Monaco Grand Prix 2010 - 06/06/10

The right man, at the right place, at the right time. This is Australian, Mark Webber, at Red Bull Racing in 2010 winning the Monaco Grand Prix. No longer Mark Webber, expert qualifier or Mark Webber, most unlucky driver in Formula 1. Back to back pole positions followed by two consecutive crushing victories have elevated Webber to the joint lead of the 2010 F1 drivers’ championship alongside teammate Sebastian Vettel. Despite securing every pole position in 2010, Red Bull racing had managed to hand half of the season’s victories to their competitors, but now finally their two drivers have found their way to the top of the standings, with no sign of a development plateau for the car. It was inevitable that with such pace to burn, eventually the Red Bull crew would get it together and start chalking up wins, and now that the victories are flowing and Webber and Vettel sit atop the table, the chase truly begins.

Webber’s race was certainly not a straightforward lights-to-flag affair, requiring careful management of the lead through a total of four safety car periods. The first safety car summons was for Nico Hulkenburg who lost control of his Williams in the tunnel on lap 1 due to front wing failure, the second was for the other Williams of Rubens Barrichello on lap 31 where a rear failure sent him into the wall coming up to Massenet corner. The third occasion was for a suspected loose drain cover where Barrichello had crashed, and the most memorable was the last approximately 3 laps before the finish for Jarno Trulli’s ill-advised move on an unsuspecting Karun Chandhok into Rascasse, ending up with Trulli’s Lotus sitting atop the HRT. Having passed the incredible Robert Kubica at the start for second place, Vettel never looked like challenging Webber for the lead even with 4 restarts. Kubica had qualified on the front row and his Renault looked sharp all weekend, most believed he would be the first driver to take pole position away from Red Bull in 2010, but it wasn’t to be and he stayed well in touch with Vettel to claim yet another podium in 2010. Another reminder that the explosive Robert Kubica who stormed onto the F1 scene in 2006 is still very much around, and still very much a future champion.

The rise of Webber and Vettel to the top of the charts has not been purely a result of their devastating pace, just as they were handing out points to their rivals earlier in the season, others have conspired to send gifts the other way too. World champion and former championship leader Jenson Button had a very short Monaco GP. After only making it as far as lap 3 he said “I knew after the formation lap that there was a cooling cover left on the left-hand sidepod, where the radiator is. We thought everything was going to be okay, and it would probably have been fine if we hadn’t had a Safety Car”. McLaren’s other Brit, Lewis Hamilton qualified fifth and stayed there all afternoon, being told much to his disliking that he had to look after his brakes from quite early on.

Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso, who was probably the only driver who could have challenged Webber for victory on Sunday, had yet another compromised weekend. Alonso went quickest in both Thursday practice sessions, and was quickest in P3 on Saturday when he lost control and crashed his Ferrari into the barriers, writing it off for qualifying. He had to start Sunday’s race from the pitlane, but benefited greatly from the early caution as he used the opportunity to change immediately onto the harder compound for the rest of the race. After dicing with Lotuses, HRTs and Virgins (especially a wild Lucas Di Grassi) and passing most of them at the chicane, showing good pace he was able to leapfrog most at their first stops and run 6th behind Lewis Hamilton when all had settled down.

Alonso was also involved in the race’s biggest talking point on the final lap as the fourth safety car period came to an end. Due to the Trulli-Chandhok sandwich at Rascasse, it was believed that the race would end under safety car conditions, but the news came that the safety car would pull into the pits on the last lap, leaving Webber, Vettel, Kubica and co to cross the line at racing speed. Rule 40.13 of the F1 sporting regulations states that "if the race ends whilst the safety car is deployed it will enter the pitlane at the end of the last lap and the cars will take the chequered flag as normal without overtaking". Alonso was running 6th at this point and Michael Schumacher’s Mercedes 7th, Michael appeared to catch Fernando unawares at Rascasse on the restart and passed him into Anthony Noghes corner to take a provisional 6th place. Cue complaints, stewards’ inquiries and much evidence presented. The track showed a green flag situation and that was Ross Brawn and Mercedes’s defence, but in the end Schumacher was handed a 20 second penalty which dropped him out of the points. Alonso definitely responded on track to Schumacher’s advances but was unable to keep him from passing and nearly lost his left rear on the barriers, so that certainly didn’t help his cause when he claimed his team advised him not to pass Hamilton due to these new safety car rules, and there was clearly a green light displayed. There is undoubtedly a debate there about using the letter of the law versus the spirit of the law, but unfortunately for Mercedes the letter of the law was very clear, but there is something to be said about the difference between a race ending under safety car conditions, and bringing the safety car in on the last lap. The rules have since been clarified, as you would expect.

