Nico Rosberg has snatched victory from the jaws of defeat after an enormous Mercedes strategic blunder demoted Lewis Hamilton to third.
Lewis Hamilton had led the vast majority of the race, but Mercedes misjudged its timing when it called him into the pits during a late safety car interlude, dropping him behind Rosberg and Sebastian Vettel.
The safety car was triggered when Max Verstappen crashed into the back of Romain Grosjean at turn one on lap 64.
The crash — which saw Verstappen misjudge Grosjean’s braking manoeuvre and career at full speed into the outside of turn one — prompted a safety car, and Mercedes called Lewis into the pits for a tyre change.
Hamilton switched from the soft to the supersoft tyre, but exited the pits behind the new leader and second-place holder Rosberg and Sebastian Vettel.
Confusion initially reigned as the teams and the FIA assessed which driver first crossed the second safety car line at the pit lane exit, but video replays showed Vettel clearly leading Hamilton, settling the order.
Racing resumed on lap 68, giving Hamilton 10 laps to rectify his team’s strategic error, but passing proved impossible once the Ferrari got its tyres up to temperature.
Making matters worse, he spent the final three laps fending off an attack from Daniel Ricciardo, who closed rapidly on the corked Mercedes.
Mercedes executive director Toto Wolff marked the decision down to a mistake in reading the timing screens, and the team admitted it had robbed Lewis out of his first Monaco victory since 2008 after his first pole position in the principality.
Initial readings of the blatant error by the Mercedes pit wall suggest that the team read the brief initial FIA message directing that a virtual safety car would be called in the aftermath of the Verstappen crash.
The FIA quickly changed its mind, however, and deployed the physical safety car.
The two safety procedures operate subtly differently — the virtual safety car mandates all cars lap slower than a specified delta time, effectively preserving the gaps between individual cars, whereas an ordinary safety car bunches up the field.
Mercedes suggested it had miscalculated the time between Hamilton and Rosberg, perhaps because of the effective gap change because of the switch in safety car modes.
Hamilton later suggested he had played a part in the decision, saying he had suggested he change tyres because he had mistakenly believed Rosberg had also pitted.
“It was not the easiest of races,” admitted Hamilton. “But we win and lose together.”
“I’m sure we’ll sit down afterwards and try to think of ways we can improve.”
It was a podium celebration of honesty amongst the top three, with the obviously dispirited Hamilton following on from an equally conciliatory Nico Rosberg.
“Very happy of course,” started the German, “But I know also that it was a lot of luck today.
“Lewis drove brilliantly and would also have deserved the win for sure. [But] that’s the way it is in racing.
“I know that I got lucky today. I need to work hard because Lewis was a little bit stronger this weekend.
“I’m extremely happy; I’m going to make the most of it.”
Rosberg now trails Hamilton in the championship standings by just 10 points.
Sebastian Vettel, in stark contrast to the Mercedes drivers, bubbled happily on the podium, soaking in his bonus second place gifted to him by the Mercedes howler.
As podium interviewer Martin Brundle condoled the top three as being none too happy, Vettel jumped onto the microphone to correct him: “I’m happy!”, he enthused.
“Obviously a bit of a turnaround in the end, which was a bit of surprise, but we were there in the moment when it happened.
“We were able to pip Lewis when he came out of the pits.
“We tried all race to put the pressure on Nico, but he had the speed to respond, and when we tried to pit we were a little bit too far back.
“It’s good to be always there, so hopefully we can keep up the strength.”
Ricciardo, who had been challenging Hamilton for the last podium place, finished fifth after surrendering fourth place to teammate Daniil Kvyat.
Red Bull Racing stopped Ricciardo for new tyres under the safety car, giving the Australian a pace advantage over his closest rivals.
It was the team’s plan, however, that if Ricciardo was able to pass Räikkönen — who was in fifth behind Kvyat, and duly passed — he would be let passed Kvyat to have a chance at Hamilton.
When he was unable to get onto the podium, the agreed procedure was to swap the Red Bull cars back, which both drivers executed without fuss.
Kimi Räikkönen was deeply unhappy to finish sixth after succumbing to Ricciardo’s late move, which the Finn initially declared unfair on team radio.
Sergio Perez pulled off an excellent weekend to finish in his qualifying position with a standard one-stop soft-supersoft strategy, excluding the bonus safety car stop.
Jenson Button finished eighth to score McLaren’s first points of the season.
The McLaren looked quick throughout the race, often lapping at a pace comparable to the frontrunners. Button started from tenth, and benefited from Pastor Maldonado’s early brake-by-wire retirement and a very slow Verstappen pit stop.
Button’s was the sole finishing McLaren thanks to an overheating problem in Fernando Alonso’s car that forced him to shut it down on lap 43.
Felipe Nasr finished a fantastic ninth on a three stop strategy aided by the final safety car.
The Brazilian was stopped on lap 17 to change tyres, bumping him up P10 after 30 laps, and moving up one place after Alonso retired.
Carlos Sainz took home the final point despite starting from the pit lane after failing to appear at the FIA weighbridge during qualifying, resulting in a DNQ for Saturday afternoon.
Nico Hülkenberg endured a trying afternoon after he was punted off the road at turn five on the first lap by Fernando Alonso, who was penalised for the indiscretion.
Hülkenberg required a new front wing, but used new supersoft tyres to move past most of the backmarkers, most of whom had started on the soft compound rubber.
Romain Grosjean finished twelfth after he was able to steer his stricken car into the turn one runoff area when Verstappen ran into the back of his Lotus.
Marcus Ericsson employed a three-stop strategy to little avail, making up one place to finish P13 before retirements are taken into account.
Valtteri Bottas and Felipe Massa finished last of all but the Manor cars after a torrid weekend in Monte Carlo.
The FW37’s inherent low downforce configuration was poorly suited to the twisty street circuit, and both drivers suffered with poor tyre wear and a general lack of pace as a result.
Roberto Merhi beat Will Stevens for the first time in their Manor career to bring home the rear of the grid in sixteenth and seventeenth.
2015 MONACO GRAND PRIX: PROVISIONAL CLASSIFICATION
|4||Daniil Kvyat||Red Bull-Renault||78||+11.965s|
|5||Daniel Ricciardo||Red Bull-Renault||78||+13.608s|
|7||Sergio Perez||Force India-Mercedes||78||+15.013s|
|10||Carlos Sainz||Toro Rosso-Renault||78||+25.056s|
|11||Nico Hulkenberg||Force India-Mercedes||78||+26.232s|
|15||Felipe Massa||Williams-Mercedes||77||1 lap|
|16||Roberto Merhi||Marussia-Ferrari||76||2 laps|
|17||Will Stevens||Marussia-Ferrari||76||2 laps|
|DNF||Max Verstappen||Toro Rosso-Renault||62||Collision|