, while Lewis chased after and, eventually, inherited the win from Daniel Ricciardo after a pit error from Red Bull.
Rosberg explained the decision afterwards: "It was a simple decision to accept the request from the team to let Lewis past - even if it hurt very much in that moment. I was very far off the pace and Lewis quite clearly had the speed to win for the team. We've always had that rule - if you're ahead and the other guy has a chance to win, you give him that chance."
The only issue with Rosberg's sense of fair play is that Nico and Lewis are direct competitors for a bigger prize and, while the day worked out for Mercedes as a team, Nico lost 19 of his 43 point lead over Lewis.
Mercedes driver Nico Rosberg of Germany waits in his car ahead of the second free practice at the Monaco racetrack in Monaco, Monaco, Thursday, May 26, 2016. The Formula one race will be held on Sunday. (AP Photo/Petr David Josek)
Championships have been decided by far narrower margins than the one Rosberg handed on a plate to his main rival. Roles reversed, would Hamilton have done the same for Nico? It's not particularly likely. Think back to Hungary 2014 when Hamilton led Rosberg on track at the midpoint of the race, with Nico then on the optimal strategy. Lewis was asked to move aside, and he replied: "I'm not slowing down for Nico. If he gets close enough to overtake, he can overtake me." Lewis finished ahead of Nico in that race.
Is that mindset difference the one that separates a three time champion from a merely excellent racer? Or was Monaco an attempt from Rosberg to placate his bosses after the pair collided in Barcelona? Had Nico refused to yield for even one lap more, Hamilton would have ended up coming out behind Ricciardo after the dodgy Red Bull stop, and wouldn't have won the race. Being the nice guy will do wonders for Rosberg's longevity with the team, particularly at a time where his contract is up for renewal. Being the nice guy will relieve the tension between himself and Hamilton, with Lewis embracing Nico and calling him a "gentleman" at the post-race Mercedes debrief. But being the nice guy also brought Lewis right back into play for the title. If Nico loses the title by less than 19 points, Nico can look back at Monaco and his moment of "being the nice guy" as the reason why.
Speaking of nice guys, let's talk about Daniel Ricciardo. Miserable is a word that doesn't apply, ever, to him. The Australian driver is famed for a beaming smile and a friendly and approachable nature. The kind of guy you want hanging out at your barbecue, provided you're fairly sure that your girlfriend won't proceed to immediately fall in love with him. Monaco was an unusual event, in that there was a very different attitude from Ricciardo all weekend. Losing out to new hotshot teammate Max Verstappen in Barcelona, even through what seemed a completely chance strategy error, seemed to light a fire under him. Armed with the new and much-improved Renault engine, Ricciardo went out and blitzed the Mercedes drivers in practice. Over half a second quicker on the same tyres, neither Nico Rosberg or Lewis Hamilton could get close to the Red Bull. While it was an assured and crushing display of pace, Ricciardo had a hot-headed moment on track when he felt he was blocked by the Ferrari of Kimi Raikkonen. Despite being on an in-lap, Ricciardo flipped the bird at the Finn and said nasty things about him over the radio, words that are unprintable.
Mercedes' drivers Nico Rosberg (left) and Lewis Hamilton shake hands after qualifying at the Circuit de Monaco, Monaco. Picture by: David Davies / PA Wire/Press Association Images
Everything fell his way over the weekend. Taking his first ever pole position in F1, the rain on Sunday arguably added to his advantage, due to the Red Bull chassis being the best in the field for mechanical grip. The decision to go with a Safety Car start removed the variable of a standing start, and the use of a Virtual Safety Car for incidents during the race meant that, unlike the past, his lead was never wiped out by the inevitable Monaco carnage. And yet, he still finished P2. A late decision from the team to swap from UltraSofts to SuperSofts meant that neither were ready for him and he lost nine seconds jacked up in the pits with no wheels on his wagon. Such had been his pace over Hamilton, himself having pitted and struggling on the UltraSoft tyre, Ricciardo still only barely lost the lead. But that agonising extra second or two made the difference, and it was written all over Ricciardo's face afterwards. "I actually hate being like this." he said in the press conference. "I hate being miserable. I got a podium in Monaco. I should be extremely happy, grateful and thankful. I’ve been fast now for two races and that’s the positive, but again no win so I’m a little bit sick of being fast and not getting any real rewards. I don’t like being the sad story."
Where better for Ricciardo to seek to redress the balance than Canada? The track is another street circuit, and the exact same tyre compounds as Monaco are being used. It's a very different track, though, with long straights and heavy braking zones the order of the day. Brakes are under such stress here, that both Mercs encountered problems in 2014. Daniel Ricciardo won that day, the first non-Mercedes win of the then-new and current formula. With Renault's engine performance significantly improved with their recent updates, Red Bull have a genuine shot of taking the fight to Mercedes. Max Verstappen will also get the new engine, having spent the Monaco weekend running the old one into the barriers lining the track. Expect him and Ricciardo to be right at the front in Montreal, with Daniel aiming to can reclaim his smile.
Ferrari have upgrades to their power unit coming, expected in Canada this weekend. After a poor race in Monaco, they should be much more on the pace in Montreal, presumably mixing it up with the Mercs and Red Bulls. Williams could also join in this pack; they’ve been strong at this circuit for the last two years, with Valtteri Bottas finishing on the podium in last year’s race. Even McLaren could end up fighting relatively near the front, as they roll out upgrades to the Honda power unit which are set to see big power gains for both Jenson Button and Fernando Alonso.
Thomas Maher is the co-founder of Irish motorsport website Formula Spy.com.