Five star Vettel rules the streets of Monaco

By on Monday, May 30, 2011

Not even a red flag can halt this charging Bull

So far this season draws parallels with 2009. One man has won all of the races, except the third one in which he still claimed a podium. He has the fastest car, has been driving faultlessly, whilst his team mate struggles to get anywhere near him in the same car. Ominously though, unlike Brawn, Red Bull has the resources to sustain development on the RB7 and with a 58 point lead in the championship, Vettel surely already has one hand on the trophy.

The narrow streets of Monaco were always going to cause problems for a few drivers. The bump under braking for the Nouvelle Chicane was what caught many out, and perhaps Sergio Perez has Nico Rosberg to thank for limiting any injuries he suffered during qualifying. During the early stages of third practice, Rosberg lost control under braking and slammed into the barrier to his right. Out of control, his car launched in the air and he narrowly missed the second barrier. Having seen this, the yellow bollards were removed by the stewards. When Perez recreated Rosberg’s accident during Q3, it was a miracle that he was not more seriously injured. Perez’s accident caused problems for a few drivers. Lewis Hamilton had yet to set a lap time so McLaren sent him to the end of the pit lane with two minutes to go before the session restarted. The loss in tyre temperature hindered Hamilton, as did the cooler track after a 35 minute stoppage. Hamilton could only post the 7th fastest time, which was later deleted after he cut the chicane. He started a disconsolate 9th. There was cause for optimism for Williams as Monaco specialist Pastor Maldonado started 8th, but no-one could stop Sebastian Vettel. He took his 5th pole position of the season despite – by his standards – a relatively scruffy lap, ahead of Jenson Button and Mark Webber.

The race turned into a duel between Vettel and Button. Both started on the super-soft tyre, but the 2009 champion pitted early and changed to another set of the softer compound. When Vettel pitted a lap later, Red Bull was unusually slow in changing his tyres, handing the lead to Button. Vettel also decided to take the soft compound tyre, meaning that Button was pulling away at over a second a lap. A mid-race Safety Car lost Button track position to Alonso, but with Vettel having stopped once, Alonso twice and Button thrice, the final twenty laps were set to see the trio of champions battling for an elusive Monaco win.

However, despite his best efforts, Alonso could not find a way past the reigning champion, whose 56 lap stint on the harder compound astonished many. Vettel also had luck on his side, as the safety car period clearly hindered Button, whilst the red flag allowed Red Bull to switch Vettel to the faster, fresher super-soft tyre. Nevertheless, Vettel kept his composure to claim his first Monaco triumph.

The trio at the front were supremely fast in comparison to the rest of the field, with other leading drivers having a terrible day at the office.

Mark Webber lost out to Alonso at the start and from then on, he lacked pace to keep up with the top three. When he pitted shortly after Vettel, Red Bull were not prepared for him and he lost in excess of ten seconds. This left him stuck in the midfield, but it was a strong drive from Webber, who kept calm and overtook Kobayashi late on to end up 4th. The Sauber driver put in a brilliant performance to give his team a lift after their worries on Saturday, claiming 10 points and the best finish of his career in 5th.

Lewis Hamilton had a race to forget. He clumsily tangled with Massa at the Loews Hairpin, earning himself a drive through penalty whilst later on in the race he was involved in a collision with Pastor Maldonado. The Venezuelan had starred around the streets of Monte Carlo and was running 6th, with his beleaguered team set for a big points haul. The collision with Hamilton left him in the barriers, although Rubens Barrichello claimed two points for the team courtesy of 9th.

It was one of the best dry races for a long time, with the tension prominent throughout. When the TV director cut to the trio at the front about to lap a group of six cars, there was a strong feeling that trouble was to lie around the next corner, and it did.

On Lap 69, Pastor Maldonado got down the inside of the ailing Adrian Sutil at Tabac and the Force India driver hit the barrier with his right rear wheel. Just behind them, Hamilton was putting a similar move on Vitaly Petrov whilst the Toro Rosso’s of Buemi and a lapped Alguersuari were in close pursuit. Maldonado escaped the mayhem but Sutil’s problem slowed Hamilton in the Swimming pool chicane. Alguersuari approached too quickly and hit the rear of the McLaren, whilst Petrov took the barriers to avoid contact with another car. This brought out the red flag as Petrov could not feel his legs and was requiring medical assistance.

The red flag was good news for Hamilton, whose rear wing was badly damaged by Alguersuari and has the McLaren mechanics to thank for fixing it in a short space of time.

Mercedes had an utterly miserable day, as neither car scored a point despite starting from 5th and 7th on the grid. Both Schumacher – who made a terrible start but redeemed himself to an extent with a move on Hamilton at the hairpin – and Rosberg struggled desperately with the rear tyres. Fading pace and an early pit stop left them battling with each other at the foot of the field, along with the Virgin of Timo Glock. Rosberg recovered to 11th, whilst Schumacher ground to a halt with a suspected engine problem.

Whilst Fernando Alonso enjoyed a rejuvenation of sorts with second, Felipe Massa had another awful race. Whilst he was not necessarily at fault for contact with Hamilton at the hairpin, running off line at speed in the tunnel was never going to work and he crashed out of the race. Astonishingly, Massa’s crash was the first time the safety car had been deployed in 2011 whilst it was the first time Massa failed to finish in the Principality since 2002.

So after a thrilling Grand Prix, it’s bad news for haters of finger wagging. Because one thing’s for certain: there’s going to be a lot more of it yet.

Pos  Driver        Team                       Time
 1.  Vettel        Red Bull-Renault           2h09:38.373
 2.  Alonso        Ferrari                    +     1.138
 3.  Button        McLaren-Mercedes           +     2.378
 4.  Webber        Red Bull-Renault           +    23.100
 5.  Kobayashi     Sauber-Ferrari             +    26.900
 6.  Hamilton      McLaren-Mercedes           +    27.200
 7.  Sutil         Force India-Mercedes       +     1 lap
 8.  Heidfeld      Renault                    +     1 lap
 9.  Barrichello   Williams-Cosworth          +     1 lap
10.  Buemi         Toro Rosso-Ferrari         +     1 lap
11.  Rosberg       Mercedes                   +     1 lap
12.  Di Resta      Force India-Mercedes       +    2 laps
13.  Trulli        Lotus-Renault              +    2 laps
14.  Kovalainen    Lotus-Renault              +    2 laps
15.  D'Ambrosio    Virgin-Cosworth            +    2 laps
16.  Liuzzi        HRT-Cosworth               +    3 laps
17.  Karthikeyan   HRT-Cosworth               +    3 laps
18.  Maldonado     Williams-Cosworth          +    5 laps

Fastest lap: Webber, 1:16.234

Not classified/retirements:

Driver        Team                         On lap
Petrov        Renault                      68 - Accident
Alguersuari   Toro Rosso-Ferrari           68 - Accident
Massa         Ferrari                      33 - Accident
Schumacher    Mercedes                     33 - Engine
Glock         Virgin-Cosworth              31 - Suspension
Perez         Sauber-Ferrari               DNS - Qualifying accident

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