By Berthold Bouman, F1 Correspondent
- Red flag and safety cars decided the race
- Tyre change during red flag period criticized
- Hamilton at war with the FIA stewards
German 2010 World Champion Sebastian Vettel scored his maiden Monaco victory last weekend, but it had been a close call for the 23-year old Red Bull driver. In a very chaotic race with two safety cars, a red flag and a restart six laps before the end of the race, Vettel could nevertheless cruise to a victory. “It’s difficult to describe today; it’s a great feeling. I’ve seen what it takes to win here. Today it was a crazy race,” the happy winner said.
Vettel won the race with a very unusual one-stop strategy, but after the race team principal Christian Horner revealed the strategy was actually the result of a mistake the pit crew made during Vettel’s first planned pit stop. Vettel had problems with his radio and when he came in the team wasn’t prepared and accidentally grabbed the wrong set of tyres. He then left the pits on a set of softs, instead of a set of super soft Pirellis.
”We had a communication problem with the first stop, which affected both drivers as they were both stopping on the same lap. It delayed Sebastian, but we managed to re-adjust our strategy. We didn’t panic and managed to engineer ourselves out of the situation to get him back into the lead,” Horner proudly explained.
As it turned out, Vettel was able to maintain his pace on those tyres for the major part of the race, but after that the by now famous tyre cliff, a sudden drop in performance which can be as much as four or five seconds per lap, struck him, and Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button rapidly caught up, and it seemed only a matter of time before the two would overtake the now very slow Red Bull. ”The safety car helped us but it was no walk in the park to do roughly 60 laps on the same set of tyres. It is a crazy place. The roulette spun a lot last night and it kept on spinning during this race. We took a lot of risks, but that made today's win even sweeter,” Vettel said.
We took a lot of risks, but that made today's win even sweeter
An eventfull Monaco Grand Prix
The start of the Monaco Grand Prix was incident free, as usual it was Vettel who took the lead at Sainte Devote, and he was followed by Button’s McLaren and Alonso’s Ferrari, the latter had jumped Mark Vettel’s Red Bull before the first corner. Vettel immediately pulled away and after a few laps already had created a five-second gap. Michael Schumacher was this time the one who had the slowest start, he lost four places and was classified as ninth after the first lap. The seven-time world champion also ran into the back of Hamilton’s McLaren “At the start, the anti-stall system suddenly kicked in which meant I had to re-do the whole starting procedure. Then I had a rendezvous with Lewis at Turn 1 which left my front wing not working properly, so I lost down force which also handicapped my tyres,” Schumacher said.
The German managed to take his position back from Hamilton in the Loews hairpin, and Hamilton was now stuck behind the Mercedes, he tried everything he could with his KERS and DRS, but could not pass him. After ten laps Schumacher reported his rear tyres were grained, perhaps Hamilton also heard this, as he immediately made a move on the start/finish straight and completely surprised Schumacher by overtaking him at Saint Devote.
It was soon time for the first round of pit stops, Pirelli had predicted two or three stops, both Vettel and Webber had a disastrous pit stop, and Vettel lost the lead to Alonso, who in his turn, lost the lead to Button after his pit stop. On lap 20 Button was leading the race, followed by Vettel, Alonso, Felipe Massa and Pastor Maldonado, who was again quicker all weekend than his team mate Rubens Barrichello.
Further down the field Barrichello, Hamilton and Petrov were fighting for positions, Hamilton decided he wanted to get out of this fight that cost him time, and came into the McLaren pit unannounced. This resulted in a very long stop and he joined the race in 14th position behind Jarno Trulli. But he managed to carve his way through the field, until he arrived at the back of the Ferrari of Massa. He then started to push the Brazilian very hard, tried to overtake him in Sainte Devote but Massa made no mistakes and defended his line.
At this stage Hamilton got agitated about his lack of progress and tried in what can only be described as an amateur move, to overtake the Ferrari on the inside of the Loews hairpin. As expected, his move turned sourer and he hit the Ferrari as he ran out of space. Both cars were side-by-side in the tunnel as Massa tried to hold on to his position, but his Ferrari ran wide on the dirty part of the track and he crashed into the barrier before he even had exited the tunnel.
