Ferrari foresight puts Vettel in command ahead of Hamilton fightback

Updated: 

The Monaco Grand Prix confirmed two things: Sebastian Vettel is the favourite for the Formula One drivers' title and Ferrari know it.

There was mysticism sweeping the Monte Carlo boulevards on Sunday morning after Kimi Raikkonen prepared to lead away the cars for the first time in 129 races, but the Finn was unceremoniously put in his place by the Scuderia strategy, left to pick from the scraps of an unfulfilling second place after Vettel was afforded the chance to blast past his team-mate via an overcut strategy.

The use of the word 'chance' there is instructive.

Post-race outcry of Ferrari holding back the Ice Man and shrieks that team orders had been deployed do not quite ring true.

This was no "Fernando is faster than you", the infamously coded (just about) message Felipe Massa was given the last time positions one and two in the classification were filled by Ferrari red. Vettel was not waved through, he had to make his strategy work.

With a processional race providing little by way of overtaking action, the timesheets offered evidence of how impressive Vettel was as he secured just his second win in Monaco and ended Ferrari's 16-year drought in the principality.

Having tucked in behind Raikkonen off the line, Vettel never dropped further than two seconds back in the first phase of the race, before the Finn was called in to be serviced first in an attempt to cover off the improving Valtteri Bottas.

At this moment, released into clear air, Vettel came alive. Accounting for regular pitstops, Raikkonen ought to have emerged 17 seconds behind his team-mate - with a service costing around 19-20 seconds.

But Vettel's searing pace on worn tyres left Raikkonen - caught up for two laps behind Jenson Button - 20 seconds adrift before he came in, allowing the German to emerge with the lead intact. Before the safety car was sent out when Pascal Wehrlein was tipped onto his side by Button's rash move, Vettel was over 11 seconds down the road from his stable-mate.

It was no fluke, both Daniel Ricciardo and Lewis Hamilton exploited the overcut brilliantly - the Australian snatching third from Bottas and his team-mate Max Verstappen, while Vettel's championship rival recovered to seventh from 13th on the grid.

And it was the Mercedes' lacklustre weekend that totally vindicated any favouritism Ferrari may have installed Vettel's way.

The decade and a half without winning in Monaco is one thing, but Ferrari are now 10 years without a drivers' title and nine without the constructors' - gaps that are simply not good enough for F1's grandest name.

A 43-point haul was almost guaranteed after qualifying for the red cars, so the chance to put Vettel clear of Hamilton in the individual stakes was not one to be wasted.

The Briton's impressive recovery will have frustrated Ferrari somewhat - Hamilton remains within a race win of Vettel, but the four-time world champion is back to his relentless best, mixing a trio of wins with thee more runner-up finishes so far this term.

It is a gap that Vettel could well find useful in the coming months.

Montreal, Baku, Spielberg, Silverstone, Budapest - Hamilton probably couldn't pick five more favourable tracks if he tried and it is those which follow on the calendar. 

Victory was the Silver Arrows' at each of those venues last year and only a weird off-day in Baku stopped Hamilton from being responsible for each of those triumphs.

So rather than lambast them, credit Ferrari - guilty of so many strategic blunders in recent years - for having the foresight to put Vettel on the front foot ahead of his, and his team's, biggest examination of title credentials so far in 2017.