A pit-stop error by Mercedes cost a guaranteed victory for Lewis Hamilton, which handed the Monaco Grand Prix to his team-mate Nico Rosberg.
For 64 of the 78 laps the race around the tight, twisty streets of the Principality, this was a high speed processional, with the defending champion Hamilton seemingly unruffled from the moment the five red lights disappeared to signal the start.
But then Toro Rosso’s Max Verstappen misjudged a move and crashed into the rear-right wheel of the Lotus of Romain Grosjean at Sainte Devote, immediately turning the fortunes on the Grand Prix result.
Hamilton had a 21-second lead at the stage but Mercedes made an unnecessary strategy call in covering off rival Ferrari during this safety car period.
The championship leader was called into the pits to take on the super-soft compound tyres, yet as Hamilton emerged back on track, Rosberg and Ferrari’s Sebastien Vettel had passed him.
From a commanding position Mercedes have changed the outcome of the race and for Hamilton, this should have been the 37th win of his Formula 1 career.
Despite being on much faster tyre over the final eight laps after the withdrawal of the safety car, Hamilton was unable to find a way past Vettel, never mind catching Rosberg.
It was an astonishing end to an otherwise dull race, with the opening lap providing a frantic action.
Come the sweep through Mirabeau, double world champion Fernando Alonso was involved in a collision with Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg, sending the ‘Hulk’ into a barrier, resulting in the loss of his front wing.
The incident forced the race stewards into an immediate investigation, with the blame on Alonso. The McLaren driver was handed a five-second time penalty.
Such was Alonso’s pace, however, throughout the opening 30 laps that by the time he pitted to take on a set of soft tyres – switching from the opening stint super-softs – the additional penalty proved redundant.
Alonso, though, did not last too long after his pit stop, pulling his Honda-powered car off track at Sainte Devote with a gearbox issue caused by rising temperatures a day after an MGU-H problem brought an early end to his qualifying session.
Behind the leading trio Daniil Kvyat scored the highest finish of his career with fourth, followed by his Red Bull Racing team-mate Daniel Ricciardo.
Kvyat was ordered to let Ricciardo through in the closing stages, but the Red Bulls swapped back on the final lap once it became clear that Ricciardo could not make any progress against Hamilton.
Force India’s Sergio Perez took seventh, the team’s best result of the season, with Jenson Button claiming McLaren’s first points this season with eighth.
Sauber’s Felipe Nasr and Carlos Sainz in the Toro Rosso completed the top ten.
This was a disappointing race for Williams. Valtteri Bottas and Felipe Massa – who suffered a lap-one puncture – were classified P14 and P15.
So a hat trick of victories for Nico Rosberg at Monte Carlo and yet the major talking point was the bad strategy call from Mercedes which cost Lewis Hamilton a certain win.
The team will learn from this but the championship leader will need to remain calm and collective. This is racing after all and as Murray Walker would often say: “Anything can happen in Formula 1 and it usually does.”
Monaco Grand Prix, race results after 78 laps:
1 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1h49m18.420s
2 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 4.486s
3 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 6.053s
4 Daniil Kvyat Red Bull-Renault 11.965s
5 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull-Renault 13.608s
6 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari 14.345s
7 Sergio Perez Force India-Mercedes 15.013s
8 Jenson Button McLaren-Honda 16.063s
9 Felipe Nasr Sauber-Ferrari 23.626s
10 Carlos Sainz Toro Rosso-Renault 25.056s
11 Nico Hulkenberg Force India-Mercedes 26.232s
12 Romain Grosjean Lotus-Mercedes 28.415s
13 Marcus Ericsson Sauber-Ferrari 31.159s
14 Valtteri Bottas Williams-Mercedes 45.789s
15 Felipe Massa Williams-Mercedes 1 Lap
16 Roberto Merhi Marussia-Ferrari 2 Laps
17 Will Stevens Marussia-Ferrari 2 Laps
– Max Verstappen Toro Rosso-Renault Collision
– Fernando Alonso McLaren-Honda 41 Gearbox
– Pastor Maldonado Lotus-Mercedes 5 Brakes
Fastest lap: Daniel Ricciardo, Red Bull, 1m 18.063s (lap 74)
1 Lewis Hamilton 126
2 Nico Rosberg 116
3 Sebastian Vettel 98
4 Kimi Raikkonen 60
5 Valtteri Bottas 42
6 Felipe Massa 39
7 Daniel Ricciardo 35
8 Daniil Kvyat 17
9 Felipe Nasr 16
10 Romain Grosjean 16
11 Sergio Perez 11
12 Carlos Sainz 9
13 Nico Hulkenberg 6
14 Max Verstappen 6
15 Marcus Ericsson 5
16 Jenson Button 4
17 Fernando Alonso 0
18 Roberto Merhi 0
19 Will Stevens 0
20 Pastor Maldonado 0
1 Mercedes 242
2 Ferrari 158
3 Williams-Mercedes 81
4 Red Bull-Renault 52
5 Sauber-Ferrari 21
6 Force India-Mercedes 17
7 Lotus-Mercedes 16
8 Toro Rosso-Renault 15
9 McLaren-Honda 4
10 Marussia-Ferrari 0
Next race: Canadian Grand Prix, Circuit Gilles Villeneuve. June 5-7.