Archive for May, 2011

An extraordinary race at an extraordinary location

Sebastian Vettel won a thrilling Monaco Grand Prix after it was red-flagged following a three-car pile up which saw Vitaly Petrov hospitalised.

The Russian ploughed into the back of Toro-Rosso’s Jaime Alguersuari who in turn ran into Lewis Hamilton which brought out the safety car only for the race to be stopped three laps later. Petrov has since been released from hospital suffering nothing worse than bruising and mild concussion.

The race resumed and the final six laps left were completed which saw Vettel take the chequered flag ahead of Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso and McLaren’s Jenson Button.

But the result could have been far different had safety cars and poor strategies not played into Red Bull’s hands.

Australian Mark Webber passed Kamui Kobayashi for fourth on the penultimate lap and they finished ahead of Lewis Hamilton who issued a blistering attack on the stewards after receiving penalties for causing crashes.

The Englishman said, apparently in jest: “Maybe it’s because I’m black. That’s what Ali G says.” He was unhappy after being called to the stewards for the fifth time in six races.

But for the second weekend running Vettel was pushed all the way by his rivals.

Starting from pole he held off a challenge from Button whilst Alonso jumped Webber to slot into third.

Michael Schumacher got a terrible start from fifth and dropped five places but regained ninth from Hamiltonwith a stunning move up the inside at the hairpin.

Vettel stretched out a four-second advantage over Button before the McLaren driver pitted for fresh rubber on lap 15.

The German followed suit a lap later but he lost the lead when one of the tyres was not removed from the blankets in time for his stop. To compound matters Webber pitted the same lap and had no tyres at all and lost 12 seconds in farcical circumstances.

Button then opened up a ten-second lead over the world champion and looked on course for his first win since China last year until he switched to a three-stop strategy and pitted on lap 33.

The extra speed he gained from fresher rubber may have still given him victory but for the safety car being deployed the following lap as Massa crashed in the tunnel, when forced wide by Hamilton.

The pair had tangled at the hairpin three corners previously when the McLaren driver launched an optimistic move for which he received a drive-through penalty.

At the same time Schumacher’s Mercedes ground spectacularly to a halt on the exit of Rascasse – where he famously “parked” his Ferrari in 2006 in qualifying.

Once the race resumed Alonso and Button completed their second and third stops respectively and rejoined behind the one-stopping Vettel.

The German who had by now completed forty laps on the prime tyres was struggling for pace and with fifteen laps to go had the Ferrari and McLaren tucked upon behind him.

But the grandstand final the crowd desperately hoped for was not forthcoming following an almighty pile-up as the leading trio came to lap a train of eight cars.

Pastor Maldonado passed Adrian Sutil at Tabac but the German ran wide and clipped the barriers resulting in a puncture.

As Sutil weaved across the track trying to regain contro lHamilton had to slow to take avoiding action and was hit by Alguersuari and the unfortunate Petrov who had nowhere to go.

The safety car was brought out but on lap 72 the race was stopped when it became apparent that Petrov was injured.

The cars stopped on the startline awaiting the re-start which allowed McLaren to fix Hamilton’s damaged rear-wing and gave Vettel the opportunity to change his heavily-worn tyres which were about to give up on him.

Following a restart under the safety carHamiltonwas again in the wars as he collided with the impressive Maldonado at St Devote.

The McLaren driver again tried to overtake from a long way back and was well behind the Williams when it turned it. Maldonado was pitched into the barriers and robbed of a deserved first points finish.

Hamilton crossed the line sixth but received a twenty-second penalty from the stewards although it did not affect his overall position because everyone else was a lap behind.

Sutil finished seventh despite his kiss with the barriers ahead of Nick Heidfeld, Rubens Barrichello and Sebastien Buemi who took the final points scoring position.

Red Bull team principal Christian Horner said it was Vettel that made up for the team’s pit-error.

 “We had problems at Sebastian’s first stop, we had radio issues and didn’t get the tyres on that we wanted, so we had to change our strategy.”

“The main thing was that we didn’t panic. We tried something a bit different, which was very aggressive, but Seb was making it work – that was what won him the race today.

Button was magnanimous in defeat: “We had to take the risk and go for more stops so we shouldn’t be upset with what we did,” he said.

“The team did a great job this weekend and I was happy with our strategy. We had to try to do something different to beat Vettel, it was working but it didn’t work in the end.”

The result means that Vettel now leads the championship standings by 58 points from Hamilton. His haul of five wins and a second from the first six races equals the best ever start to a season – a record set by Schumacher for Benetton in 1994.

That year saw the German win the title only by a point from Damon Hill but in this form Vettel is unlikely to need a final race decider.

Hamilton was in Vettel's shadow all afternoon

Sebastian Vettel secured his fourth victory from five races in 2011 despite Lewis Hamilton stalking the Red Bull driver for the entire race.

Vettel – who now has 118 points from a maximum 125 – crossed the line only 0.630 seconds ahead of the McLaren driver after 66 laps of the Spanish track. The close race was all the more remarkable considering the Red Bull was eight-tenths quicker than its rivals per lap in Saturday qualifying.

