Monaco: Germany’s Nico Rosberg won the showcase Monaco Grand Prix for the second year in a row on Sunday to snatch back the Formula One world championship lead from Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton.
Rosberg’s second victory of the season, from a controversial pole position that increased the tension between the two title rivals, took his points tally after six races to 122 with Hamilton on 118.
The Briton, who complained 13 laps from the end that he had something in his eye and could not see properly, was second as dominant Mercedes chalked up a sixth win in a row and fifth successive one-two finish.
“It’s another special day for me, for sure,” said Rosberg of his fifth career win. “Lewis drove well and pushed me massively hard. The pressure was on but I kept it cool and pulled a bit of a gap at the end.”
Australian Daniel Ricciardo took third after chasing Hamilton nose-to-tail to the finish while quadruple world champion teammate Sebastian Vettel, in his 100th race for Red Bull, retired after eight laps with a power unit problem.
Nico Hulkenberg finished fifth for the third time this season after Sergio Perez suffered a crash in the first lap as Sahara Force India secured 10 points under overcast conditions.
Hulkenberg showed great control to take fifth position after starting 11th from the grid in the race in which eight drivers suffered retirements.
The result meant that Force India remained in fourth position with 67 points but since Fernando Alonso finished fourth, third-placed Ferrari have increased the gap by taking the points tally to 78.
Perez’s race ended in the first lap when he was hit by the McLaren of Jenson Button.
After coping with two safety car interludes, Rosberg took the chequered flag 9.2 seconds ahead of Hamilton after the two had spent the first half of the race with little to separate them.
Hamilton, who had been embroiled in controversy on Saturday when he suggested Rosberg might have deliberately brought out yellow flags in qualifying to prevent the Briton beating him to pole, had a comparatively low-key afternoon.
The wheel-banging drama and Ayrton Senna-Alain Prost style rivalry that some had expected, or hoped for, never materialised and Hamilton’s hopes faded entirely when he told his team over the radio about his vision problem.
“It was just something that came through the visor – it was nothing important,” he told movie actor Benedict Cumberbatch in a post-race podium interview.
“It was a good day for us – it’s very important for the team to get another one-two. I had great pace and I felt I was strong but it’s incredibly difficult to overtake,” he added, even if the body language indicated the pair would not be dining together any time soon.
In a 78-lap race of attrition, with only 14 finishers out of the starting 22 on a dry but overcast afternoon, Rosberg lapped all but the three cars behind him.
Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso took fourth place with Nico Hulkenberg fifth for Force India and Jenson Button back in the points in sixth with McLaren after the team had gone three races in a row without.
Felipe Massa was seventh for Williams, ahead of two Frenchmen – Romain Grosjean in a Lotus and an astonishing ninth for Marussia’s Jules Bianchi despite serving two stop/go penalties.
Bianchi’s points, the first for his struggling Russian-licensed team since they entered the sport in 2010 as Virgin Racing, brought the champagne out as much as any podium celebration.
McLaren’s Danish rookie Kevin Magnussen took the final point in 10th.
Behind them, there was carnage with a spate of engine failures and collisions that twice saw the safety car speeding out of the pit lane to lead the field through the metal-fenced streets of the principality.
Venezuelan Pastor Maldonado was not involved in any of them, after stalling his Lotus on the formation lap, but Mexican Sergio Perez crashed at Mirabeau after being tagged by Button on the opening lap. That brought out the safety car for two laps while the Force India was craned away.
It was deployed again, triggering a spate of pit stops, on lap 26 when Sauber’s Adrian Sutil crashed at the tunnel exit – his sixth race without a point – and speared into the barriers.