As expected, there was plenty of action in the Monaco Grand Prix, and, as ever, the drivers had just as much to say about it all…
After the terrifying accident that destroyed Sergio Perez’s Sauber (the Mexican was thankfully OK) and suspended qualifying on Saturday, could the race itself be any more incident-packed? Of course it could, this is F1 in 2011… Come Sunday afternoon, Sebastian Vettel was on pole as usual with Jenson Button alongside him, Mark Webber behind and the slavering beast that is Fernando Alonso tucked up in fourth. And absolutely no one expected the usual Monaco procession.
Vettel led away at the start of the race and pulled away from Jenson Button. Behind them, Fernando Alonso jumped Webber, and moved up to third.
“I had a good first stint, a good start to the race, I could pull a gap to Jenson that I was holding at about four seconds. I was targeted to go longer on the options, but Jenson came in so we reacted.”
“Neither Seb nor I had the best of starts. Jenson was very strong, Fernando was very strong as well, so I lost a place to Fernando. We settled into the first stint, I couldn’t keep up with the heavy fuel.”
'We had to react, so I came in. It wasn’t the cleanest pitstop…' – Sebastian Vettel
Seb stopped on Lap 16, one lap after Button to change his supersofts for soft tyres – but Vettel’s stop was mired in confusion, which had the knock-on effect of ruining Webber’s stop shortly afterwards, the Australian emerging 15th.
“I was surprised when Jenson pulled in, but thought he was probably struggling a bit with his tyres. We had to react, so I came in. It wasn’t the cleanest pitstop. Everything seemed to be OK and I was ready to go out again, but I looked at the front right and the wheel wasn’t there. It’s probably the first pitstop this year that hasn’t gone perfectly. That cost us the lead at that stage of the race.”
“We didn’t really go long enough on the first stint, which is normal for me on these tyres, so that compromised me. The team called me in for the stop, and then when I arrived I didn’t understand why there were no tyres. We lost a lot of time there. The guys did their best to recover… I arrived and sat there, but the boys were still getting them ready.”
Button was in front of Vettel on the road and, having stayed on supersofts, began to pull away. As others pitted, he took the lead.
We went to the soft, he stayed on the supersoft and was pulling away like crazy. I had Fernando behind me and while we were fighting our way through the cars Jenson was 10 seconds, 13 seconds, 15 seconds ahead. I knew once he had 19–20 seconds it would be quite difficult as that would be enough for his next pitstop – then he came in for another set of supersofts, which, to be honest, at that stage was a surprise.
Button pitted on lap 34, allowing Seb to retake the lead – it still looked good for Button though – until his team-mate Lewis Hamilton clanged into Felipe Massa, who thumped the barriers and shed bits of Ferrari all the way down the hill from the tunnel.
“It was fun for quite a few laps until the first safety car came out… We thought we could probably jump Seb on the first stop, which we did. Then we had very good pace on the super-soft tyre. But then, later in the race, when the safety car came out, it hurt us as we had just pitted. Seb stayed out, and as we have already said, it is very difficult to overtake here.”
'I saw the only chance to win this race was to try to stay out…' – Sebastian Vettel
“At [one] stage I was P2… 15 seconds behind Jenson and the victory seemed far away. But I have said it is a crazy place. The roulette wheel kept on spinning during this race: the safety car came out just after we went back into the lead – but it was difficult to stay ahead.”
Vettel led away at the restart. Alonso had snuck in a pitstop under the safety car and dropped back to third, but had a faster car. Button pitted again, from second, which allowed Alonso back through. It became apparent that Vettel was doing the unthinkable: he was planning to run 62 laps on the Monaco Grand Prix on one set of soft tyres.
“After Jenson pitted, we initially wanted to react, to pit as well, but I said, ‘Let’s try to one-stop.’ There were like 33 [actually 29] laps to go. I had quite a good feeling on the tyres I had. I saw the only chance to win this race was to try to stay out… We had been looking after our tyres well, managing the gaps and even under pressure kept our heads cool.”
Alonso catches Vettel, Button catches them both. The three leaders are swarming all over each other on three different strategies: Vettel one-stopping, Alonso two-stopping, Button three. Then the leaders come upon a gaggle of midfielders, intent on their own race. There’s a crash, with mayhem and carbon-fibre everywhere – but the top three thread their way through unscathed.
“Obviously I arrived first. Nico Rosberg pulled over, but there were four or five others, then boom! One in the wall and I’m overtaking a rim that’s still running. Then boom! Two cars in the wall at the Swimming Pool and a Toro Rosso braking and pulling to the right. It was very close, I nearly lost my front wing. Yeah, pretty big mess to be honest, lucky not to hit any debris. Crazy.”
'I was following Sebastian because he had a better view than me' – Fernando Alonso
“I was overtaking [Nick] Heidfeld at the time, and I think [Adrian] Sutil had a problem with his rear tyre, which made Hamilton brake very hard in front of me. I also braked as hard as I could but it was too late, I could not stop and I went into him.”
“I followed where Sebastian was going, because with a full crash and the accident, you don’t know when they hit the wall if the car will bounce back to the other wall or whatever. So I was following Sebastian because he had a better view than me.”
The accident brought out the red flag, and the race was suspended while an ambulance came onto the track to extract Vitaly Petrov. He was given the all-clear at the nearby hospital, while the other drivers faced another 20 minutes on the grid before the final six laps of the race. Everyone was allowed a fresh set of tyres, which alleviated a lot of the tension.
“It’s difficult to know what would have happened [without the red flag]. It would have been close because, yes, they were coming closer and my rear tyres were not getting better, but I think their tyres were not getting better either, so I think I had quite a good chance to stay where I was – depending on how much risk Fernando was ready to take.”
“Oh, 100 per cent I was ready to try! It is difficult here, there is not much space. There is the risk of 50 per cent you overtake, 50 per cent maybe you crash, but this is Monaco and he is leading the championship so he has much more to lose than me, so I was ready to attack.”
Vettel leads off again, with seven laps to complete. He hangs on to the lead and wins his fifth race of the season, followed over the line by Alonso and Button. After much scraping and some mighty – if unsung – laps, Webber managed to snatch fourth.
“Fantastic. We start fourth and it is the best result of the year for us. We were third in Turkey and now second here, so definitely a good weekend for us. In the first safety car we were very lucky as if not Jenson maybe was on his way to victory so for us only third place was possible. We gained one position with the first safety car and maybe we lose the victory in the second and the red flag. I really think in the last nine laps the tyres from the Red Bull was struggling a lot.”
“Watching Fernando and Sebastian tussle was great fun. I was waiting for the move. It was either going to come off or they were both going into the barriers and I was waiting for it.”
“It’s great to add my name to the list of drivers that have won the Monaco Grand Prix, but when you race against these guys and they are pushing very hard, and then still you stay ahead, it’s even sweeter when you cross the line. I feel so very proud.”
- Exclusive Christian Horner interview on video
- Sebastian Vettel's latest blog
- Official F1 website, www.formula1.com