A disgruntled Massa about the incident, ”After Hamilton had tried to pass me at Loews, which is an impossible place to do it, the car was no longer right and I could not drive it properly, which is why he got on the inside of me inside the tunnel. That put me on the dirt and then I ended up in the barrier.” With Massa’s car now on the middle of the track at the tunnel exit, the safety car was deployed and the race was neutralized.
At the same time Timo Glock had to park his Marussia Virgin with a broken rear suspension, and Schumacher’s Mercedes stopped in Rascasse, just before the pit lane entrance. Meanwhile, Hamilton reported on the radio ‘Massa had turned into him’ at the hairpin, but the stewards were alert and rightfully gave him a drive-through penalty for causing an avoidable collision.
More incidents and accidents
The race was restarted and on lap 39 Vettel was leading the race, and was followed by Button, Alonso, Adrian Sutil and Kamui Kobayashi -- who both had made only one pit stop at that stage -- and Hamilton who was again challenging the cars ahead of him. By now the stewards had made their decision and Hamilton had to come in for his drive-through penalty, and rejoined the race in ninth position.
Meanwhile Button was rapidly catching up with Vettel and it became clear Vettel started to struggle on his old set of soft tyres. Red Bull and Vettel decided to stay out, while Button went to pit for another fresh set of tyres, and rejoined in third position, just behind Alonso who was also gaining on Vettel.
The situation now became difficult for Vettel, as Alonso and Button were considerably faster, and Button had at that moment the best position as he was on a brand new set of tyres. It looked like it would become a thrilling three-way battle between three World Champions, but on lap 70 everything changed again when Hamilton, Alguersuari and Petrov were involved in a crash at the swimming pool section.
The resulting multi-car pile-up in fact decided the outcome of Sunday’s Monaco Grand Prix. With only six laps to go the race was red-flagged after Force India driver Sutil had caused a chain reaction amongst the drivers directly behind him. The German tried to fend off Maldonado’s attacks, but ran wide in Tabac and hit the barrier hard, the impact damaged his right rear tyre and Sutil then shot through the first chicane and landed ahead of Lewis Hamilton and Jaime Alguersuari, who just had overtaken Vitaly Petrov in his Lotus Renault.
Hamilton had to beak hard to avoid a collision with his friend Sutil, as a result Alguersuari slammed right into the back of the McLaren damaging the rear wing. Hamilton could continue but Alguersuari ended up in the barrier and Petrov who was close behind him had nowhere to go and also crashed into the barrier. Initially the safety car came out for the second time, but not much later the stewards decided to red flag the race.
Alguersuari about what happened, “I think Sutil had a problem with his rear tyre, so Hamilton braked very hard in front of me and, although I also braked as hard as I could, it was too late, I could not stop and went into him.” Sutil was lucky and was even able to continue his race and finished in seventh place. “I ran wide on the marbles at Turn 12, which gave me a right rear puncture. But that’s when the safety car came out and I pitted to change tyres so I didn’t lose too much ground,” the German said.
Although I also braked as hard as I could, it was too late, I could not stop and went into him
For the second time that weekend Formula One held its breath, as it slowly became apparent something was wrong with Petrov. Although he did not hit the barrier very hard, the awkward angle in which he had hit the barrier had damaged the monocoque and his legs were trapped in the cockpit. With the heavy crash of Mexican rookie Sergio Perez during Saturday’s qualifying still in mind, spectators saw the ambulance and doctors arrive at the scene of the accident.
It soon emerged Petrov was conscious and was talking to the doctors who assisted him, which was a great relief for the entire Lotus Renault team, who had been watching everything on the screens in the garage. Petrov was transported to the Princess Grace hospital for further checks, but the ’Vyborg rocket’, as his nick name is, was unhurt and only had some bruises on his legs.
”It’s been a big crash but I’m ok,” Petrov said in a first reaction, “First of all, I would like to thank all my fans for all their well wishes, the medical teams at the circuit, the hospital for their efficient and friendly assistance, and the team for their concern.”
”After the impact, I could not feel my legs very well. I thought it was best for the medical team to assist with removing me from the car as it was difficult for me to move and my legs were trapped in the cockpit. I did not lose consciousness but I was in quite a lot of pain when I was inside the car,” Petrov explained.
