Fernando Alonso led home a McLaren one-two at the Monaco Grand Prix with a just about faultless drive from pole to flag, the second win of the year for the world champion and his second consecutive win on the streets of Monte Carlo. Teammate Lewis...
Fernando Alonso led home a McLaren one-two at the Monaco Grand Prix with a just about faultless drive from pole to flag, the second win of the year for the world champion and his second consecutive win on the streets of Monte Carlo. Teammate Lewis Hamilton followed Alonso all the way for an unchallenged second and Ferrari's Felipe Massa was a solid, if distant, third place.
It was dry for race day, with a track temperature around 34 degrees at the start. Everyone got away fairly cleanly, the top four of pole sitter Alonso, Hamilton, Massa and Renault's Giancarlo Fisichella holding formation. Hamilton didn't appear to make any challenge for the lead, he just ducked in behind Alonso off the line to defend from Massa.
BMW Sauber's Nick Heidfeld gained a couple of places to fifth, while the Williams of Nico Rosberg dropped one to sixth. The second BMW of Robert Kubica also lost out a little, down to ninth, as did Jenson Button's Honda to 11th, David Coulthard's Red Bull to 15th and Ralf Schumacher's Toyota to the very back. Kimi Raikkonen gained a few places up to 12th.
Tonio Liuzzi's Toro Rosso had a short race as he clipped the barriers heading into Casino, apparently due to a puncture caused by contact from behind. The Honda of Rubens Barrichello and Mark Webber's Red Bull rounded out the early top eight, with Kubica and the Williams of Alex Wurz ninth and 10th. Button and Raikkonen followed, then Scott Speed's Toro Rosso, up several places to 13th.
Coulthard clawed one back to 14th, followed by the Renault of Heikki Kovalainen, the Super Aguris of Takuma Sato and Anthony Davidson 16th and 18th with Jarno Trulli's Toyota in between, the Spykers of Adrian Sutil and Christijan Albers 19th and 20th and Schumacher at the back in 21st. As has been known to happen at Monaco, there was not a great deal of change in the order save for the pit stops.
Rosberg was close on Heidfeld and Raikkonen on Button, while at the front the top three were covered by about six seconds, Massa dropping back a little from the McLarens. The procession continued in much the same vein and by lap 17 Alonso was around seven seconds ahead of Hamilton, with Massa just hanging on. Fisichella in fourth was already on his own, 20 seconds behind Massa.
Webber wandered into the pits with his Red Bull looking slightly wobbly; it was clearly an unscheduled stop and quickly became a retirement. "I had a couple of things," the Australian said of the reason. "There was a small misfire with the engine but we were getting through that, but when I downshifted to third I lost the gears." That put Kubica into the last points position of eighth.
As the first round of pit stops grew closer, Hamilton started putting pedal to the metal. He gained three seconds on Alonso while the leader was negotiating traffic but, of course, had to get through the same traffic himself and dropped back a little again. He and Alonso were trading fastest laps and McLaren was clearly the class of the field. Massa was still third and Fisichella fourth and the latter was the first to pit.
It was a mixture of one and two-stoppers today and some worked better than others in the end. Rosberg pitted on the same lap as Fisichella and Heidfeld managed to go through ahead of the Renault when Fisichella rejoined. Massa lost a lot of time to Hamilton in traffic, the gap widening to around eight seconds from three, while Alonso was comfortably ahead of his teammate when he took his first stop.
Massa went in as well and left Hamilton in the lead until he took his first stop a couple of laps later. Alonso went back to the lead with Hamilton and Massa holding station in second and third. Barrichello and Kubica were nose to tail in sixth and seventh but neither had stopped. Massa appeared to be struggling with the super-soft tyres in the middle stint and lost even more ground to the McLarens.
Raikkonen, who was on a one stopper, was 10th and harassing Heidfeld who had rejoined ninth after his stop. Davidson got a drive through penalty for ignoring the blue flags and duly served it, then took his pit stop on the next lap. Barrichello also pitted, and Button, which put Raikkonen up to eighth, still behind Heidfeld. Massa began to pick up again but was way too far behind the McLarens by then.
Kubica took his one stop and the strategy really worked for him as he rejoined fifth ahead of Heidfeld, and it also worked for Wurz who slotted into eighth. Kovalainen seemingly had an earlier stop then he intended due to a right rear puncture caused, Renault believed, by him clipping the barrier somewhere. Raikkonen finally took his one stop around lap 48 and rejoined just outside the points.
The order was then Alonso, Hamilton, Massa and Fisichella holding their top four grid line up, then Kubica, Heidfeld, Wurz and Barrichello. The gap between Alonso and Hamilton was around 10 seconds then Alonso took his second stop on lap 51. Hamilton, Massa and Fisichella duly peeled in for their second visits to the pits and once again the order of the top four was retained.
