Hamilton rain-dances to Monaco victory

Hamilton rain-dances to Monaco victory

Lewis Hamilton on Sunday outlasted rain, shunt, puncture, two safety-car periods and as much other nuttiness as the streets of Monaco could offer to win the Grand Prix of Monaco and overtake points leader Kimi Raikkonen in the FIA World Drivers'...

Lewis Hamilton on Sunday outlasted rain, shunt, puncture, two safety-car periods and as much other nuttiness as the streets of Monaco could offer to win the Grand Prix of Monaco and overtake points leader Kimi Raikkonen in the FIA World Drivers' Championship.

Lewis Hamilton, McLaren Mercedes, MP4-23, broken wheel and flat tyre.
Photo by xpb.cc.

"I am absolutely over the moon," said Hamilton, whose margin of victory over Kubica was 3 seconds. "To win here in Monaco is the highlight of my career and an occasion I will always remember."

The McLaren Mercedes driver dived past front-row sitter Raikkonen at the start; bounced off the barrier at Tabac on lap 6, puncturing a tire; closed a 17-second gap via a safety car on lap 9; and then worked his way to the front again to lead BMW Sauber's rising star Robert Kubica and Ferrari's polesitter Felipe Massa to podium places, which in the principality mean handshakes from head of state Prince Albert and his sister Princess Caroline.

In spite of the presence of royalty, Hamilton did not forget his family. He celebrated with family members present and sent a televised "luv ya, Mum" to his mother as he thanked everyone who contributed to this racing milestone.

The race was stopped after reaching the two-hour mark, the first such stoppage since 1997, also at Monaco. The clock took two laps off the scheduled 78.

Red Bull's Mark Webber, Scuderia Toro Rosso's Sebastian Vettel, Honda's Rubens Barrichello, Williams's Kazuki Nakajima and McLaren's Heikki Kovalainen also survived their way to points-paying places.

Fourth-place Webber continued to pile up Red Bull's only points. In the sister Toro Rosso team, Vettel, who had exhorted the gods for rain, justified his request by working his way from 18th to fifth.

Kovalainen reached eighth after his McLaren failed to engage a gear for the start of the formation lap, forcing him to start from pit lane with a new steering wheel. He worked his way through the field, progressing slowly with the dearth of passing opportunities at the Monaco circuit, and finally moved to a points-paying position when Raikkonen rear-ended Adrian Sutil out of fourth place.

"I tried to push as hard as I could but could only go at my real pace when there was a gap," Kovalainen said. "It is a pity, because my car was good and the speed was there."

Nakajima drove a single-stop race to finish seventh. A problem with stubborn wheel nuts that prolonged his stop cost him places. But he had a better time than his star teammate, Nico Rosberg, who spent the event changing nose cones before losing the Williams FW30 altogether at Piscine, the swimming pool, in a big shunt; Rosberg was taken to hospital for precautionary checks.

The Japanese rookie said his main aim was keeping the car on the track. "I think we had some luck with the weather and the track conditions as I was on a one-stop strategy and it really worked well for me."

In sixth, Barrichello scored his first points of the season. Barrichello was pleased: "It feels great to be back in the points today and I'm really happy for myself and for the team."

Kimi Raikkonen, Scuderia Ferrari after a crash with Adrian Sutil, Force India F1 Team.
Photo by xpb.cc.

Raikkonen, who didn't enjoy his best day as a professional racer, finished ninth as the final runner on the lead lap. The world champion first took a drive-through penalty for not having tires fitted at the proper prestart time; his Ferrari crew had trouble with a wheel nut and missed the three-minute cutoff time. He then ran off at Sainte Devote on lap 27, pitting for a new front wing, and finally smacked into Sutil, putting the German out of the race and needing another front wing.

By far the biggest groan of a messy day, a harborside racing incident on display before all the guests on his yacht, was Raikkonen's suspension-breaking punt up the rear of Sutil's Force India VJM01. As Coulthard had done a day before, Raikkonen braked out of the tunnel for the Nouvelle Chicane, only for his Ferrari to dispute the request. So only moments after Sutil's team had alerted him that he had Raikkonen's Ferrari behind him and Massa's ahead of him, racing for position, the Force India driver making the team's best showing to date was out on Lap 68, with fewer than 10 to the checkered flag.

"I can't believe it, it was so close," Sutil said. "It feels like a pain in my heart. It is like a dream gone to a nightmare -- suddenly you are in the car and it looks all fantastic, then you have to accept it is not going to happen. We had a really good strategy and it seemed to work and we were so close to the podium and the points. It was after the restart after the final safety car that Kimi had a problem under braking and crashed into the back of my car. The race was over and it was a real shock. A few tears came out as the adrenaline was high -- I just can't explain it. All the same I am so pleased that we did show what we can finally do as a team."

Force India team owner Vijay Mallya offered perspective. 'It was the saddest moment of my motorsports career," he said.

Raikkonen, excused by stewards in the incident, apologized for the accident, and Sutil, for his part, said he was sure the crash was not intentional. The Finn said he sent a message of apology to Sutil's mobile phone as soon as he reached the McLaren garages.

Although the early laps looked as if Massa could duplicate his pole-victory efforts of the most recent race in Turkey, the Brazilian maintained his lead only until lap 16 when he ran off at Sainte Devote and Kubica took the lead. Massa reclaimed it on lap 26 when the Pole stopped. Then Massa stopped on the 33rd lap with Hamilton in second, lurking with intent. Once Hamilton took the lead, he didn't let go.

Robert Kubica, BMW Sauber F1 Team, F1.08.
Photo by xpb.cc.

