The start of the European season in Formula 1 in Spain a little over two weeks ago may have sparked a turning point in the race for the 2015 drivers’ championship. Lewis Hamilton’s 27-point lead at the top of the standings has been whittled down to just ten in the past 15 days following two victories for Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg.
It was the perfect time for Rosberg to claim back-to-back wins for the first time in his F1 career. In Spain, he was dominant, leaving Hamilton in the shade for much of the weekend. The tables turned in Monaco, though, as the Briton charged to his first pole position around the streets of the principality before storming into the distance. With just 14 laps remaining, victory looked certain.
A cruel twist of fate then befell Hamilton. The safety car was deployed following a large accident between Romain Grosjean and Max Verstappen on lap 64, prompting Mercedes to bring the race leader into the pits for a fresh set of tyres. The team believed that he would retain his lead as the gap to the rest of the field was so big, but when he sidled out of the pit lane, he was down to third place behind Rosberg and Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel.
“I’ve lost this race, haven’t I?” Hamilton said to the team. Despite being reassured that he would be able to pass the cars ahead with fresher tyres, the Briton could not overtake due to the tight and twisting nature of the Monaco circuit. Crossing the line in third place, he was desolate.
This was particularly clear in the podium ceremony. Just as Rosberg cracked open his bottle of champagne and went to celebrate with the Mercedes team, Hamilton – champagne still corked – walked away from the podium to speak with team boss Toto Wolff. He wanted an answer to why he had been denied a sure-fire victory.
To the disappointment of the conspiracy theorists, there was nothing untoward about Mercedes’ call or any kind of favouritism. It was simply a mathematical error – Mercedes had tried to be too clever and taken a risk to give Hamilton a bigger win. Rosberg admitted after the race that the Briton had been the better driver, but remained ecstatic after becoming just the fourth driver in history to win three straight Monaco Grands Prix.
What was most impressive about the race was how Rosberg and Hamilton handled themselves in light of the result. Hamilton was disappointed, but he did not publicly criticise the team. Instead, he vowed to come back stronger and win in Monaco next year. He even shook Rosberg’s hand on the podium in a touching gesture. Rosberg also was understated given the enormity of his victory, acting with great respect and recognition for his fortune.
Everyone knew that Lewis Hamilton deserved to win in Monaco. The fact he didn’t may hurt the Briton now, but heading into the rest of the season, he knows that he is still the driver to beat.
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