As usual there was not a great deal of overtaking at the Monaco Grand Prix but it was still quite an exciting race. Fernando Alonso finally set foot on the Principality podium and the top step at that, the Renault man claiming a solid victory. McLaren's Juan Pablo Montoya took an almost unnoticed second place and Red Bull went mad with David Coulthard in third, the first podium for the team.
It was warm and sunny on race day for 78 laps of the Monte Carlo street circuit. Pole man, promoted by Michael Schumacher's controversial penalty, Alonso got away cleanly at the start. Further down the field the MF1s tangled up, resulting in a pit stop for Tiago Monteiro for a front wing change.
Teammate Christijan Albers was deemed to be the culprit and was later penalized with a drive through penalty. Meanwhile, at the front it was Alonso from the Williams of Mark Webber and McLaren's Kimi Raikkonen, then Montoya, Honda's Rubens Barrichello and the second Williams of Nico Rosberg.
Webber went wide at uphill through Ste Devote and Raikkonen took advantage, charging past for second. Further down the field Michael's Ferrari was up to 17th but brother Ralf's Toyota was down to 12th. Michael was then stuck behind Jenson Button's Honda in the scrap for 15th.
Raikkonen was all over Alonso's Renault at the front but not finding a way past, while Barrichello's Honda was building quite a queue of traffic behind. Alonso and Raikkonen were lapping backmarkers by lap 12 and Michael finally got Button at the chicane for 15th.
Montoya was the first to pit, followed by teammate Raikkonen on the next lap, then Rosberg a lap later. Alonso pitted on lap 23 and rejoined for the virtual lead ahead of Raikkonen. Webber and Montoya duly held formation in third and fourth.
Barrichello, Coulthard, Renault's Giancarlo Fisichella and Toyota's Jarno Trulli made up the top eight. Alonso appeared to be struggling with his tyres in the middle stint, Raikkonen's McLaren all over the back of the Renault. While they were scrapping, Webber had closed right in and Montoya was not far behind.
The following things were good and bad, depending on our point of view. Fisichella snapped up Coulthard and Villeneuve at the chicane on consecutive laps but were the backmarkers thinking it was leader Alonso coming through?
Webber's fine efforts were wasted when the Williams cruised to a halt at the exit of the pit lane, spouting flames copiously from an exhaust fire. He was rapidly followed by Raikkonen coming to a smoky halt during the brief safety car period to clear Webber's car.
That promoted Montoya to second, although there was a lot of traffic between him and Alonso, followed by Barrichello, Trulli and the flying duo of Red Bulls, Klien fifth and Coulthard sixth. Fantastic!
But not fantastic for long -- this race made me cheer and bewail time and again. Rosberg stuffed it in the barrier at Casino with some kind of exhaust gremlin, then Klien pulled off and retired with a gearbox problem.
Absolutely terrible luck for Klien. How dare his car give up when he was doing so well! Meanwhile, there was more curiosity afoot. Villeneuve got a drive through penalty for overtaking under the safety car and Barrichello likewise got a drive through for speeding in the pit lane.
Now Trulli was third and Coulthard fourth -- by then I had almost forgotten that Alonso was on his way to his first Monaco victory. And still more good and bad luck; Trulli's Toyota died at the swimming pool so that was Coulthard into third.
Red Bull Sporting Director Christian Horner said he would dive naked into the swimming pool if the team got on the podium. Get 'em off Horner! All congratulations to Alonso for a fine, controlled drive for the win -- the Spaniard really couldn't have done it any better.
Alonso was mindful of the tragic death of Michelin boss Edouard Michelin. "I think first of all, I want to dedicate this victory to Edouard Michelin of whom we had such sad news on Friday," he said. "I think Michelin have done a great job in Formula One over the last two or three years and especially this year, and again this race - to give us the possibility to win and to beat our opponents - I think this victory extends to Michelin. All three drivers on the podium were on Michelin tyres so thanks to them, and I dedicate this to them and all their work."
Equal congratulations to Montoya who drove really well for second and to Coulthard for third -- although if not for Klien's car failure it would have been the young Austrian on the podium instead. And Coulthard looked ridiculous up there in his red cape.
"I think the last few races were tough, especially for me," said Montoya. "We did quite a few changes in the car and we are heading in the right direction. I think we had good pace today, but the most important thing is to try and translate this pace into the next few races. That's going to be the key."
Coulthard acknowledged that others retiring helped his cause. "Somewhat fortunate with some of the other cars dropping out, but that's the challenge of Monaco and I think this is a great reward for everyone in the team when you consider what a difficult winter and a difficult start to the season we've had. There's no bigger race than Monaco so it's great."
Barrichello recovered to fourth after his penalty and Michael put in a fine charge from the back of the grid to fifth. There's no holding the man down is there? Fisichella was sixth and the very quiet BMW Sauber of Nick Heidfeld seventh. Ralf finished the points positions in eighth.
Controversy abounded at Monaco but the race was immensely enjoyable. Alonso is now over 20 points ahead of Michael in the standings and it looks like it will be a hard job for anyone to stop the Spaniard. Final top eight classification: Alonso, Montoya, Coulthard, Barrichello, M. Schumacher, Fisichella, R. Schumacher.