Monaco GP 2015
MAY 25, 2015
Race Report - Catastrophe
BY DAN KNUTSON IN MONACO
There really was only one story about the Monaco Grand Prix. The way the Mercedes team made the ruinous decision for Lewis Hamilton to pit for tires with just 14 laps to go. Until then he had led comfortably after starting from pole position in his Mercedes. After that he was in third place and got to watch his teammate Nico Rosberg win in Monaco for the third consecutive year, and see Sebastian Vettel finish second in his Ferrari.
"I can't really express the way I feel at the moment," a crestfallen Hamilton said. "So I won't even attempt to."
"This is a race that has been very special...close to my heart for many years and so it was very important," he added. "It was a great feeling leading the race. I had so much pace as I have for many, many years, including last year. I could have easily had that gap last year as well.
"Today I didn't really have to push too much, I could have doubled the lead if I needed it so on the one hand it's a good thing that I had that pace and I'm grateful for that. You live to fight another day."
Hamilton and the Mercedes team will also dissect what went wrong on another day.
It all started to go wrong when Max Verstappen's Toro Rosso slashed alongside Romain Grosjean's Lotus on the straight. Verstappen's car slammed into the barriers into Turn 1 while Grosjean kept going. The Virtual Safety Car came "out" on lap 64 of 78, and then the real Safety Car came out the same lap.
At the time Hamilton had been leading by 19 seconds over Rosberg and Vettel. Now that lead was slashed to nothing. Now the engineers in the Mercedes pit were crunching numbers. Should they tell their drivers to pit for new tires?
At some circuits this would be an almost automatic yes. At Monaco, where passing is virtually impossible, it almost always would be an automatic no. So why did Mercedes tell Hamilton to pit and hand the lead to Rosberg and second place to Vettel?
"What the hell happened there, that is exactly the right question," Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff admitted afterwards. "The simple answer is we got the math wrong, the calculation wrong. We thought we had a gap which we didn't have when the Safety Car came out and Lewis was behind the Safety Car. The calculation was simply wrong and that's what happened."
Part of the problem is that the teams so not have GPS in Monaco because of all the buildings, so they cannot keep exact track of where all the cars are relative to the other cars.
Meanwhile, Hamilton was adding his own information into the mix.
"You rely on the team," he said. "I saw a (giant TV) screen; it looked like the team was out and I thought that Nico (Rosberg) had pitted. Obviously I couldn't see the guys (Rosberg and Sebastian Vettel) behind so I thought the guys behind were pitting.
"The team said to stay out, I said: 'these tires are going to drop in temperature,' and what I was assuming was that these guys would be on Options and I was on the harder tire. So, they said to pit. Without thinking I came in with full confidence that the others had done the same."
The boffins at Mercedes were afraid that if Vettel pitted for new super soft tires he would be able to hunt down Hamilton who was on the well worn tires.
"The decision is being made jointly with a lot of information at the same time but in a fraction of seconds you need to make a call," Wolff said. "We tried to make as much input as possible from the engineers, from the management and from the driver and then you take a decision. In that case the algorithm was wrong."
Wrong indeed. Very wrong.
What was the big story of the Monaco Grand Prix? The devastated, dejected, bewildered look on Hamilton's face said it all.