McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton achieved his life-long ambition by winning the Monaco Grand Prix in a thrilling race in tricky weather conditions. He survived a brush against the Armco barrier on lap five exiting the Tabac corner and went on to take an all-important win. Hamilton’s second victory of the season (the sixth in his Grand Prix career) came at the perfect time to take the championship lead.
Robert Kubica beat pole-sitter Felipe Massa in the rain-affected race with second position thanks to pitting onto the groove (dry slicks) Bridgestone at the right time. Despite locking out the front row, the Ferraris made the wrong strategy call in the race and suffered the consequences. This was especially true for world champion Kimi Raikkonen, who was given a drive-through penalty for making his tyre decision at the start of the race too late… and then crashing his F2008 against other cars.
The Finn even took out the impressive Adrian Sutil in the Force India after losing control under braking for the chicane… At that point, Sutil was driving faultlessly around the streets of the Principality, staying out of trouble and gaining places after starting from the back of the grid. Force India were looking good with fourth position in the remaining laps of the Grand Prix until that moment with the world champion…
The collision meant Mark Webber (for Red Bull) and Sebastian Vettel (in the sister team that of Toro Rosso) to complete the top five. Honda’s Rubens Barrichello profited from all the incidents in this dramatic Monaco Grand Prix with a fine sixth – bringing an end to his nightmare 22 race points drought which stretched back to the 2006 Brazilian Grand Prix.
Kazuki Nakajima kept out of trouble to finish seventh for Williams (competing in the team’s 600th Grand Prix), while Heikki Kovalainen managed to score the final point despite stalling his McLaren on the parade lap.
Before the race even began, several drivers were concerned about the weather conditions. Without traction control, it was extremely difficult to stay on the track. Even though the rain is a great variety in levelling out the playing field – by which the mid-field teams can score big – it was still a challenge for all the Formula One drivers to control over 700 brake horsepower around a twisty and narrow street circuit. So making the right call in starting on which Bridgestone was the key question.
With three minutes before the start of the race, the drivers and teams made the decision to start on intermediates. But unfortunately, Raikkonen made the choice too late and was given a drive-through penalty for this mistake.
As the red five lights flicked off, Hamilton made a clean getaway from third on the grid to move ahead of Raikkonen as the cars heading into Saint Devote. Leading from the front was Massa and at this early stage of the race, the Brazilian was the quickest.
On lap five while running second, Lewis made an error on approaching the Swimming Pool complex. The McLaren went into oversteer and he brush the Armco barrier with his right-rear tyre. This resulted in a puncture for Lewis but luckily he made it back to pits and was able to continue (without losing too many positions). During this pit stop to replace the damage Bridgestone, the McLaren mechanics decided to switch strategy and fuelled Hamilton’s car with more fuel. This gave the advantage to them over Ferrari in the outcome of the race.
The safety car made its first appearance on lap seven after a series of incidents at Casino Square. First double world champion Fernando Alonso tagged the wall and – like Hamilton – destroyed his rear-right tyre but he managed to make it back to the pits and continue. Moments later, David Coulthard (in the Red Bull) slid into the same barrier, and was then collected mid-crash by Sebastien Bourdais (in the sister Toro Rosso), who was having an accident of his own! Both cars were out on the spot.
Alonso took the opportunity to switch to the extreme wets during his stop for repairs and that gave him that extra pace to challenge the other cars when the race resumed following three laps under the safety car.
Unfortunately, his charge with a better-spec wet tyre resulted in him tangling into BMW’s Nick Heidfeld in the Hotel Hairpin (formerly known as Loews), breaking his Renault’s front wing and forcing Heidfeld to pit with a puncture.
Nico Rosberg also lost his wing in an incident with Kovalainen in a traffic jam behind the interlocking BMW and Renault in the tight hairpin.
At this point, a message flashed on to the timing screens from Formula One Management (FOM) that car number one (Kimi Raikkonen) will need to serve a drive-through penalty. The Iceman took this after the restart – losing him time and position – but he would lose even more when he missed his braking point at Sainte Devote breaking his front wing.
Team-mate Felipe Massa also had a moment at the first corner, though the Brazilian didn’t hit the barrier and was able to continue. By then Robert Kubica in the BMW Sauber took the lead of the Monaco Grand Prix. The Pole couldn’t shake off the Brazilian, and when the Ferrari stayed out six laps longer than Kubica before its first pit stop, Massa was able to get back in front of the BMW Sauber. But both were behind Lewis Hamilton, however…
Initially the McLaren driver was dropping away from the pair due to running with a heavy fuel load, but as his car lightened and the track began to dry out, Lewis was setting purple sectors. He was lapping between one and three seconds faster than Massa during the middle part of the race.
By the time Hamilton made his final pit stop and took on dry groove Bridgestone on lap 53, his lead over second-place was nearly 40 seconds. He had no problems rejoining the race up front.
