Success at the Grand Prix de Monaco, the jewel in the crown of Formula One, is rarely a matter of pure race pace, but rather qualifying, pit stop strategy and the whims of Lady Luck. Mark Webber made all this work for him, and took his first...
Success at the Grand Prix de Monaco, the jewel in the crown of Formula One, is rarely a matter of pure race pace, but rather qualifying, pit stop strategy and the whims of Lady Luck. Mark Webber made all this work for him, and took his first victory at the Principality, heading a Red Bull 1-2 finish -- as the race finished behind a safety car.
It seemed as if luck was on Webber's side, but in fact the four safety car periods cost him some 35 seconds of a hard-fought lead. Webber crossed the finish line just a few seconds ahead of Sebastian Vettel, but without the safety car periods, it might have been well over 30 seconds -- a massive display of dominance at this tight street circuit.
"I had a lot of work to do, the track changed a lot, backmarkers and lot of safety cars," Webber recounted. "Getting restarts and tire pressures right, all the basics that could test were in front of you today. It is amazing to join Ayrton Senna and those guys (as a Monaco GP winner)!"
The final safety car period, brought about by a spectacular pile-up between Jarno Trulli's Lotus and Karun Chandhok's HRT, just in front of Webber. The incident made sure Vettel never had a final opportunity to challenge for the lead.
"I saw Jarno doing a lunge down at Rascasse and thought 'what the hell is going on here,'" Webber explained his view of the incident. "They interlocked wheels and I hoped I would have some room to go. I worried if Karun was okay because it all looked like it was around his head."
Both Trulli and Chandhok were indeed all right, though their cars were thoroughly beached. The ensuing period, the fourth of the race, resulted in a safety car finish, the fourth in F1 history -- but the third in the last two years.
In any case, Vettel never really had the pace of his teammate this weekend. Even though the young German will be credited with the fastest lap in the history books, it was not until lap 71, when Webber was already securing his victory, that he was able to beat the Australian's lap times.
"Especially in the beginning and the restarts I wasn't able to keep up with him, there was a big difference," Vettel admitted. "Later on when I felt the grip he was too far off."
Behind them, Robert Kubica drove an excellent if unspectacular race, easily holding third place after losing second to Vettel at the start. Kubica's third made it an all-Renault-powered podium at Monaco, in a testament to the French engines' excellent drivability.
Webber built his success on an outstanding qualifying lap yesterday to claim the pole position, and then followed that up with a solid start to take the lead into the first corner, while his teammate Vettel slipped past second-place starter Kubica's Renault.
"(I knew) starting from the dirty side would be difficult," Kubica recounted the start. "Normally I would defend but I saw Mark did a slow pull-away so I thought I had a chance to overtake him. I just got on the power too early and got wheelspin, then it was too late to close the door on Vettel and then had to defend from Felipe (Massa)."
However, Webber had no chance to work on a lead before the yellow flags came out for the first time: Nico Hulkenberg's Williams slewed into the barriers at high speed in the tunnel, shedding bits of carbon fibre over the track and bringing the safety car out for the next six laps.
Critically, Ferrari made a snap decision to take advantage of the safety car period, brining in Fernando Alonso for his mandatory pit stop and tire change. Alonso, who had started from the pit lane after missing qualifying, had no track position to lose, and the Spaniard quickly caught back up with the back of the field behind the safety car.
A classic track it may be, but passing has never been easy at the Grand Prix de Monaco, as Alonso found out early in the subsequent laps. It took him three laps to force his way past Lucas di Grassi which had the Spaniard making angry international hand gestures to the Virgin driver.
Still, Alonso did find a way past, and made quick work of the rest of the backmarkers before the pit stops began in earnest. Lewis Hamilton was the first of the front-runners to stop, and just barely made it out in front of Alonso, underlining the effectiveness of Ferrari's impromptu strategy change.
As Rubens Barrichello and Michael Schumacher pitted three laps later, the Mercedes team got Schumacher back out quickly, releasing him from behind Barrichello, but both returned to the track after Hamilton and Alonso had already slipped by.
Nico Rosberg, who had also been held up behind Barrichello and Schumacher, took a different approach: with his soft-compound tires holding up well, he decided to stay out longer. The younger German rapidly began to drop his lap times, setting fastest lap times in the process, and giving him hope that he might be able to leapfrog his teammate.
However, that plan was put to an abrupt end as Webber made his stop from the lead, and returned to the track just in front of Rosberg. With a set of cold, harder tires, his lap times were well above Rosberg's, but there was no way around him, and there was nothing for the Mercedes driver but to slink into the pits, swap on new rubber and return back to the track behind Schumacher again.
All the while, Webber had been steadily padding his lead, taking it up to 15 seconds over Vettel by lap 32, when Lady Fortune decided that it was time to close things back up. Her method this time was to decree a rear suspension failure onto Barrichello's Williams, sending it spinning backwards into the barriers.
Another safety car period followed 10 laps later to check a loose drain cover, and Webber once again had to start working on his race lead anew. It seemed to be little trouble for the Australian, though, as he regularly set new fastest lap times, and stretched his lead out to four, five, six and seven seconds over Vettel, seemingly at will.
With a dozen laps to go, though, the team radioed him and suggested that easing off a bit to bring the car home would be a prudent move. Vettel apparently did not get the same message, and continued to push until the end, managing to claw back the gap slightly.
Behind the Red Bull duo, there was little on-track passing -- never a feature of Monaco -- as Kubica, Massa, Hamilton, Alonso, Scumacher and Rosberg followed in a concertina train.
It was only as the safety car pulled away into the pit lane before start-finish -- based on the new FIA rules for a finish behind safety car -- that Schumacher made an aggressive move, reminiscent of his earlier career, slipping by Alonso to take sixth from the Spaniard. However, Ferrari saw this as a pass under safety car conditions as the race was deemed to have finished under safety car, and protested.
The protest was upheld by the stewards, and Schumacher was assigned a drive-through penalty, or more correctly its post-race equivalent, a 20-second penalty, dropping him back to 12th place.
It was Massa, Hamilton and Alonso, then, in the 4-5-6 positions, and Alonso surely could not be dissatisfied with a recovery from the back of the grid to sixth.
Rosberg took seventh place, and Force India managed to get both of its cars into the points, with Adrian Sutil beating out Vitantonio Liuzzu for eighth place. Sebatian Buemi scored his first point of the year for Toro Rosso with a tenth-place finish.
But above all it was another Red Bull weekend, as the 1-2 race finish is now complemented by a 1-2 lead in the World Championship: Webber and Vettel are tied atop the standings with 78 points each, with Webber ahead by the virtue of his two race victories. Jenson Button, who succumbed to an engine failure today, falls to fourth, still with 70 points, as Alonso's effort moves him into third place with 75.
"We are optimistic for the future and we got the maximum we could do today," Webber summed up his perfect weekend. "We need to make that happen as often as possible."
The Formula One circus will return to action in a fortnight's time at Istanbul Park.