Sebastian Vettel strengthened his grip on this year’s championship lead this year with a confident win at Monaco. The Monte Carlo street race is often referred to as the jewel in the F1 series, and certainly it’s a unique venue on the calendar, for his glamour, its history, it’s exotic setting and the challenging layout of the temporary circuit layout.
Monaco has always been known as a driver’s track, one in which the relative strengths and weaknesses of the chassis and engine packages tend to be equalized somewhat, and the relative talents of the drivers tend to be brought to the fore.
That said, the combination of Red Bull (quickest car) and Vettel (arguably one of the three quickest drivers, with nods to Alonso and Hamilton) proved to be the class of the field today. Vettel led from the pole, and while he gave up the lead during pit stop shuffles, at the end of the day it was his race to win or lose.
One of the most exciting early battles was the skirmish between Michael Schumacher and Lewis Hamilton. Schumacher managed to pass Hamilton on the opening lap, and Hamilton spent the next ten laps trying to regain the position.
Hamilton’s McLaren clearly had the pace on the Mercedes, but Monaco is an overtaking nightmare, and Hammy had his nose up Schumi’s exhaust for lap after lap before graining on Schumacher’s rear tires became significant enough to give Hamilton an opening.
They touched when Hammy finally made his move, and Hammy gave Schumi the Italian hand signal equivalent of, “Your mother wears dirty knickers.” One can understand Hammy’s frustration, of coruse, as he has the reputation for being the best overtaker in the business (just ask him).
Rear graining proved to be an issue for Schumacher’s team mate, Nico Rosberg, as well. Only a couple of laps after Schumacher was overtaken, Felipe Massa edged past Rosberg in a canny and unexpected move. Both Mercs pitted relatively early toe switch to the prime tires, and were shuffled far down the running order where they ran nose to tail for some laps.
Hamilton, of course, was involved in several incidents today. He later had a coming together with Felipe Massa at the hairpin, which resulted in wing damage for the Brazilian. Massa later claimed that the wing damage had led to a handling problem that helped cause his crash in the tunnel (an incident that was also enabled, he said, by…guess who…Lewis Hamilton, who had pushed him wide into the marbles).
In recent years, Monaco has often been a procession punctuated by contact with the barriers. Today, the crashes were still there, but there was also more overtaking (along with unsuccessful lunges) then we’ve seen in years, thanks to the new technical regulations. While there wasn’t as much passing as we saw in Barcelona last week, there was enough to keep the race interesting.
Hamilton was the chief agent in much of today’s action. He had a rather torrid race, all told. He had a third and final incident with Williams driver Pastor Maldonado during the closing laps of the race in turn one, which left the Venezuelan sidelined.
Hamilton was slapped with two penalties by race-end, a driver-through, and a twenty second (faux drive-through) penalty applied after the race. Fortunately for Hammy, the timed wrist-slap didn’t affect his final result.
Hamilton was quite vocal after the race about the penalties. “You know what, out of six races I’ve been to the stewards five times. It’s a joke, it’s an absolute fricking joke,” he told the BBC.
The stewards, of course, weren’t in a joking mood, and while Hamilton might feel picked on (he later played the race card, and suggested it was because he was black), it should be pointed out that Paul di Resta was handed the exact same penalty for pulling the exact same maneuver in the hairpin today, trying to overtake Jaime Alguersuari, with the same result (contact).
And while the race was, on the whole, exciting, there were a few reminders that racing at the principality can be a dangerous affair. First, during free practice, Mercedes pilot Nico Rosberg swiped the barrier coming out of the tunnel, and nearly hit the tire wall at the end of the chicane.
Next, during qualifying, Sauber driver Sergio Perez ran through a virtual replay of Rosberg’s incident, with the difference that he wasn’t able to avoid the tire barrier. He suffered a concussion, which took him out of contention for the remainder of the weekend.
During the race itself, there was the usual series of contacts with the barriers, the most dramatic occurring within six laps from the checkers. In this case, Vitaly Petrov sustained injuries, and was taken away in an ambulance.
