Before 2012 there had never been six different winners in the first six races of an F1 season but today always looked like the day when that record would be broken. Mark Webber on pole, Lewis Hamilton third and prowling down in sixth, seventh and eighth Michael Schumacher, Felipe Massa and Kimi Raikkonen. All five had a shot at making this season statistically unique.
In the end it was the pole man Mark Webber having a good start, getting to the first corner in front and never looking back. 78 laps later the first six crossed the line nose to tail, but this was rather more exciting than the traditional Monaco procession.
The drama started on the first lap with a spin for Romain Grosjean. His Lotus didn’t get off the line well and was swamped by Fernando Alonso on the inside and Schumacher outside. He touched Alonso, and then banged wheels with Schumacher. Grosjean’s rear left wheel was damaged and he spun.
Kamui Kobayashi’s Sauber then hit the spinning Lotus. Both retired, as did Pedro de la Rosa and Pastor Maldonado, who tangled at the back of the field. The safety car came out, as it had in most of the support races this weekend.
The order behind the safety car and throughout the first stint was Webber leading from Nico Rosberg, Hamilton, Alonso, Massa, Sebastian Vettel – who took advantage of the start line confusion to jump up into sixth from ninth on the grid – Raikkonen, Schumacher, Nico Hulkenberg and Bruno Senna. The variable in play was that Vettel, like Button and di Resta down the order, was on the soft tyre, the others were using the supersoft.
Rosberg was the first to ditch the supersofts, stopping on lap 27. Webber followed two laps later and got out comfortably in front of him. Hamilton, Raikkonen and Hulkenberg stopped at the same time as Webber. One lap later Alonso came in and picked Hamilton’s pocket. Schumacher stayed out until lap 34 and jumped Raikkonen. The Finn had emerged behind the Marussia of Charles Pic and, with no way passed, had to lap three seconds slower than Schumacher for several tours.
Vettel, who wasn’t stopping any time soon, led the race and began to put in a series of fast laps. His hope would have been to build up a cushion of over 20 seconds to be able to stop and retain his lead, but Webber began to pace himself against his team-mate and Vettel’s lead never got above 18 seconds. Finally it began to decrease as his tyres went away: he pitted on lap 46 and emerged in fourth, having made a net gain of two places at the expense of Hamilton and Massa.
“I was a little surprised that [Rosberg] went then because the tyres were still going not too bad – but it was worth a go,” said Webber after the race. “The prime tyre was a very tricky tyre to get started.
“Obviously Seb was in the groove and underway and he was doing some very quick lap times in that part of the grand prix. And it was hard for us to get going, so I had to keep an eye on the Sebastian gap but also manage the tyres. So when Seb pitted, then I could revert my concentration back to Nico. It was pretty good after that.”
Schumacher was forced to retire from seventh with a fuel pressure problem. Usually at Monaco that would be it – but rain began to threaten with several teams’ radar showing a light shower possibly followed by a heavy downpour.
As it was, only a few drops fell on the circuit, but it was enough to make Webber drop his pace by a few seconds and the leaders bunched up behind him. “It’s always tricky when you’re the first guy arriving into corners when it’s sprinkling,” said Mark.
“On other tracks, a little bit of rain like that, you wouldn’t really have to back off so much but all of a sudden the car is wheel-spinning, the front’s not biting, and around this place that’s not very encouraging. Particularly when you’re in the lead with only 10 minutes to go in the race. So it required me then to really, really control the race and get the car home.”
Despite the first six being covered by two seconds, no one attempted anything desperate in the damp laps. “I was hoping I might get a chance or something but my tyres were really struggling too,” admitted Rosberg. “Also, I had Fernando behind me and at times it was very difficult, just front and rear warm up, tyres lost temperature and then they picked up again towards the end.”
Alonso, whose third place gives him the outright championship lead, agreed. “Five or six laps to the end with the drops of rain that we had, I think we were all praying ‘no more rain’ because it was so difficult.”
