The Red Bull rages once again. Mark Webber easily won the Formula One Monaco Grand Prix, while teammate Sebastian Vettel finished second and set the fastest lap.
Monaco marked Webber and Vettel’s second consecutive one-two victory, and sent Red Bull to the top of the Constructors’ Championship, leading Ferrari by 30 points.
Webber and Vettel are now tied for the lead in the World Drivers’ Championship with 78 points each, three points ahead of Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso, while Jenson Button, whose McLaren blew an engine on the first few laps due to a mechanic’s error, had dropped to fourth with 70 points.
In the post race press conference (reported on www.Formula1.com) Mark Webber called the race, “Absolutely incredible and for sure the greatest day of my life today. To win in Monaco is a dream for any Formula One driver. To win here is a very, very special day.”
When asked what was next for Red Bull, Webber replied, “Well, continue to work hard. We are not here because we have been slacking. The cars were very reliable for us today. Very, very good for both of us and we have just got to keep going to each venue. We are very optimistic for the future.”
Robert Kubica brought his Renault home in third place after an excellent drive. He was able to match Vettel's pace through most of the race, and had he had a better start, might have finished second.
Felipe Massa earned a much-need fourth-place finish; rumors circulate that his days at Ferrari might be short, and this performance might help his position.
Lewis Hamilton finished fifth, while there is unresolved controversy over who finished sixth. Confusion at race control over whether or not to end the race with a quarter-lap of green-flag racing led Michael Schumacher to push his Mercedes past Fernando Alonso with just a few hundred yards to go, after the green flag was—perhaps mistakenly—waved after a full-course caution caused by a late-race collision between Jarno Trulli and Karun Chandhok (neither driver was injured.)
Considering that Alonso spun his tires trying to accelerate, which gave Schumacher his chance to get by, it seems clear that both drivers saw the unexpected green flag and tried to make a break for the finish line. Stewards are still reviewing the incident.
Update: Stewards ruled after the race that Schumacher‘s move was illegal, and penalized him 20 seconds, which drops him to 12th, out of the points. Mercedes will appeal the decision.
Mercedes team principal Ross Brawn offers as evidence a printout from race control which reportedly says “Car In, Track Clear” and photos of the green flag waving as Schumacher made his move.
Off to a Good and Bad Start
With passing at Monaco being so difficult, gaining positions at the start is incredibly important. Making a good start can be the key to a good finish. Webber and Vettel, starting first and third, got great launches, while Robert Kubica, second on the grid, got off slowly. Kubica cut sharply across the track to squeeze between the Red Bulls but he was too slow, and fell into third.
Schumacher got the jump on his Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg, while Rubens Barrichello made an inspired start, gaining three spots to sixth.
The field got through the first several corners cleanly, and it appeared that there would be no fist-lap drama. However, Nico Hulkenberg’s Williams broke something coming through the tunnel, crashing him into the wall and bringing out a full-course caution.
While the caution was out, Jenson Button’s McLaren blew its engine. Apparently a mechanic left a cover on a cooling duct, and with the car circulating slowly, the radiator didn’t get enough cool air.
Button seemed preternaturally calm after the event, considering it cost him his lead in the points. “I knew after the formation lap that there was a cooling cover left on the left-hand sidepod, where the radiator is,” he was reported as saying on SPEED-TV. “My car quickly began to overheat and I started losing engine power, so I turned the engine off pretty sharply because the last thing I wanted was to leave engine oil on the racing line.
“Today was just one of those days. It was human error, a mistake, and that's all there is to it.”
Fernando Alonso, on the other hand, benefitted mightily from the early caution. Alonso had started from pit lane after wrecking in the final practice. When the caution came out, he pitted for hard tires and finished the race on that same set, gaining position when his competitors had to pit under green.
That lucky break, coupled with some forceful driving to move through the back of the field, left him sixth by lap 30.
By lap 20, Webber had opened a nine-second lead on the pack, while on lap 18, Hamilton pitted for hard tires. The McLaren crew hustled Hamilton out of the pits just in time to hit the track ahead of Alonso and that bit of strategy no doubt ensured Hamilton his fifth-place finish.
On lap 31, Barrichello’s left rear suspension broke, spinning him across the track and into the wall. Barrichello stepped out of the car, unhurt and disgusted, and threw his steering wheel onto the track, into the path of Karun Chandhok. The steering wheel got caught under Chandhok's car and dragged halfway around the course. No penalty was assessed.
After the restart, Webber again opened up a gap over the field. He was consistently as fast or faster than everyone else, and made no errors.
As the race passed the halfway point, Webber, Vettel, and Kubica traded fastest laps, while Hamilton received word from the pits that his brakes were shaky and he needed to take it easy. Hamilton was not pleased with the news, judging from his response over the radio.
Lap 43 saw another full-course caution, as a drain cover came loose by Massanet corner. This gave the field a shot at advancing their positions, but no one was able; again, Webber drove away from the field, and everyone else defended their positions.
The running order didn’t change in 30 laps, as the leaders swapped fast laps and the rest of the field concentrated on not making mistakes.
On lap 74, Jarno Trulli tried to force his Lotus inside the HRT of Chandhok at Rascasse Curve. There simply wasn’t enough room; Trulli bounced to the right, hit the barrier, and drove right over Chandhok’s head.
Miraculously Chandhok was not injured. He stepped from his car holding his head, but between the rollbar, his helmet and his HANS device, he was sufficiently protected. It was a scary moment for observers, and probably no less so for Chandhok.
Webber nearly got caught up in this mess; he was right behind Trulli and closing.
“I was on the radio and they said look you have got Jarno [Trulli] and I think it was [Karun] Chandhok in front with a few laps to go,” He explained. “I saw Jarno going for a lunge down the inside of Rascasse and I thought ‘What … is going to happen here?’ They interlocked wheels, he went flying in the air and I just hoped I had some options to go on the inside, and sure enough I did.”
This accident brought out another full-course yellow, and set up the last-lap drama involving Schumacher.
The issue at hand is the interpretation of the rules, the actual events, and the intent of the race director. If the race ends under yellow, no passing is allowed. If not, obviously, cars may pass at any time until they cross the finish line and take the checkered flag.
It seems likely that race control intended to finish the race un yellow. Only one car had been cleared from the track as the last lap commenced. But the green flag did wave, and the signal lights along the track flashed green.
If the track was green, passing would most certainly be allowed, and Schumacher’s maneuver would be completely legal.
One important point: after complaints in the past about the low quality of the steward crews, FIA has mandated that every steward crew must include one former professional driver. At Monaco, that driver was Damon Hill, who has a long history of enmity with Michael Schumacher based on their competitions in F1 before both retired.
This story is far from over.
The race will be televised on SPEED-TV starting at 8 a.m. EDT.