Sunday, 29 May 2011

Monaco, Glitz, Glamour and Red Flags

An eventful Monaco showed all the excitement that it promised. But it ultimately came down to a slightly disappointing end after a red flag interrupted the last laps of the race.


At Monaco grid position is more important than at any other track during the season and this time out proved no different. The sessions started with lots of traffic and a few drivers getting in each others way. Rosberg produced the most impressive story of qualifying after a huge accident in the third free practice session. He lost the rear of his car exiting the tunnel, speared into the barriers and slid down the track towards the infamous wall at the chicane. Amazingly he missed the wall by an incredibly narrow margin and slid to a stop some way down the following straight with three wheels hanging from their tethers. The Mercedes team worked hard and had the car ready less than six minutes into Q1. Rosberg left the pits and put in hos first flying lap of the day to beat Schumacher and end up middle of the pack at that point.

It was qualifying 3 where the real drama started though. Most of the cars went out for an early run, two attempts seemed to be the order of the day and halfway through the session, Vettel put in a stunning lap to beat everyone by a huge margin. Button put in his fastest lap of the weekend and was still 0.4 secs off the german's time. Sergio Perez at this point came out of the tunnel a little off line, hit the brakes and in a very similar manner to Rosberg swerved into the wall and slid down the track. He wasn't as lucky as Nico though and smashed into the barrier side on. With around two and a half minutes remaining the session was instantly red-flagged while the rescue teams moved to assist. It took several minutes to remove the Mexican from his car safely and get him on his way to the medical centre. It was later revealed that he was suffering from concussion and a bruised leg, a lucky escape after a nasty incident.

As the session restarted Lewis Hamilton had been waiting at the pit exit for just over two minutes and was first on track. Despite a huge effort the track was not producing the same times as before and nobody improved. Hamilton had not set a time yet and becasue he cut the chicane on this last lap the time he set did not count and he started from 10th place.

Photo courtesy of Force India

Lewis Hamilton was allowed to choose his starting tyres after his penalty and surprisingly elected to start the race on the harder tyres. An interesting strategy call but would it work? On the Warm-up lap Button radioed in to his team complaining of heavy steering which must have caused a slight panic in the garage.

The lights went out  and Fernando Alonso tried the flying straight up the inside that worked so well at Barcelona. It didn't quite work out as well here here but he got in front of Webber and Button kept his place in second. The biggest loser was Schumacher who bogged down badly off the line and was taken by several cars. By the time he got moving  Hamilton was in front and Michael responded by hitting him in turn 1. No major damage was caused and both cars continued. The German found a gap to slide up the inside of Hamilton at the hairpin. Rosberg also got a great start and found himself in fifth place by the end of the first lap.

Sebastien Vettel went straight into attack mode and by lap 3 was already 3.5 seconds ahead of Button. Hamilton was all over the back of Schumacher by this stage. Micheal was already complaining of graining but, as predicted the DRS zone didn't seem to be long enough at this track, and so he couldn't get alongside by St. Devote. Up the hill into Casino Square Hamilton was looking from side to side but there was clearly not enough space to allow a pass. Eventually he got a front wheel alongside and simply scared Michael off the apex. Michael, this time didn't turn in on Lewis and both carried on through.

Rubens followed Lewis through a short while later, yet another one back for all those years at Ferrari. The German was the first to stop on lap 13 to get rid of his damaged tyres and change his front wing. Neither Mercedes had a lot of speed and Felipe Massa was trying hard to pass Nico Rosberg but only succeeded by losing a few bits of wing against his tyre.

Button  dived into the pits on lap 16 and came back out on the track in a massive clear section of track. Vettel pitted a lap later but there was a problem with the tyre warmers which lead to a delay in the car getting going again. The small delay and a radio problem, meant that no-one was ready when Webber arrived seconds later for his stop, causing an even longer wait for him. Ferrari also got into the pits and once everyone was back on track Button was in the lead. Webber was the big loser, he ended up in 14th place. Vettel and Alonso had switched to the harder tyres whereas Button decided to stick with the softs.

Jenson proceeded to pull out a large gap over second place, it was over 10 seconds by lap 23. Lewis now went into the pits but his tyres weren't ready and when he eventually left the pits he was behind Webber but on the soft tyres. Paul di Resta gave himself a drive through penalty by attempting an almost impossible overtake at the hairpin and lost his front wind into the bargain. 10 out of 10 for pluck, minus several hundred for sensibleness!

