Back in the principality for some awesome racing in the confined streets of Monaco. It must be a bit claustrophobic racing here with these machines. Like putting two heavyweight boxers inside a minibus and telling them to slug it out. I drive the track in the F1 2010 game and its an absolute nightmare getting a good lap there. And being pretty sucky I even have the traction control on :p So I would probably crash and die if I tried it in real life.
Perhaps I shouldn’t joke about that because we had a couple of bad crashes this weekend. The first victim was Nico Rosberg in FP3. He was taken out by the bumpy braking zone after the tunnel and was heading straight for the barrier only to narrowly miss it. One shudders to think of the result had he hit it head on. Jenson Button and Mark Webber have crashed here in dry conditions. Kimi famously lost control here in 2008 and took out Sutil in the process. Even if he did hit a wet patch, the bumpy nature of the braking zone did not help things.
Rosberg crash here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wot1o9_u-Cg
The Monaco track is a drivers circuit and a healthy dose of talent coupled with great commitment can make up for a mediocre car. The Ferrari was looking feisty in the hands of Fernando Alonso during practice. The McLarens were also expected to give Red Bull a run for the chips here. (See what I did there)
When Q3 rolled around we saw the usual suspects still in the running with the surprise entrants of Maldonado and rookie Sergio Perez. The joy for Perez was shortlived however as he was the next victim of the bumpy braking zone after the tunnel exit. Unfortunately he did not miss the barrier but hit it with severe force and appeared stationary in the car. My heart sank as the marshalls rushed to the scene while the session was red flagged.
Video here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0dzO0ihjm5s
The impact is recorded at 80G.. He escapes with a concussion and while I am writing this I get word that he is released from the hospital. Thankfully we will see him race in Canada.
But the show must go on. Before the red flag fell, Vettel got in one heck of a lap at 1:13:556. Second fastest around the Monaco circuit. The fastest lap ever is still credited to Kimi Raikkonen in Q2 in 2006.
With just 2:26 left on the clock, it was bad news for those drivers who were yet to set a good time or a time at all. The biggest name was second man in the championship, Lewis Hamilton. He was ready to go at the end of the pitlane when the track was cleared, as there was only time for one timed lap. But the temperature in his tires had dropped too much and his time was no better than 7th. To make matters worse he later got that time annulled for cutting the chicane. He starts 9th.
So Button, Webber and Alonso are lined up behind the whiz-kid and the stage is set for an almighty scrap for the win in Monaco.
Once again I will have to mainly focus on the frontrunners. As I am sure most of you know, the race was more than eventful.
Anywho, lights out – race on! Not surprisingly Vettel gets away clean into the first corner. A short run helps the polesitter here. But Alonso have made amends from his previous bad starts by another flash start! From the dirty side he jumps Webber for third. Not what last years winner was hoping for I’m sure. Schumacher throws away his great 5th grid position and finds himself in 9th after the first few corners. His teammate who started 7th grabs 5th place instead.
Hamilton hasnt made any progress and finds himself behind Schumacher – not exactly an easy man to pass. The DRS zone is on the start-finish straight. But its short and narrow. In fact only a few of the passing moves during the race was made here. However Hamilton was set to bump that statistic up a notch. On lap 10 he gets a good run on the 7-time champ and does a kamikaze dive on the inside and Schumacher has to give way. A great pass! Hamilton raises his hand after the pass and seems to be in a rather aggressive mood.
Up at the front there is drama. The first couple of laps it appeared that Vettel would just run away and control the race. But instead of pulling away, Button and Alonso starts closing in on him. Button pits on lap 16 gets on another set of super softs and goes out in free air with nothing stopping him from setting a blindingly quick lap time. Vettel pits on the next lap to respond but Jenson has already passed him and Vettel is now surprisingly in 2nd place. Vettel got fitted with the harder compound. Something that was not their plan, the team revealed after the race. This explaining the rather slow pitstop that cost him the lead. Webber pits immediately after and also suffers an excruciatingly slow pitstop. Something that has usually been (another) one of Red Bulls strong points this year. He emerges way down in 14th. Alonso also pits and keeps 3rd place.
Massa and Hamiltons paths cross after they have both pitted. You can almost sense Hamiltons level of frustration for every lap behind the Brazillian on the harder and slower tire. Meanwhile Button pits and Vettel inherits the lead again.
We cut back to a replay at the hairpin where Hamilton dives on the inside of Massa – there is contact and carbonfibre bits are flying. Now I’m not one of Hamiltons biggest defenders and it was a very optimistic move but from the pictures it does seem that Hamilton has a point when he said that Massa turned in on him. He tries to close the door when he is already alongside him and the result of that is a given. There was room to give room in my opinion. Anyway, a drive-tru penalty is dished out for Lewis and it set his mood up for a disastrous post-race interview: http://youtu.be/7Am3PYbroDs
Next thing we see is a mangled Ferrari with Massa inside it and we get the first Safety Car period of the Formula 1 season. Congratulations to Massa for that. Replays show that Hamilton (probably furious with horns growing) gets on the inside of Massa in the tunnel. The Brazillian gets a little wide, goes onto the marbles and from then its just a ride towards the unforgiving barrier.
