It’s a double six for Formula 1 as the sport gambles on excitement to maintain the Monte Carlo magic. TOM WILKINSON reports on all the action from the principality.
MONACO’S glitz and glamour was the setting for a new Formula 1 record this year when, for the first time in history, the sport crowned its sixth different winner of the season at the end of the sixth grand prix of the year.
Mark Webber took the glory for the second time in his career on the principality’s testing street circuit, but how different it could all have been.
The qualifying session the day before had seen the seven fastest drivers within a 10th-of-a-second of each other at one point, but as the chequered flag dropped, it was the seven-time World Champion Michael Schumacher who blitzed the field to claim his first pole position of his “second career” and his 69th overall.
However, due to a five-place grid penalty imposed after a coming together with Bruno Senna at the previous grand prix, the German ace was relegated to sixth place on the grid for the start of the race in the jewel in the crown of Formula 1’s calendar. An emotional Ross Brawn, and Schumacher, were both clearly delighted with his long-awaited success, proving at last to his critics, that he still has what it takes to be competitive at the highest level.
Schumacher’s penalty left Australian driver Webber on pole with the other Mercedes of Nico Rosberg at the top of the grid – and the viewers holding their collective breaths as the lights went out to see if Webber, who has not been known for great starts so far this year, could get his Red Bull off the line cleanly for once.
He made the perfect start, and dominated the race from the first corner to the chequered flag, but there was plenty of action right to the end, with all the leading protagonists line astern for the last few thrilling laps.
The would-be pole-sitter Michael Schumacher got a brisk start from sixth place on the grid, but the Lotus of Grosjean was soon in trouble as the cars sped past the start line, jostling for position. He clipped Alonso, then jinked left into Schumacher before sliding sideways towards the first corner at Sainte Devote. Kamui Kobayashi clipped the rear wheel of the Lotus, the Sauber taking a short flying lesson and luckily avoiding serious contact with Jenson Button. This broke the suspension of the Lotus which had to retire. A poor weekend for the team just got worse.
Pastor Maldonado was in the wars once again, as the field slowed down to avoid the sliding Grosjean, Maldonado smashed into the back of De La Rosa’s HRT. Both cars retired from the race before the end of the first lap. The Race was neutralised as the Safety Car was called out, although the decision by race director Charlie Whiting was late as Bernd Maylander didn’t collect the field until the beginning of lap three. The SLS AMG led the way until the end of that lap, the marshals and officials clearing away the danger very quickly.
Once the race restarted, it was sadly a case of follow the leader as is so often the reality of racing in Monaco. Lewis Hamilton struggled on the re-start and was pressured from the two Ferraris behind. But it was Felipe Massa who was quickest, teammate Alonso was holding him up. It’s the first time anyone has said that this season – did the warning from the Ferrari president do the trick maybe? We will have to wait and see on that one.
The Sauber of Sergio Perez flew through the field, the Mexican was making good progress in the early stages of the race after starting from the back. The same couldn’t be said of Mark Webber who was struggling to open up a gap to Rosberg behind. The DRS around Monaco was not having a major effect this weekend and overtaking was as difficult as ever. Webber was just controlling the pace up front.
Meanwhile Alonso had a train of cars behind, Massa was looking to take any advantage of a possible mistake, but the double world champion Alonso was too experienced to oblige, despite clearly holding up his teammate. Could Fernando possibly get the message that Felipe is faster than him? Team orders are allowed now in Formula 1 and the race still had plenty of laps remaining.
The pit stop phase loomed as tyres were beginning to degrade, but Mother Nature was entering the equation. the teams were predicting rain, some teams expected it sooner than others, but the pit stops were on hold as the clouds rolled in over the mountains. Meanwhile Fernando Alonso started to put his foot down and moved away from his teammate. The question was, would Massa play a team role as a rear gunner in Ferrari’s tactics? Alonso started to match the leading pace.
Some of the lower order teams started to pit for fresh tyres as spots of rain did begin to fall, but not enough to affect the race just yet. It was a difficult time for the top teams as heavier rain was predicted, but not for another 14 laps. The tyres were beginning to reach the end of their grip, team strategists were working overtime on the pit wall.
Kimi Raikkonen was working overtime to keep Michael Schumacher behind him. The Lotus had a long train of cars behind him, but the team were keeping him out and hoping to change to the right tyre when the rain came. It was a risky strategy as he was losing heaps of time on worn super soft tyres. Nico Rosberg then pitted from second, he took a fresh set of soft tyres, but this was also risky as rain was predicted in just a few laps time. Red Bull didn’t react to Rosberg’s stop immediately, but were forced to stop due to some quick lap times from the Mercedes. Lewis Hamilton also pitted for the same tyres, the pit lane was filled with frantic activity. Kimi Raikkonen was also forced to pit, his plan of staying out longer did not pay off. But Alonso waited for his stop, when he did come in, it was a fantastic pit stop from the Ferrari mechanics. Alonso jumped Hamilton in the pit stop phase.
The race then settled down again and became rather processional. It was very much a case of follow the leader. Sergio Perez received a drive-through penalty for a late pit entry and impeding Kimi Raikkonen, who lost a place in the process to Nico Hulkenberg.
Lewis Hamilton was complaining of a lack of communications from his team. Hamilton lost another place earlier to Sebastian Vettel in the pit stops. The German had a very long stint and jumped the McLaren, but it was Vettel;s teammate Mark Webber, who was controlling the race up at the front.
Michael Schumacher reported a problem with his car, the team said they could see it on the telemetry, but told Michael to keep pushing and the problem would clear. One thing that didn’t clear was the threat of rain. It began to fall lightly once again. Michael Schumacher was also falling, back down the field as his problem got worse, eventually being forced to retire on lap 65. A sad end to what was a promising weekend for the seven time world champion.
As the race neared the end, the top six drivers of Webber, Rosberg, Alonso, Vettel, Hamilton and Massa had just two seconds between them. Spots of rain started falling once again, but Mark Webber was taking it easy in the difficult conditions. Jenson Button got into a spin avoiding Heikki Kovalainen at the swimming pool chicane. He retired from the race after yet another disappointing weekend.
Mark Webber meanwhile finished the weekend in great style, taking the chequered flag and making Formula 1 history. Six different winners in six races, a remarkable season continues to deliver pure excitement and unpredictability. It wasn’t a classic Monaco Grand Prix in all honesty, but Webber controlled the race in a brilliant way. The finish was very close, just 1.343 seconds between the top four drivers.
Will we see a seventh race winner in Canada? We will have to wait and see, but this gripping Formula 1 season keeps on delivering surprises.
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