Lewis was now behind Felipe Massa and chasing very hard. As they approached the hairpin Lewis tried the same move as Di Resta with similar results. He was way too far back and hit his tyre against Massa's sidepod which locked them together for the rest of the corner. As they entered the tunnel Felipe clearly had no grip and Hamilton got alongside as they reached the bend. Massa ran onto the marbles, lost grip and wiped his wheels off on the barrier. The first safety car of the year was called out.

Sebastien Vettel stayed out as the safety car boards came out, so did Jenson, Schumacher promptly broke down just before the pit entrance and lewis got into the pits followed by almost everyone else. Lewis came on the radio claiming that Massa turned in on him on purpose but the stewards had none of it and gave him a drive through penalty.

The safety car came in on lap 38. After clearing the lapped traffic Button quickly started to close in on Vettel as Hamilton took his penalty. Webber was hounding Kobayashi now but couldn't seem to make any further progress. Button came in for his second stop on lap 48 and went on to the harder tyres. On exiting the pits he put in some seriously fast laps and quickly started to catch back up with Alonso and Vettel.

Photo Courtesy of Team Lotus
By lap 52 it became clear that if Sebastien was to stop for tyres he would exit the pits well behind Button and Alonso. If he was to run to the end of the race his tyres would be well past their best and it didn't seem likely that he could hold button behind him with the English driver on far fresher rubber. Fernando Alonso was also on pretty secondhand tyres at this point but they were definitely newer than Vettel's, and this allowed him and Button to close in on the leader.

Jenson came onto the radio asking his team if Vettel was staying out. The reply, "We're not sure, but we are much faster." However with overtaking so difficult at this track would that be enough? It became obvious that staying out and hoping for the best was the plan. As Alonso got onto the tail of Vettel you could see he was much faster around most of the lap but, at the all important DRS zone he just could not get the power on early enough. By lap 62 Button was in the activation zone as well and the race was set for an intense last section.

Alonso was attacking Vettel as hard as he could, whereas Jenson seemed to be waiting for his perfect moment. They caught up with a large train of back markers on lap 70 and started to pass them. Kobayashi was part of it and tried a move on fifth place Sutil which resulted in a wheel to wheel collision. This obviously damaged Sutil's tyre and he ran wide in the swimming pool complex and hit the wall. He tried to make it around the next corner causing the following cars to take avoiding action. In the concertina Alguesuari rode up onto the back of Hamilton's car and straight off into the barrier taking Petrov with him and bringing out the second safety car.

Petrov was not coming straight out of the car and the yellows were changed to red with all the cars coming to a stop on the grid while he was extracted from the car and the wreckage was cleared away. He turned out to be suffering only from minor leg injuries on further inspection. In a little used rule somewhere it is written that the teams are allowed to work on the cars on the grid in this situation. This allowed McLaren to repair Hamilton's damaged wing but also allowed Ferrari and Red Bull to replace their respective driver's worn out tyres. The final result was pretty much sealed at this point and instead of the dramatic finale which had been building up we were treated to a four lap dash to the end between cars with pretty much the same grip as each other.

Hamilton and Webber were the only ones to provide any excitement on the restart. Hamilton knocking Pastor Maldonaldo sideways on turn 1 and Webber finally dispatching Kobayashi on the penultimate lap. The final result saw Vettel take his first Monaco victory followed closely by Alonso and Button. Webber got himself into fourth, with Kobayashi and Hamliton behind him. It seemed unlikely that Lewis would keep his place after the contact with Maldonaldo though.

This was the best Monaco race for many years and in the end, what should have been a dramatic race to the line, was spoiled by a little known regulation. The DRS was kind of helpful but it never really stood much chance on a track this tight anyway, the tyres provided the real show.

Lewis provided even more drama in the post race interviews when he accused pretty much everyone of being out to get him. This seemed odd as during the race it appeared that he was the one hitting everyone else. After the drivers' he also claimed that it seemed the Stewards were after him as well. When asked why he thought that was he made an attempt at a joke which will definitely come back to haunt him. "I don't know," he said, "maybe its because I'm black. That's what Ali G would say." Ali G popularised the phrase in the UK but somehow I don't think that will go down too well with the international members of the press and FIA officials.

Monaco always provides glitz and glamour but this time it also provided good racing. Although it was unfortunately with a bit of danger thrown in. The cars keep getting faster but run-off can never be added to this track. One day the cars will not be able to race here. Thank goodness it wasn't today. Next up is Canada where the DRS system will be used on two straights in a row. Looking forward to it!

Edit: Hamilton was given a 20 second penalty for causing an avoidable accident. The penalty does not affect the final standings.

Full Result

Championship Standings

No comments:

Post a Comment