The expected second phase of the rain shower didn’t arrive and McLaren made the right call to bring in Hamilton with the correct tyre selection. Robert Kubica also benefitted by switching to ‘slicks’ and gained a place over Felipe Massa. Ferrari made a mistake by delaying the decision to switch to groove tyres for Massa and this ultimately cost them the race.
Behind Hamilton, Kubica and Massa was Adrian Sutil in the Force India. The German was driving a beautiful clean race and gained an advantage when the team chose the perfect moment to change onto the dry tyres. This allowed Sutil to take fourth from Mark Webber who made his tyre call a fraction too soon in the semi-dry track conditions.
Sutil was enjoying the moment battling against world champion Raikkonen and the Red Bull of Webber until Nico Rosberg had a huge crash on the entry to the Swimming Pool section on lap 61 – prompting a second safety car.
This was bad news for Lewis Hamilton. After comfortably stretching his lead to around 40 seconds, the safety car wiped out that time advantage and now Kubica was on his tail. As the race resume with only eleven and a half minutes to go (the race was approaching its two-hour limit), Raikkonen made a silly error in his determination to get past Sutil on the restart.
It seems Kimi lost control under braking on his approach to the sea front chicane. The Finn tried to lose some speed but he couldn’t slow down… Kimi ploughed into the rear of the Force India causing terminal damage to Sutil and ending all hopes for the team and the German.
Raikkonen was able to continue but that incident cost him the championship lead. Ninth position was a disappointing result for the Iceman after a frustrating race.
As the chequered flag fell on the two-hour mark, Lewis Hamilton crossed over the finish line feeling overjoyed. It had been a fantastic drive from the McLaren star and crucially it came at the time after four dominant races from rival Ferrari.
Robert Kubica finished in an excellent second position without making any mistakes in the wet-dry race. Felipe Massa came home in third and even though he started on pole position, it wasn’t a good result for Scuderia. At least Massa should be satisfied to out-perform his team-mate and he is now only a single point behind Raikkonen in the championship standings.
Mark Webber benefitted from the Raikkonen/Sutil incident to take fourth ahead of Sebastian Vettel, who finally scored a result for the new Toro Rosso STR3. Rubens Barrichello finished in sixth ahead of Kazuki Nakajima’s Williams and Heikki Kovalainen in the McLaren.
Behind Raikkonen, Fernando Alonso was tenth for Renault after a series of collisions, followed by Jenson Button, who lost his Honda’s front wing on the opening lap in a brush with Nick Heidfeld. The Toyotas of the three-time spinning Timo Glock(!) and Jarno Trulli came home in P12 and P13 while the last remaining runner was Heidfeld.
Non-finishes were Sutil, Rosberg, Coulthard and Bourdais with Nelson Piquet joining the list of retirements after dropping out of a tough fight with Vettel after brushing a wall. Force India’s Giancarlo Fisichella also recorded a DNF in his 200th Grand Prix.
The result of this thrilling race puts Hamilton back in the championship lead with 38 points to Raikkonen’s 35, Massa’s 34 and Kubica’s 32. In the constructors’ standings, Ferrari have 69 to McLaren’s 53 and BMW Sauber’s 52. The battle for the world championship has suddenly come alive again as Formula One heads over the Atlantic to Canada in a fortnight’s time.
Monaco Grand Prix, 76 laps
1. Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes 2h00:42.272
2. Kubica BMW Sauber +3.069
3. Massa Ferrari +4.811
4. Webber Red Bull-Renault +19.264
5. Vettel Toro Rosso-Ferrari +24.657
6. Barrichello Honda +28.408
7. Nakajima Williams-Toyota +30.180
8. Kovalainen McLaren-Mercedes +33.191
9. Raikkonen Ferrari +33.793
10. Alonso Renault +1 lap
11. Button Honda +1 lap
12. Glock Toyota +1 lap
13. Trulli Toyota +1 lap
14. Heidfeld BMW Sauber +4 laps
Fastest lap: Raikkonen, 1:16.689
Sutil Force India-Ferrari 67 laps
Rosberg Williams-Toyota 58 laps
Piquet Renault 46 laps
Fisichella Force India-Ferrari 37 laps
Coulthard Red Bull-Renault 13 laps
Bourdais Toro Rosso-Ferrari 13 laps
World Championship standings, round 6:
1. Hamilton 38
2. Raikkonen 35
3. Massa 34
4. Kubica 32
5. Heidfeld 20
6. Kovalainen 15
7. Webber 15
8. Alonso 9
9. Trulli 9
10. Rosberg 8
11. Nakajima 7
12. Vettel 4
13. Barrichello 3
14. Button 3
15. Bourdais 2
1. Ferrari 69
2. McLaren-Mercedes 53
3. BMW Sauber 52
4. Williams-Toyota 15
5. Red Bull-Renault 15
6. Renault 9
7. Toyota 9
8. Toro Rosso-Ferrari 6
9. Honda 6
Next race: Canadian Grand Prix, Montreal. June 6-8