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.