Speed had a bit of an issue with a long brake pedal but kept going, while Sutil clipped the barrier heading into Casino and ground to a halt. Hamilton was back to close behind Alonso but in the last stint it was evident that McLaren wasn't going to do anything to put the one-two at risk. Alonso wasn't pushing particularly hard as the chequered flag got closer and Hamilton wasn't closing the gap.
Everyone from Kubica in fifth was a lap down and Button, Barrichello and Rosberg all took fairly late second stops. It really didn't work out for Rosberg as he slipped down to 12th after his fifth place gird spot. With less than 10 laps to go Raikkonen was closing in on Wurz and Kubica on Fisichella but it was unlikely anything would happen. Fisichella eventually got lapped as well so only the top three came home on the lead lap.
There was the possibility of late drama when the BMW crew swarmed into the pit lane but they promptly swarmed back into the garage again. It was perhaps Kubica they thought had a problem as Heidfeld was catching his teammate at a rate of two seconds a lap, but nothing came of it. Albers had hung on grimly throughout the race but retired to the pits with just a handful of laps to go with a driveshaft problem. He was classed as 19th.
Alonso sailed serenely to the finish line to take his second consecutive win in Monaco, with Hamilton dutifully following behind. The result means that they are tied on points at the top of the drivers' standings with 38 each, although Alonso is technically the leader due to two victories to Hamilton's none. It was a dominant performance from McLaren, now 20 points ahead of Ferrari in the constructors' standings.
"It has been a fantastic weekend, no doubt, and to score this hattrick -- pole, fastest lap and race win -- is something very special and even more so here in Monaco," said Alonso. "I enjoyed today's race so much with a perfect car all through the race, and it felt so good to drive such a nice car for 78 laps and win at the end."
"I think the most difficult tyre in the end was the first one we put on; in the first stint, everybody had a little bit of graining. The track was probably not in good condition and I think that was the most difficult set of tyres. I think at the end, obviously, we slowed down the pace as well because there was no time to risk any more, so I think the supersoft were able to stay very constant all through the stint as well."
Hamilton was perhaps a little disappointed not to get his maiden win. "I hit the barrier plenty of times in the race and I was fortunate that we've got a solid car," he commented. "But yeah, we were quick, it's extremely difficult round here trying to follow someone. All weekend both of us have had great pace and it was tough. I tried to get as close as possible and tried to get ahead but... next time, I guess."
After the first few laps it was evident that Ferrari wasn't up to McLaren's pace and Massa seemed to suffer with the super soft tyres for a while, He finished over a minute down but the Brazilian did a good enough job -- third is his best finish at Monaco, his previous being fifth with Sauber. Raikkonen did well to pick up a point from 16th on the grid but many had expected perhaps a bit more from the Finn.
"McLaren definitely showed incredible pace today," said Massa. "I think that even if I pushed 150 percent on the limit, it would have been the same in the end. They were pretty quick today. There was nothing I could do with them. I could only expect some mistakes or something like that, or maybe a retirement. I was just thinking of finishing third, trying to score as many points as possible."
Fisichella had rather a lonely race in fourth but it was an improvement for Renault. The R27 doesn't like high speed corners but that's not exactly an issue at Monaco and Fisichella usually goes well on the Monte Carlo streets. Kovalainen's pit strategy didn't really work out and the rookie spent much of his time stuck in the midfield. It may have given him a little satisfaction to finish 13th in front of Coulthard.
It was another solid result for BMW, Kubica fifth and Heidfeld sixth was a couple of places higher than their starting places. For the moment, at least, the team is comfortably holding on to its third place in the constructors' standings. Wurz overcame his difficulties of the early races to finish seventh but Rosberg was another whose strategy went pear-shaped and ended 12th.
Speed drove a terrific race to come home ninth, his best so far this season and it was just a shame he missed out on the points. Barrichello rounded out the top 10 with teammate Button one behind. The Toyotas were fairly dismal, Trulli and Schumacher 15th and 16th behind Coulthard, and the Super Aguris took the flag 17th and 18th, Sato leading Davidson. Albers, as previously mentioned, was classed 19th.
It wasn't exactly a thrilling race but that's the way it goes with Monaco; it's pretty much all or nothing. McLaren looked to have a firm hold on the weekend right from the start and even without Raikkonen's qualifying woes it's doubtful that Ferrari could have challenged for the win. The Finn now faces a 15 point deficit to Alonso and Hamilton; it's hardly an insurmountable gap but it won't be easy to close.
Massa kept himself in touch, now five points off the McLaren pair in the standings with third, but Ferrari is going to have to bounce back sharpish. However, we all know how quickly things can change so let's not read too much into the situation -- it's the North American rounds next and those races have been known to turn things around. Final top eight classification: Alonso, Hamilton, Massa, Fisichella, Kubica, Heidfeld, Wurz, Raikkonen.