x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Formula One: Rumbles of discontent after Nico Rosberg claims Monaco Grand Prix

Mercedes-GP driver crosses the line ahead of Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel but complaints over tyre test blemish the win

Mercedes' German driver Nico Rosberg leads after the start of the Monaco Grand Prix.
Mercedes' German driver Nico Rosberg leads after the start of the Monaco Grand Prix.

MONTE CARLO // Nico Rosberg completed a perfect weekend to claim the crown jewel on the F1 calendar, but the Monaco resident’s victory was quickly followed by claims that his Mercedes-GP team had performed the motorsport equivalent of a heist by breaking rules to reach their objectives.

The German driver, who had topped the timesheets in all three practice sessions and qualified in the pole position, claimed only his second career win yesterday on the scenic streets of Monte Carlo, the city in which he has lived almost all his life.

He called it “unbelievable” and “incredible” and “unreal” and could hardly contain his joy – until a reporter asked him about the paddock storm that was brewing below the beautiful blue sky.

Red Bull Racing and Ferrari had learnt Mercedes earlier this month secretly completed 1,000km of track testing on Pirelli’s unpredictable tyres.

Pirelli insisted the test was legal, adding that Ferrari had completed a similar test last month. The contentious issue, however, is that while Ferrari used a 2011 model, Mercedes ran a 2013 car.

In-season testing is prohibited under rules set by the Federation Internationale de l’Automobile, world motorsports governing body.

Red Bull and Ferrari lodged a breach-of-regulations complaint and all parties involved were summoned to private hearings with race stewards.

Two-and-a-half hours after the final meeting, the stewards announced they will write a report on the protest and “may bring the matter before the International Tribunal”.

A smiling Rosberg, when quizzed on the benefits Mercedes might have taken from a three-day test, turned grave, replying curtly: “You have to ask Pirelli about that. I’m not going to comment.”

It was an embarrassing, regrettable end to what should have been a momentous afternoon for Rosberg, whose father Keke won the Monaco Grand Prix 30 years ago this month.

The 27 year old led from lights-out to the chequered flag in what was a stuttering, stop-start race peppered with shunts, two safety car periods, a red flag and plenty twisted, tangled metal.

Ferrari’s Felipe Massa and Pastor Maldonado of Williams were involved in separate serious crashes, while Romain Grosjean and Daniel Ricciardo collided late in the afternoon.

Grosjean, Lotus’s French driver, was given a 10-place grid penalty for the next race in Canada for his part in the accident.

Rosberg, however, despite a poor start, managed to avoid all trouble.

The 2012 Chinese Grand Prix winner held on through the first corner and once he found rhythm, he never looked in danger of being passed by teammate Lewis Hamilton or the Red Bull pair of Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber.

On taking the chequered flag, he pointed a yellow-gloved hand to the sky. “It’s amazing,” Rosberg said.

“This is my home, I’ve grown up here all my life and it’s really special. The whole weekend went perfectly.

“I had a terrible start and I was close with Sebastian and Lewis, but after that I controlled the pace. I’m ecstatic.”

Vettel, the championship leader, finished in second while Webber came third after Hamilton had slipped behind during the first round of pit-stops.

Vettel, the three-time world champion, conceded Mercedes had the rest of the field under control, driving slowly and looking after their vulnerable tyres while not being overtaken because of the track’s unique lay-out.

“[Mercedes] did what worked best for them,” Vettel said. “It was clear what they were doing a couple of laps after the start. You are expecting two Silver Arrows in front of you and there were two buses going for a cruise instead. Fair play, they were in the lead, and it is very tricky to pass. Every time I tried to get close, they reacted. They could afford to go slow and they had the pace to pick it up again. “

In pure driving terms, there were no complaints about Mercedes’s performance.

But Red Bull team principal Christian Horner had alluded to his rivals possibly benefiting from the in-season running and Webber said he had been “a little bit surprised” to learn of the test, which neither team nor tyre manufacturer had mentioned, despite several opportunities over the weekend. “Their car was always going to perform pretty well around here, to be fair,” Webber added.

“You can’t unlearn what went on at that test, obviously, so we need to see how the test came about and whether it’s within the rules or not. I’m sure Mercedes thought it was OK, so that’s why they did it. Time will tell, but I don’t think it affected the result.”

It may not have affected the result, but it affected the aftermath: Rosberg’s moment in the Mediterranean sun blemished by a tyre protest.

Even when the rubber compounds do not negatively influence the racing, they seem to threaten to overshadow the event.

gmeenaghan@thenational.ae