He was on his way to fourth position when he was caught in the accident. “I was stuck behind Kamui Kobayashi -- who was very slow-- and Sutil who was defending his position really too aggressively, but I was being cautious as it is very difficult to pass on this track. It is a shame, as we could have got quite a few points this weekend,” Petrov commented.
Tyre change during after red flag period criticized
Many were surprised to see all teams were allowed to work on their cars after the race had been red-flagged and all drivers had parked their car on the start grid for the second time that afternoon.
Article 41.4 of the Sporting Regulations states: “Whilst the race is suspended; - Cars may be worked on once they have stopped on the grid or entered the pits but any such work must not impede the resumption of the race; only team members and officials will be permitted on the grid.” The regulations are clear about the pit lane, cars are not allowed to enter or exit the pit lane when a race is suspended, if they do, they will incur a penalty, cars that were already at the pit lane entrance or exit at the moment the race was suspended will not be penalized, but all cars present in the pit lane are not allowed to leave the pit lane until the race has been resumed.
Sebastian Vettel was the main beneficiary of the race suspension, as he now finally could change his completely worn out tyres he had been racing on for the last 57 laps. Before the red flag was waved, both Alonso and Button had been closing in on the number one Red Bull, as Vettel ran into more an more problems on his old tyres and was clearly losing seconds per lap compared Alonso and Hamilton who were on relatively fresh tyres.
Before the pile up at the swimming pool section, commentators already had predicted a 1992 Senna/Mansell-like finish of the 2011 Monaco GP, but it wasn’t to be, the exiting three-way battle of the three World Champions turned into a six-lap procession after the race had been resumed, and certainly spectators felt they had been robbed of an exiting Monaco finale.
Race Director Charlie Whiting at least gave it his best try and decided the race would be resumed after the track had been cleared, as he also understood he would deprive the spectators of a possible exiting finish of the race. He could have ended the race with six laps still on the counter, 75 per cent of the race distance had been completed, but he nevertheless ordered to continue the race just to give the battle for the victory another chance, but with now all three front runners on fresh rubber, the race was ‘off’ rather than ‘on’.
I don't really understand why they are allowed to change tyres
Pirelli motorsport director Paul Hembery was disappointed to see such an exiting race to end in a boring procession just because teams were allowed to change the tyres. “I don't really understand why they are allowed to change tyres, but maybe I am missing something,” he said to Reuters. “I think it was a bit of a shame with the red flag of course, because if they hadn't changed the tyres, then they would have had to fight to the end as they were all on different strategies, and the tyre wear and life was very different.”
The last six laps became an anti-climax, none of the top three runners could launch an attack for the win, and Vettel had now plenty of fresh rubber to make his car as wide as possible to defend his position in the narrow streets of Monte Carlo, and ultimately crossed the finish line in first position, followed by Alonso, Button, Webber, Kobayashi and Hamilton.
For Button it had been an exiting race and he certainly believed he had the possibility to win the race, “With 10 laps to go, it was looking like either myself, Sebastian or Fernando could win the race: Sebastian’s tyres were going off and Fernando was pushing him really hard. I could tell that Fernando was getting ready to have a go into Turn 1 -- it was fun to watch because they were either going to crash or there was going to be an opportunity for me to try and get through as they battled each other. Any of us could have won at that point.”
But he thought the outcome was a little bit disappointing for him, “But after the red flag for Vitaly’s big accident, all the teams were able to fit fresh tyres, which meant we couldn’t do anything because the three of us were all on the same pace and I’d lost my advantage.”
Webber, who saw his march to the top hampered by a lengthy pit stop, was nevertheless able to take fourth place from Kobayashi in a daring move, “I had one objective: to pass Kobayashi. I pulled off a good move into the chicane because the track was very dirty off-line and he’s a brave young driver. You have to get your stuff together to win a battle against him,” said Webber.
Kobayashi again proved he can overtake anywhere, and his one-stop strategy worked very well for him. “The team did a great job with the pit stop strategy today. The call for the tyre change came at a perfect time,” the Japanese driver said. “After my one and only pit stop I was stuck behind Adrian Sutil, and at the same time I had to defend against Webber. In this situation it was a bit difficult to manage the tyres.”
