Raikkonen sore as Vettel scores

In Monaco, the big talking point was, did Ferrari use team orders to switch the drivers around in the pits? I don’t think it was team orders. I think it was one of those things — a strategic mistake, which is easy to realise in hindsight and say “Oh, they should have done this”, but it’s so difficult because the windows on the tyres are so narrow.

Sebastian Vettel celebrates on the podium after winning the Monaco Grand Prix, while his Ferrari team-mate, Kimi Raikkonen, doesn’t look too pleased, having let the race slip out of his hands.   -  Getty Images

As always, it was a fairly dramatic weekend in Monaco. The race itself — I’ll be honest — wasn’t the most exciting, but the way the weekend unfolded could be a pivotal one in the championship battle.

Lewis Hamilton hit the ground running in practice. He was straight out there, straight on it, and both the Mercedes cars looked really good. But as the weekend progressed, in FP2, they looked completely lost, and Hamilton looked like he was over-driving the car, chasing grip that wasn’t there, making mistakes and cutting the chicanes. He never put his lap together on those qualifying simulations; neither did Valtteri Bottas. So they were down in eighth and 10th.

Then the big question came — was that real? We got to the final practice that Saturday (May 27), and again Hamilton just didn’t seem to put a lap together. Bottas got his lap in, and he jumped ahead of the Red Bulls, although he was still four-tenths away from Sebastian Vettel. We expected the short wheelbase Ferrari to be strong in Monaco, but they were really, really strong.

On to qualifying, the pivotal point of the weekend. We have all spent days and days going on about the importance of qualifying in Monaco, but it is so true. If you don’t qualify well, your whole Sunday is compromised. It’s not everything, but it’s definitely important.

It was great to see Raikkonen take pole position. Everyone was excited to see him on the pole. But we shouldn’t downplay the job Bottas did. Mercedes weren’t as strong as Ferrari here, and Bottas’ lap in Q3 was stunning too. He was two thousandths of a second off Vettel, and half a tenth off Raikkonen. That was a sterling effort and probably the best lap of the weekend. Contrast that with Hamilton down in 14th, and it really was a good day for Valtteri.

It was reminiscent of Sochi in some way. It is another track where the grip levels are low. In both instances, Bottas just drove under the limit a tiny bit to make sure he got the nose of the car into those corners, and he was able to get the lap hooked together better than Hamilton.

It’s quite clear that the Mercedes have a very narrow set-up window, but it does seem like in these circumstances Bottas is able to extract a lap time and performance better than Hamilton, and that’s something I’m sure Pete Bonnington and the Hamilton side of the garage are really going to think about as they go forward for the rest of the season.

In the race, the big talking point was, did Ferrari use team orders to switch the drivers around in the pits? There were so many tweets, comments and speculations. But here’s my view:

Max Verstappen pitted early and went for the undercut on Bottas. When he came out, his times weren’t great on supersofts. Verstappen and Bottas, who also pitted for supersoft tyres, were not quicker than Daniel Ricciardo, who stayed out on the used ultrasofts.

At that point, Ferrari perhaps looked at that and got spooked by Verstappen and Bottas coming in early, and didn’t focus enough on the fact that Ricciardo was lapping quicker than them.

Raikkonen was asking the question, “When are we pitting?”. I think collectively they opted to bring Raikkonen in at that point and Vettel stayed out. When Vettel carried on in the lead — while Raikkonen was on his out-lap — he was doing personal best sectors. Vettel then set the fastest lap, and it was clear the strategy was going to favour the German. Vettel’s in-lap was stunning — a full 1.4 seconds faster — compared to Raikkonen’s, as the Finn had to counter traffic.

I don’t think it was team orders. I think it was one of those things — a strategic mistake, which is easy to realise in hindsight and say “Oh, they should have done this”, but it’s so difficult because the windows on the tyres are so narrow. It’s tricky to get the strategy right with these Pirelli tyres because they are so temperamental in some ways.

It’s hard to blame Ferrari, but Raikkonen had a face like thunder on the podium. I don’t blame him. Losing a Monaco win, especially after going so long without a race win and having driven so well all weekend, is painful.

Ultimately, those extra three or four laps that Vettel did won him the race. Those are the kind of moments that could be critical in the championship when we get to Abu Dhabi. Vettel is now 25 points ahead of Hamilton — which is a race victory. He can afford one DNF, which is something I think all of them will have at some point. If you can afford one DNF with Hamilton winning and still be up there, that’s psychologically very important.

Best of the rest

A few other mentions. Carlos Sainz did a great job all weekend. His qualifying lap was fantastic and put him right up there in P6, 0.15s off Ricciardo. It was a great result for Ricciardo too, after the team messed up last year with the pit stop.

The only card Hamilton could play was to go long and let people peel out of the way. That used to be an old GP2 strategy when I was racing there! It was a logical strategy and damage limitation for Hamilton and Mercedes. They got P7, which was probably the best they could have hoped for.

Jenson Button did a great job in qualifying, and that is going to put pressure on Stoffel Vandoorne and the perception of his career. Button came in after seven months and got within two-tenths of him.

Next stop Canada

There were lots of talking points in Monaco, and we’ll see what happens in Montreal. I’m off to Le Mans that weekend and will be missing the Canadian Grand Prix because I’m racing in the 24 hours race. It will be a shame to miss out on the Grand Prix as Montreal is a great venue, but driving comes first and I’m very excited to be going back to Le Mans!