Schumacher grabs the chance to park his car in the Rascasse area again… Whats even more funny about that is that it’s again Alonso that gets hindered by the Germans parking – just like 06. This time through no fault of his own though. Alonso dives into the pitlane after that. And Button is back in 2nd place. But having to pit again as he has not yet used the prime tire.
Vettel stays out to my surprise. His prime tires are far from new and Button gets right up behind him. Vettel is told on the radio that it will be tough for about 10 laps but after that Buttons tires will have lost most of the grip. If he lets Button pass him, the win would be lost. So very crucial laps. At this point I am scratching my head wondering when Vettel is going to pit. Surely he cannot do 62 laps on these tires? Its the same compound that lasted less than 20 laps in Barcelona… Longer laps but still..
Button does his necessary stop on lap 49 and gets out in 3rd behind Alonso. Now Alonso is putting the pressure on Vettel. On lap 57 of 78 the Spaniard has caught up with the world champion. Lap 62 and Button is in touch with the Ferrari. Its a 3 horse race to the finish! I do not recall ever seeing this kind of ending to the Monaco GP. It’s nailbiting and you know that millions worldwide are cheering for their favorite. But at this point its anyones guess. Vettel has lucked out by getting a couple of free laps from the Safety Car earlier and he is also darn lucky that this is Monaco where overtaking is near impossible – even when the guy in front has worn tires. Sebastian is putting up a masterful defense and it sends my thoughts back to the thrilling finish of the Barcelona race. Alonso tries his best but the Red Bull is made very wide. Seeing the top 3 cars joust for the win through the narrow streets is quite a rush and its hard to imagine racing being any better than this.
Lap 69 and the race goes to hell in a handbasket. The leaders are coming up on an almighty traffic jam. Lets call it the Sutil train. At Tabac, Maldonado gets impatient with the bar brawler and makes a pass. This gets Sutil into the wall and he suffers a puncture. Some further passing in the train all leads to a domino effect that reaches its crescendo at the Piscine chicane and mayhem insues. Alguesuari and Petrov into the wall and Hamilton gets his rearwing destroyed in the process but is able to continue. Safety Car is called out and its another lucky break for Sebastian Vettel who now has 53 laps on the soft prime tires.
Petrov is not so lucky and is in so much pain inside the car that an ambulance is called and the entire race is red flagged with 6 laps to go. Would the race be over and the current positions stand? The cars stop on the start-finish straight and all the crew members are rushing to the grid. What about the 2 hour rule? Many questions arise that would soon have their answer. But the ting that baffled me the most was that the teams were allowed to put new tires on the cars. As much as I cheer for Vettel, I must admit I would have preferred the race to be resumed like it was. I wanted to see it played out the way it was – not reset! I would like to have known if Vettel would have kept his pursuers behind him on those incredibly worn tires. Now we will never know. Oh well – the race is restarted behind the SC and obviously Vettel has no trouble keeping his competition behind him to win the Monaco GP. A big feather in his hat.
We get word that Petrov is okay with no broken bones but has some discomfort and pain. The celebrations however can start for the Red Bull team for the second year in a row. Vettel now leads with 58 points on Hamilton.
DRIVER OF THE DAY
I have not yet mentioned Kobayashi but he was stellar. He finishes in 5th position having started in 12th and it is a nice pick me up for the Sauber team after the crash of Sergio Perez on Saturday. Kamui made the most of a 1 stop strategy and just lost out on 4th place to Webber on the second to last lap. Well done.
But I once again have to award it to Vettel. Yes, he lucked out a couple of times but safety cars are almost a given here. It was his own decision to stay out and it won him the race. To defend like that on worn tires takes a cool head. Lady Luck was on his side today as I said, but the win would not have been his without a champions drive. He certainly deserved it even if the race was amputated at the end.
DOUCHE OF THE DAY
The Mercedes team is a contender. They got their strategy completely wrong and stayed out way too long on the wrong tires and ended up scrapping amongst themselves. Once again, I might add. No points from a retirement and an 11th place is not going to win any awards soon.
But the real winner is Lewis Hamilton. From a glorious pass on Schumacher he fell from glory with his drive-through penalty from his pass on Massa. But far worse was his move on Maldonado in the closing stages. Maldonado was set for a strong 6th place but got clumsily taken out by the Briton. The icing on the cake was his post race rant where he said that the penalties were a joke and made a quib that he was being singled out because he was black. Even if it was a joke, its not exactly a smart choice of words, is it. But that was never his strong point. Im sure he is looking forward to Canada where he usually does well.
Ok, long review – quick conclusion. My Race rating of this is 8 out of 10. It was the best GP of Monaco I have ever seen but a couple of points deduction for the anti-climactic finish. The three front runners all played their cards but Vettel had the best hand.
Until next time, stay safe!
Images © Sauber F1 Team/McLaren/Daimler/Pirelli/Mark Thompson, Vladimir Rys, Red Bull, Getty Images/Ferrari spa, Ercole Colombo