Ferrari’s other driver, Felipe Massa, had one of his best showings of the season so far, qualifying a respectable 4th on the grid and staying there all race not too far behind Vettel and Kubica, and never really being threatened by Hamilton’s McLaren. Outscoring Alonso again while being slower generally is keeping Felipe within touching distance of the leaders, and if his pace picks up when he is able to get the F10 to his liking, days like this will count. Other interesting intra-team rivalries at Monaco included Force India’s Vitantonio Liuzzi finally rediscovering a semblance of form as he outqualified Adrian Sutil and made Q3, however Sutil got the better of him in the race as they finished 8th and 9th. There are considerable rumblings regarding the replacement of Liuzzi with Paul Di Resta, given his perceived lack of competitiveness compared to Sutil and the fact that his seat for 2010 owes much to the transfer of Fisichella to Ferrari. It could be though that it’s wishful thinking from the media as opposed to a genuine feeling of dissatisfaction from the team, after all with no in-season testing how wise would it be?

At Mercedes, despite returning to his habit of outqualifying Schumacher albeit by a significantly smaller margin, Nico Rosberg lost out at the start and was not able to find a way past Michael even though he ran longer at the pit stops and set a series of blistering laps. It was all academic as Schumacher’s penalty promoted Rosberg up to 7th place. The early season poise, confidence and precision of execution appears to have temporarily deserted Rosberg, who felt he was capable of pole at Monte Carlo. The team accepted responsibility however for putting both cars on the same piece of tarmac during qualifying, costing both a better grid slot. Annoyingly for Mercedes, rumours persist about favouritism and a change in development direction to suit the returning multiple champion, even though Monaco saw the return of the short wheelbase car. Fans of Schumacher will be pleased to see the old dog returning to his old tricks at the end, regardless of the outcome it’s hard to believe Alonso won’t have taken a dent to his pride. The pace appears to be trickling back and the awareness of opportunity, backed up by tactical genius will undoubtedly see Schumacher on the podium before long. Fans of Formula 1 (not necessarily the same as Fans of Schumacher) will be hoping Nico rediscovers some of his early 2010 sparkle and registers a debut win before too long.

As well as Force India getting both drivers into the points for the first time, Monaco was important for Toro Rosso’s Sebastien Buemi who scored his first point of the year thanks to the 20 second penalty handed to Schumacher. Jaime Alguersuari’s strong performances have put Buemi significantly in the shade at an establishment where there is precious little patience for underperforming drivers.

So finally, after a career that has included such lows as airborne upside-down Mercedes CLR Le Mans cars, a blown engine within an ace of winning the Monaco GP in 2006, a young German in a Toro Rosso wipe him out from behind in Fuji’s 2007 torrential downpour and even a passing tram cutting power to his car as it crossed tramlines at Singapore in 2008, Mark Webber’s luck is coming good. Untouchable at the last two Formula 1 events during a season where every driver and team have experienced peaks and troughs in fortune, the Aussie who began his full professional international career alongside German legend Bernd Schneider is beginning to show his might to another German legend of the future in Sebastian Vettel. With both Red Bull drivers leading the drivers’ championship, and the team leading the constructors’, their superiority over the rest which has been threatened since Bahrain is now a cold reality, wherever you look.

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