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Rencken: Rosberg win 'tainted'

2013-05-27 09:16

NO BETTER MOTIVATION: Nico Rosberg could not hide his emotions after winning the 2013 Monaco GP on Sunday, May 26, after his dad Keke Rosberg won there 30 years ago. Image: AFP


MONTE CARLO, Monaco - It was no surprise that Nico Rosberg took pole in imperious fashion for Mercedes on the streets through which the son of 1982 World champion  (and former Monaco GPwinner) Keke once strolled to school, for his Mercedes W04GP has this year proven the class of the field over a single lap.

That the 27-year-old persuaded his Pirelli supersofts to last 31 laps to the first stop was. It was astounding and provided the key to the first ‘son of’ victory in the principality.

The win owed as much as to the inherent speed of the silver car as to recent development aimed at curing its appetite for rear-end rubber as it did equally to fortuitous timing of a red flag and two tyre- tending Safety Car phases.

The tragedy for Rosberg, though, is that his second career win will for ever be tainted by accusations that Mercedes and Pirelli colluded to conduct a ‘secret’ two-day, 1000km test immediately after the Barcelona race – where Rosberg started from his second consecutive pole, then slid down to finish sixth, 70sec behind winner Fernando Alonso’s Ferrari.


That matter – which on the face of it breaches the sport’s testing regulations which ban all types of in-season testing save where two-year-old cars are used with official permission - was branded ‘farcical’, ‘illegal’ and ‘cheating’ by opposition team bosses and is now in the hands of an FIA tribunal after post-race investigation by the stewards.

However, before escalating the issue, they at least confirmed the 78-lap race’s results, thus pronouncing Rosberg, who overshadowed team mate Lewis Hamilton throughout the weekend, winner of the season’s sixth (of 19) round. In theory nothing can now deprive him of his well-deserved win. Time will tell...

Once pole had been captured Rosberg’s game plan was simple: drive fast enough to stay at the sharp end, yet slowly enough to make his supersofts last 40% of race distance, then coax the remaining 45-odd laps out of the designated prime tyre, the soft. Thus he was able to negate the advantage of those with more benign cars/styles – causing intense frustration behind him as his opponents fell over each other in an eight-car train at times covered by as many seconds.


The first pace car phase, caused when Felipe Massa (Ferrari) on lap 30 endured his second high-speed crash of the weekend – the Brazilian was subsequently given the medical once-over but released – had little influence on the race save that, coinciding as it did with the planned first stops, drivers eased their rubber up to optimum temperature behind the AMG Mercedes pace car

However, the stop proved crucial for Hamilton who, having started alongside Rosberg, shadowed his team mate before pitting “too slowly” a lap later, rejoined fourth behind the Red Bulls of Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber, who had circulated in close formation after starting from the second row.

Also running in qualifying order were fifth and sixth-placed Kimi Raikkonen (Lotus) and Alonso – although the latterwas soon to lose pace and suffer the ignominy of being passed by Adrian Sutil’s Force India in one of two superb manoeuvres pulled by the German on World champions – the other was his take on Jenson Button’s McLaren.


But, a 20-minute red-flag interruption on lap 47 after Pastor Maldonado dislodged the barriers in an accident involving his Williams and both Marussia’s sealed victory for Rosberg, for the current regulations permit a change of rubber during the stop, enabling the field to switch to supersofts for the final sprint to the flag on a circuit on which overtaking is only for the desperate.

Rosberg knew his "slowly enough-fast enough" strategy could do it if he kept his nose clean and in this he was aided by the race’s second (and final) pace-car phase, caused by Romain Grosjean’s rear-ending of Daniel Ricciardo’s Toro Rosso in a clumsy move which earned the Lotus driver a 10-slot grid penalty for Canada in a fortnight.

These five laps of nose-to-stern running provided enough of a reprieve for the supersofts, and then it was effectively over bar the slow-down lap yelling as Rosberg won by four seconds from Vettel, who thus extended his championship lead (107 points) over his closest challengers who finished (well behind) the triple champion, with Webber (57 points, fifth) completing the podium.


“It is such a special place to win,” the winner said after a familial hug from dad, “and it just feels amazing today. It was my childhood dream to win this race and to do it in a Silver Arrow on the streets where I have lived all my life is fantastic.”

Hamilton’s fourth (62 points, fourth) caused his adoring British media pack to re-evaluate their tattooed, bulldog-totin' darling’s pace – Rosberg has now become the elephant in Lewis’s lounge: when Rosberg in his early career beat Webber at Williams the take was that the Australian was unproven; when Rosberg did same to Michael Schumacher at Mercedes the seven-times champion was said to be (well) beyond his prime.

Now, though, Rosberg (47 points, sixth) is running rings around a known quantity and could well be ahead of Lewis in the same car in the championship but for two mechanical failures and that Malaysian team instruction which ordered him not to challenge Hamilton in the closing stages. “Remember it…” Rosberg said at the time.

Sutil’s fifth brought a fillip to Force India on a weekend when the 100m yacht owned by team boss Vijay Mallya proved the star attraction of the harbour’s party scene, with Jenson Button driving a typical percentage race in the off-pace McLaren to take sixth from ninth on the grid.

At least the 2009 champion brought home points for McLaren; more than can be said of team mate Sergio Perez, branded "an idiot" by the normally monosyllabic Raikkonen after the Mexican took them both off. This led to brake failure for the McLaren driver and a puncture for the Finn, who recovered to finish 10th and thus extend his record stretch of 23 consecutive points finishes. Kimi has now completed every race since making his return in 2012 after a two-year tenure in World rallying.


An eventual seventh was Alonso’s lot on a day when the Ferrari was simply not quick enough, although the 2005/6 champion (78 points, third) did after the race admit to having taken it carefully in a damage-limitation exercise: “We are fighting for the championship, today it was more important for me to bring home as many points as possible.”

Jean-Eric Vergne in the surviving Toro Rosso was next up, the Frenchman wearing a replica of his idol Francois Cervert’s helmet – yet strangely, when Kimi paid homage to James Hunt, he was asked to hide all reference to the 1976 champion by F1 tsar Bernie Ecclestone – with Paul di Resta (Force India) driving a superb race to finish ninth from 17th on the grid after a tyre mix up in qualifying. Raikkonen (86 points, second) completed the top 10.

Thus the day was extremely sunny for Rosberg in a place filled with rather shady people but the biggest shadow hangs over Mercedes, which is fighting not only for its reputation but also its World championship points. In theory the sanction – should the team indeed be found to be in breach of the regulations – could swing either way, from paltry fine to exclusion from the championship.

Whatever, it seems Mercedes learned an awful lot about rubber conservation during those two days in Spain…

Stay with Wheels24 for the 2013 Formula 1 season – fresh reports every day.
Read more on:    mercedes  |  2013 monaco gp  |  nico rosberg  |  formula 1

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