Monte Carlo (dpa) – Nico Rosberg of Mercedes clinched an unlikely Monaco Grand Prix victory Sunday – his third Monaco win in a row – after a tactical blunder by the team left Lewis Hamilton third.
World champion Hamilton was coasting to victory from pole but came in for soft tyres when the safety car was needed following a high-speed collision involving Max Verstappen and Romain Grosjean with 12 laps remaining.
Rosberg and Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel both stayed out, and amid confusion within the team Hamilton was stunned to emerge from the pit lane third just behind Vettel with little chance of overtaking even on fresh tyres after the safety car went in with eight laps left.
“What’s happened guys?” Hamilton asked over the team radio. “I’ve lost the race haven’t I?”
“I’m sorry about that, Lewis,” engineer Peter Bonnington told Hamilton over the radio, and the team immediately after the race admitted the error.
“We thought the gap was different to what it was. A complete misjudgement, I am so sorry. We screwed it up for him (Hamilton),” Mercedes motorsport chief Toto Wolff said.
Television relays showed that Hamilton was in fact held up by the safety car just before pitting, which cost him vital time.
Hamilton could only congratulate Rosberg, who joined Ayrton Senna, Alain Prost and Graham Hill in winning the Monaco GP in three consecutive years.
“Lewis drove brilliantly and would have deserved the win for sure but that’s the way it is in racing,” Rosberg said.
“I know I got lucky today, I will just enjoy the moment now. Lewis was a little bit stronger this weekend so I have to work hard.”
Rosberg, who was victorious in Spain two weeks ago, closes the gap in the drivers’ standings to 10 points on Hamilton, 126 to 116, while Vettel advances to 98.
Hamilton had led from pole position and appeared on his way to another dominant win in a race of little incident until the late safety car drama opened the door wide open for Rosberg.
Seventeen-year-old Dutch rookie Verstappen, attempting to get by 10th-place Grosjean, hit the Lotus and went straight into a barrier at high speed at Saint Devote turn before climbing out of his damaged car apparently unhurt.
Rosberg took the chequered flag 4.486 seconds up on Vettel, ahead of a clearly downcast Hamilton, who drove slowly back to the grid, third.
“It was not the easiest of races. The team as done amazing all year long, we win and we lose together,” Hamilton said in a first reaction.
Asked what was going through his mind, he replied: “Come back and win the next one.”
Red Bull’s Daniil Kvyat came in fourth, ahead of team-mate Daniel Ricciardo, who nudged Ferarri’s Kimi Raikkonen out of the way in a controversial overtaking move with two laps remaining.
The top 10 was completed by Force India’s Sergio Perez, Jenson Button with McLaren in the points for the first time this season, Sauber’s Felipe Nasr and Toro Rosso’s Carlos Sainz.
While Button could celebrate first points for McLaren, team-mate Fernando Alonso was slapped a five-second penalty after touching Force India’s Nico Huelkenberg, before the Spaniard’s race ended on lap 42 with a gearbox problem.