McLaren’s Jenson Button joined Vettel and Hamilton on the podium after effectively using a three-stop strategy. Mark Webber and Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso were fourth and fifth but crucially stopped once more than the Englishman.

The Spaniard will leave Barcelona disappointed finishing a lap down having led the race for the first 20 laps.

Alonso starting from fourth passed both Red Bulls and Hamilton on the long run down to turn one after a blistering getaway and fully utilising his KERS system.

Pole sitter Webber was also passed by his team-mate and settled into third ahead of Hamilton.

Button however had a miserable start and a mixture of wheel-spin and over caution on the opening lap left him down in tenth and battling with the Toro Rosso of Sebastien Buemi.

Vettel said: “At the beginning of the race I had a good start but I don’t understand where Fernando Alonso came from.”

Alonso, who had been over a second off the pace all weekend, was largely untroubled out in front as Vettel, without a fully functioning KERS, could not pass the Ferrari even using DRS.

Using the soft tyres from qualifying the front-runners pitted on between laps 10 and 12. Hamilton, the last of the leaders to pit, overtook Webber to take third.

Seven laps later and Vettel sparked the second round of stops and got the jump on Alonso who stopped on lap 20. Once again Hamilton stayed out longer and also made his way past the Spaniard – but four seconds behind the world champion.

For the remainder of the race Hamilton slowly closed onto the back of the Red Bull but even with KERS and DRS advantages he was unable to force his way past.

Button battled his way past Webber and then Alonso to take third on laps 36 and 37 while on the faster option tyre.

The Australian himself managed to pass Alonso during the fourth round of pit-stops to take a disappointing fourth.

“It was an interesting day today and it goes to show you how fine the margins are when you are off a little bit on strategy,” he said.

“If you can’t clear people at the right time, you get exposed. At certain stages I was quick, other stages I wasn’t.”

Alonso was equally sombre after the race. The Spaniard – who has just signed a new five-year with the team – said: “It looks a little bit sad when you lose positions but we must understand that P1 is not our position at the moment.”

“We were not competitive at raw pace, we were too slow with hard tyre. There are clearly two teams ahead of everybody and at the moment we need to change the situation.”

The Mercedes pair of Michael Schumacher and Nico Rosberg had uneventful races to finish sixth and seventh and cement their position as F1’s fourth team ahead of Renault.

The seven-time world champion said: “We got the maximum with what we had available. I don’t know what was going wrong but definitely we lost out on performance for today compared to what we had Friday.”

Nick Heidfeld completed a fantastic drive from last on the grid to eighth and the Sauber pair of Sergio Perez and Kamui Kobayashi completed the top-ten.

But it was a frustrating day for Felipe Massa who retired with a gearbox problem while running tenth and for Heikki Kovalainen who crashed late on as the Lotus team failed to match their qualifying showing.

Webber has been put in the shade by Vettel in 2011

Red Bull’s Mark Webber ended team-mate Sebastian Vettel’s 2011 pole position monopoly with a stunning lap in qualifying.

The Australian – who has been comprehensively outperformed by the young German so far this season – recorded a fastest lap of 1.20.981, two-tenths faster than Vettel.

McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button were split by Fernando Alonso who wound up fourth and described his last-minute lap as “perfect”.

Vitaly Petrov provided Renault with a welcome boost with sixth spot, following team-mate Nick Heidfeld’s engine fire in practice that had ruled him out of qualifying.

Mercedes pair of Nico Rosberg and Michael Schumacher will line up seventh and tenth respectively – the latter decided to preserve tyres for the race rather than participate in Q3.

Felipe Massa and Williams’ Pastor Maldonado – who made Q3 for the first time – were eighth and ninth.

But it was Webber who stole the headlines by claiming his seventh pole position of his career. He will be confident of a seventh F1 victory having won in Barcelona 12 months ago and in the knowledge that every pole sitter since 2001 has won the Spanish GP.

“We thought he had an advantage and that we would probably battle for pole, not to underestimate the other guys. I was obviously praying my number went to number one on the gantry when I crossed the line and it did. Today was my day,” the 34 year-old said.

But Webber will know Vettel will provide stiff competition having won three of the first four races. The German had qualified on pole in the previous five grand prix weekends.

The world champion admitted that he was hampered by a KERS fault in qualifying. “It’s not right to say Mark is on pole because I didn’t have KERS,” he said. “Mark did a better job today.

“I’m not concerned, we are working hard on the KERS, and I think we will be on top of it in the race.”

But arguably the driver of the day was Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso who stunned most of the F1 world to take fourth to the delight of his home fans and to celebrate his new Ferrari contract in style.

The Spaniard said: “I did a perfect lap. I reckon that if I tried to repeat it 20 times I could not do better. When you do a lap like that it’s hard to put into words what one feels: always being on the limit in every corner is a special feeling.”

Further down the grid there was much celebration at Lotus as Heikki Kovalainen made it through to the second part of qualifying for the first time this season.

“P15 that’s what I’m talking about,” Lotus team owner Tony Fernandes tweeted after the session. “One second upgrade as I always said will take time to fully get there. But we are making good steps.”

With tomorrow’s race looking to be another dry one, the race may well boil down to who is able to best preserve the quicker soft tyres which are on average two seconds per lap faster.