The race was temporarily red-flagged, which allowed the cars to change tires on the grid. According to the regs, mechanics were allowed to work on the cars for safety reasons. Technically, the race was under suspension at that point. This allowed the McLaren crew to scramble to repair Hamilton’s rear wing.
The wing had become deranged during the multiple car pile-up involving Petrov. So, ironically, while Hammy complained that the cards had been stacked against him today, the fact is, he probably wouldn’t have been able to finish the race had it not been for the repair.
The closing laps were a sprint to the finish, with Vettel, Alonso and Button running nose to tail. They were all on fresh tires at that point. Button had stood a chance of overtaking the two leaders prior to the red flag, as the race had come his way in terms of tire strategy, but the advantage was lost once the race resumed.
It was a fine day for Vettel (he had keenly wanted to add Monaco to his resume), an excellent day for Alonso (he drove above the level of his equipment once again) and a good day for Button , who once again showed that steady and smooth (his general style) can outpace aggressive and frenetic (Hammy’s typical M.O.).
As for Hammy, he takes this weekend’s Whiner’s Circle trophy. He wasn’t only driver to receive a penalty or reprimand, but he was certainly the hands down winner when it came to complaining about it. Note the Paul di Resta admitted to being overly ambitious at the hairpin, Hammy insisted that Massa had deliberately driven into him.
Really? In NASCAR, that might be plausible, as the cars are virtual tanks, but in Formula 1, where carbon fiber splinters like glass from that kind of casual contact? Not bloody likely.
Cut to: the Winner’s Circle (a.k.a the Royal Box at Monaco), where Vettel, Alonso and Button shared a sedate podium (no champagne spray with the royals around). All three drivers drove immaculately, getting the most out of their equipment and race strategies. Kudos to all three.
And an interesting statistic, which might be the most telling omen for this year: Sebastian Vettel has been the winner of five of the first six races, while Lewis Hamilton, reckoned to be Vettel’s closest rival this year, has won a single race, and has been called before the race stewards at the other five. Of course, it’s not his fault. Just ask him.
1. Sebastian Vettel Germany Red Bull-Renault 78 laps 2hrs 09m 38.313s
2. Fernando Alonso Spain Ferrari-Ferrari +00m 01.1s
3. Jenson Button Britain McLaren-Mercedes +00m 02.3s
4. Mark Webber Australia Red Bull-Renault +00m 23.1s
5. Kamui Kobayashi Japan Sauber-Ferrari +00m 26.9s**
6. Lewis Hamilton Britain McLaren-Mercedes +00m 47.2s*
7. Adrian Sutil Germany Force India-Mercedes +1 lap**
8. Nick Heidfeld Germany Renault-Renault +1 lap
9. Rubens Barrichello Brazil Williams-Cosworth +1 lap
10. Sebastien Buemi Switzerland Toro Rosso-Ferrari +1 lap
11. Nico Rosberg Germany Mercedes-Mercedes +2 laps
12. Paul di Resta Britain Force India-Mercedes +2 laps
13. Jarno Trulli Italy Lotus-Renault +2 laps
14. Heikki Kovalainen Finland Lotus-Renault +2 laps
15. Jerome d’Ambrosio Belgium Virgin-Cosworth +3 laps
16. Vitantonio Liuzzi Italy HRT-Cosworth +3 laps
17. Narain Karthikeyan India HRT-Cosworth +4 laps
18. Pastor Maldonado Venezuela Williams-Cosworth +5 laps
DNF. Vitaly Petrov Russia Renault-Renault 67 laps completed
DNF. Jaime Alguersuari Spain Toro Rosso-Ferrari 66 laps completed
DNF. Felipe Massa Brazil Ferrari-Ferrari 32 laps completed
DNF. Michael Schumacher Germany Mercedes-Mercedes 32 laps completed
DNF. Timo Glock Germany Virgin-Cosworth 30 laps completed
DNS Sergio Perez Mexico Sauber-Ferrari Did not start after accident in Q3
Mark Webber Australia Red Bull-Renault 1m 16.234s lap 78
* denotes 20-sec penalty for colliding with Pastor Maldonado.
** denotes handed a post-race ‘reprimand’