Behind them, Toro Rosso took what looked like a huge gamble. Jean-Eric Vergne, running an excellent seventh from sixteenth on the grid, came in for intermediate tyres. If the rain increased, he had a shot at victory; if it didn’t he would be throwing away eight valuable points.
The ploy failed as the rain held off – but Vergne later revealed it hadn’t relly been a big gamble. “Around 14 laps to the end, my tyres were completely gone and I had to come in for the Intermediates, but the rain was not strong enough,” said Vergne. “I am looking forward to Canada, as it’s a track I particularly like even if I have not been there!”
‘Mark drove a really, really good race, at all times in control of what he was doing’ – Nico Rosberg
Vergne faired better than his team-mate who got stuck behind an epic Kovalainen-Button battle for 13th and then picked up damage and retired. “I tried to stay out as long as possible on the option tyre but then I started to lose pace, so I came in for the prime, hoping to run to the end of the race,” said Ricciardo.
“I came out in clear air and got into a rhythm before ending up in a train behind Kovalainen and Button. I tried to pass the McLaren but it was not so easy. Then I clipped a kerb at Turn 15. At the time I did not feel anything, but one lap later the steering felt very loose so I came into the pits as the car was no longer safe to drive. Despite all that, from a driving point of view, I really enjoyed myself until my retirement.”
After the threat of rain receded the track dried and Webber took victory, pushed across the line by Rosberg, Alonso, Vettel, Hamilton and Massa. Further back Force India had a good day with di Resta and Hulkenberg seventh and eighth. Kimi Raikkonen was ninth for a disappointed Lotus and Bruno Senna took a consolation point for Williams who had come to Monaco hoping for much more.
Rosberg must have had high hopes of a victory today in his home town but was gracious in defeat and professed himself happy with second place. “I got away really well but the problem was Mark did too. We were miles clear of everybody else but not enough to get him. And from then on Mark drove a really, really good race, at all times in control of what he was doing and in control of me also.
“So there was not much I could do. But in general it’s been a really good weekend for me, for the team and I have to say that I think I had the best car out there today, so that’s really cool and lets me hope for a lot more in the next few races. It’s really nice to see how we’re progressing so quickly.”
‘It’s great memories for me to win here twice, fair and square off the pole positions’ – Mark Webber
Alonso also seemed satisfied with third, and given that it lifts him into the lead of the Drivers’ World Championship, that’s far from surprising. “Our target obviously was to try to finish in front of Sebastian, in front of Lewis – they were with us in the World Championship,” said Fernando. “Everything went smooth after the start, but I had a contact with Grosjean. At that point I thought maybe the car was damaged or something but the car was perfectly fine so I keep running.
"I felt good, I felt competitive but in Monaco it’s difficult with the traffic. We overtook Hamilton at the stop, with a perfect pit stop again. Thanks to the team I think we are in a privileged position and well done to all of them.”
Red Bull Racing had a fine day pulling out a big lead on McLaren, and now lead that competition by 38 points, with 146 to McLaren’s 108. And while Fernando ‘Mr Consistency’ Alonso now leads the Drivers’ Championship on 76 points, he’s closely followed by Vettel and Webber on 73 each.
Vettel’s disappointment after the race was tempered with a lot of realism. “It would have been nice to have been on the podium today. I think the speed was there, but in the end we had the same strategy as the leaders, just the other way round – but we started ninth and considering it’s hard to pass here, then to gain five places was a good day. It’s definitely good for Mark to win here and also for the team to get their third Monaco win in a row – it’s impressive.”
“It was a very, very special victory today, and hopefully there’s more to come,” said a jubilant Webber, the 11th man to become a multiple winner of Formula One’s most famous race. “The start was key, the pitstop was key, both of them went well. I did a little bit of work in between and we got an incredible victory that I’m very, very happy with. It’s great memories for me to win here twice, fair and square off the pole positions. Nico kept me honest. I had him under control but he drove well. It was good grand prix.”
The teams now turn their attention to Montreal – but before that there are many, many people who in celebration will be thrown into the Energy Station pool this evening.