"When the weather's like this, when it starts to rain -- and we had an idea it's probably going to start to dry -- the important thing is just to keep it on the track," Hamilton said. "But I can't explain how difficult it was for all of us. We're just aquaplaning all the time and you're just tiptoeing almost. Fortunately, the strategy, we had to change it and it worked into my hands."

Being fluid, so to speak, about strategy, McLaren added fuel at Hamilton's tire change, leaving him a lengthy run to half-minute lead before he stopped on lap 54. A safety car brought out for Rosberg's third collision of the day eight laps later closed up the procession but was meaningless to outcome.

"The pace I had was ridiculous," Hamilton said. "I had one second (per lap) on people for the majority of the race. So, it was quite easy. I was comfortable setting that pace. I asked the team if I should go quicker and quicker and they said 'no.' There was a point I was 40 seconds ahead. I thought, 'OK, 20 more laps, just keep

it the same.' Then the second safety car came out."

Hamilton had only to look after his tires to secure victory. He managed easily.

Rain had begun falling two minutes before the start -- a minute past the final three-minute tire-fitting deadline. By this time, all the teams had chosen intermediate wets. Consternation and opportunity then visited in equal measure. Fernando Alonso bounced off the barrier and punctured a tire on his Renault at Massenet a lap before David Coulthard found the barrier. Unfortunately for the Scot, Frenchman Sebastien Bourdais followed him. The resultant crash brought out the safety car on lap 9. Both retired.

Drivers lost nose cones as frequently as a clown at a 6-year-old's birthday party. Nelsinho Piquet and Renault teammate Alonso needed nose cones. Rosberg and Raikkonen were among those who needed nose cones more than once. Jenson Button's Honda needed a second nose after an optimistic try on Nick Heidfeld's BMW Sauber at the Piscine. Then Kovalainen tapped the rear of the Honda. Heidfeld, who had qualified outside the top 10, suffered further by being lapped twice by his teammate. He was the final runner on track, two laps down. The final runner, he was classified ahead of the crashed Rosberg.

Timo Glock had trouble keeping his Toyota headed in a forward direction. Toyota's Jarno Trulli wound up on wrong tires. Force India's Giancarlo Fisichella, driving his 200th F1 race, lost first gear then second then fourth before he called it a dismal day.

Before the end, drying conditions in the face of a rain forecast led to tire gambles and fast-lap trading worthy of speculators pricing petroleum. Fast laps bounced through the field. Front-runners Massa, Kubica and Hamilton traded fast lap routinely, but Sutil, Barrichello, Nakajima, Webber, Alonso and Kovalainen claimed it as well. Raikkonen finally claimed fast lap at 1 minute, 16.689 seconds.

Nelson A. Piquet, Renault F1 Team goes out of the track at first corner.
Photo by xpb.cc.

Alonso, who used full wet tires to great advantage early, was first to try dry tires and when he was successful at staying pointed in the right direction, other teams changed, too. Alonso finished 10th, behind Raikkonen and ahead of Button, Glock, Trulli and Heidfeld. Sadly for Renault, changing second driver Piquet to dry tires didn't work so well; the Brazilian went off course within a few laps.

"I am very happy with the result," Kubica said. "I didn't expect us to have the pace to finish second. It was a great race with very difficult driving conditions, and we did not expect such heavy rain. I had visibility and tire problems throughout the whole race. I was trying to do as few mistakes as possible, as it is very dangerous if you make a mistake here."

Massa grumped that a change in his stop strategy ultimately cost him. Besides losing the lead at Sainte Devote, he lost radio contact with his team.

"I had a very difficult race," Massa said. "I lost the radio for about 20 laps and I couldn't talk to my team. In the first stint, even with the little moment, I was so quick I was able to put down a very good pace, and I knew I the strategy was working very well and the car was perfect."

Massa said a strategy change left him with enough fuel but the wrong tires. "It was a shame," he said. "But it's good to be on the podium."

Webber applauded his team's opportunity for a solid points finish. Vettel, too, had reason to smile. Besides being around at the finish, which had been a mountain to climb this season, pit work let him gain two places.

"It's great to score my first points of the season at Monaco and with the new car as well," the 20-year-old German said. "A big thank you to the team, who worked so hard to understand the car and improve it over the weekend. And a special thanks for the pit stop, which was fantastic and gained me two places."

Vettel said the points finish affords the team a party opportunity for a retiring mechanic. "Gaggio has been with the team forever and we will have a nice party for him tonight with something to celebrate as this is his last race with the team."

With Hamilton's victory, Raikkonen's seven-point championship lead is transformed into a three-point deficit. Hamilton tops the category with 38 points. Massa lies a point adrift of Raikkonen with 34 points. Kubica has 32, Nick Heidfeld 20, and Kovalainen 15 as the only other drivers in double figures.

Ferrari maintains its lead in constructors' points, 69-53 over McLaren Mercedes, which edged past BMW Sauber (52). Williams and Red Bull are on 15, Toyota and Renault on nine, and Honda and Scuderia Toro Rosso on six.

The F1 circus moves to Canada in a fortnight.

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About this article
Series Formula 1
Drivers Jarno Trulli , Jenson Button , Rubens Barrichello , Mark Webber , David Coulthard , Nick Heidfeld , Kimi Raikkonen , Fernando Alonso , Lewis Hamilton , Felipe Massa , Sébastien Bourdais , Nico Rosberg , Robert Kubica , Timo Glock , Sebastian Vettel , Kazuki Nakajima , Adrian Sutil
Teams Ferrari , Mercedes , Sauber , McLaren , Force India , Toro Rosso , Williams , Renault F1 Team