He also reckoned he could have done better without the red flag, “Without the restart I obviously could have finished fourth. But when Mark was so close behind me on the final laps there was nothing I could do to defend that place. However, I think fifth is a great achievement at the end of what was a difficult weekend.”
Ferrari happy to be on the podium again
Alonso again gave Ferrari some hope and finished in second place. During the start he squeezed his way past Webber to third place, and kept that position for the major part of the race. He took over Button’s second pace when the Briton had to pit on lap 48. Alonso about his race, “I tried to look after the tyres, before attacking Vettel at the very end, but then came the red flag and that meant it was over, because on new tyres, he was impossible to beat.”
And Alonso added, “Unfortunately, these sort of things can always happen here and they are part of the character of this Grand Prix. We must be pleased with this result, the gap in the championship is very big, but there is still a long way to go.”
Ferrari team principal Stefano Domenicali was also happy with Alonso’s achievement, “Fernando was fantastic all weekend long and today he fought for the win, right down to the final metre. The race had a deserving winner, but there’s no doubt the red flag towards the end deprived our driver of the opportunity to attack in the final laps, making the most of having tyres with slightly less degradation.” And the Italian added, “At the restart, with everyone on new tyres, there was not much more we could do.”
Hamilton unhappy with stewards’ decision
Hamilton, who had started the race from ninth position on the grid and had, after a tumultuous race in which he got involved in several incidents, advanced to seventh place after the race was restarted, but got for the third time involved in an incident, this time with Williams driver Maldonado. Hamilton tried to overtake the Venezuelan during an over-optimistic move on the outside of Sainte Devote, but failed miserably and instead hit Maldonado who was about to score the long-awaited first points for his struggling Williams team.
Maldonado ended up in the barrier on the left of the turn, and had to abandon his race. “Hamilton tried a very ambitious manoeuvre at the first corner and that was the end of my race. I’m really disappointed not to come away with any points today,” he said. Asked whether he had talked about it with Hamilton he answered: “No, and I won't try to discuss the incident with him. That wouldn't serve any purpose.”
Once again Hamilton’s move was under investigation by the stewards and he was handed a post-race drive through penalty, which meant 20 seconds where added to his time, but he kept his sixth position. Hamilton was livid after the race and heavily criticized the stewards’ decisions which he described as a “frickin' joke”. “This afternoon, in the race itself, I made some strong moves on three drivers -- Schumacher, Massa and Maldonado -- and I got penalised for two of them,” he said.
And he continued his rant, “With Felipe, I went up the inside at the hairpin, he turned in early and we touched. With Pastor, again, he turned in and I was pushed over the kerb. The penalties were frustrating: it’s really tough to overtake around here, and you rarely get an opportunity to do so. I was racing my heart out and just wanted to put on a good show for everyone.”
When asked by BBC reporter Lee McKenzie why he had been punished by the stewards, the 2008 champion sarcastically answered: “Maybe it's because I'm black. That's what Ali G says. I don't know.” His comments were not appreciated by the drivers who had become his victim, and certainly not by the FIA stewards. He later returned to explain his bad joke to the stewards. “They accepted my explanation, they understood,” said Hamilton after his meeting with the stewards.
Massa told La Gazzetta dello Sport, “What he did today was unbelievable, not just with me, but with other drivers as well. He needs to be penalised again and in a good way -- otherwise he doesn't learn. He deserves at least a one race suspension!”
Next stop: Canada
In two weeks time Formula One will make its appearance in Canada at the circuit that bears the name of one of the sport’s most beloved drivers: the late and great Gilles Villeneuve. It will be a completely different race on a completely different circuit, the chicane that leads to the start/finish line has over the years become the Waterloo of many great drivers, and the wall that lines the outside of the chicane has since been baptized the ‘Wall of Champions’. A circuit where KERS and DRS will play a more important role, last year McLaren dominated the race which was won by Hamilton, Button finished in second, and Alonso in third place.
Both Ferrari and McLaren are poised to end the reign of Red Bull and their star driver Vettel, who now comfortably leads the championship with 143 points out of a possible 150 points, which he earned by winning five of the first six races. The German seems unbeatable, but is he really unbeatable or will his rivals finally end his dominance at the Gilles Villeneuve circuit?