For 64 of the 78 laps the race around the tight, twisty streets of the Principality was processional, with reigning champion Hamilton unruffled from the moment the five red lights disappeared to signal the start.
But then Toro Rosso’s Max Verstappen careered into the rear-right wheel of the Lotus of Romain Grosjean at Sainte Devote, immediately turning the grand prix on its head.
But what followed from Mercedes was unnecessary, for although the safety car was ultimately brought into play – after the ‘virtual safety car’ sign was displayed for the first time in F1 but soon withdrawn – Hamilton had a 21-second lead at that stage.
The reigning champion, despite being equipped with fresh supersoft tyres in the remaining eight laps, was unable to find a way past Vettel for second, and came under pressure from Daniel Ricciardo in the dying stages.
This allowed Rosberg to escape at the head of the field, the German reeling off the remaining laps to take back-to-back wins and his third successive triumph around the streets of the principality.
Up until that point, the race had been plain sailing for Hamilton, who made a clean getaway from pole position at the start to hold the lead through Ste Devote, while Vettel’s attempt to pass Rosberg came to nought as he oversteered on the exit of the corner.
The Brit wasted no time in building an advantage at the head of the field, and by the time of his first pitstop had a lead of around nine seconds. The gap between the Mercedes duo was up to 18 seconds by the time Hamilton’s race unravelled as a result of the team’s decision to bring in him into the pits for a second time.
As he exited the pitlane, Hamilton drew alongside Vettel going up Beau Rivage, but fell back into line having been behind as the pair crossed the safety car line. Ricciardo, who had muscled his way past Kimi Raikkonen at Mirabeau after the restart, was then released by Red Bull teammate Daniil Kvyat to attack Hamilton.
But the Australian failed to find a way by the frustrated two-time champion, and handed back the position to Kvyat just before crossing the chequered flag. Raikkonen took sixth, the Finn moving ahead of Ricciardo prior to the safety car during the pitstops and closing on Kvyat before the safety car came out.
Sergio Perez finished seventh to equal Force India’s best result of the season, ahead of Jenson Button, who took the first points for the renewed McLaren-Honda partnership in eighth. Felipe Nasr and Carlos Sainz, who made up 10 places starting from the pitlane, completed the points scorers, the latter taking advantage of the collision between Verstappen and Grosjean.
11th place went to Nico Hulkenberg, who was sent into the barriers at Mirabeau on lap one as Fernando Alonso tried to force his way up the inside. Hulkenberg was able to continue, dropping down the order after pitting for a new front wing, while Alonso was hit with a five-second time penalty for his part in the incident.
The Spaniard was able to hold 10th place after this was applied during his stop, but ground to a halt later in the race at Ste Devote with a suspected gearbox issue. Pastor Maldonado was the only other retirement after suffering a brake-by-wire failure shortly after being passed by Verstappen for eighth at Ste. Devote on the sixth lap.
Verstappen’s chances of scoring points on his Monaco debut meanwhile were dealt a blow by an excruciating 31-second pitstop, although the 17-year-old was closing on Grosjean rapidly in the battle for 10th before initiating the shunt that changed the complexion of the race.
Grosjean was able to continue, finishing 12th ahead of Marcus Ericsson’s Sauber and the two Williams cars of Valtteri Bottas and Felipe Massa, who both struggled on two-stop strategies.
Massa had to pit for a new front wing after first corner contact with Hulkenberg, beating only the two Manor drivers Roberto Merhi and Will Stevens in the final reckoning.
|Pos||Driver||Car / Engine||Time/Gap|
|4||Daniil Kvyat||Red Bull/Renault||11.965|
|5||Daniel Ricciardo||Red Bull/Renault||13.608|
|7||Sergio Perez||Force India/Mercedes||15.013|
|10||Carlos Sainz||Toro Rosso/Renault||25.056|
|11||Nico Hulkenberg||Force India/Mercedes||26.232|
|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|