Mixed weather conditions in Monaco. Just the thing to stir up the nattering, passless procession that inevitably occurs here each May.
As the lights went out for the start, the rain fell in earnest. Polesitter Felipe Massa in the Ferrari got away quickly, but Lewis Hamilton in 3rd got the jump on the 2nd place position of Kimi Raikkonen. Robert Kubica in the the 5th place BMW-Sauber got away quickly as well.
This marked the first rainy race in the post-traction control era, so it was great to see these multi-million-dollar machines gettin’ sideways just inches from disaster, the truest test of the F1 pilot’s skills.
Despite qualifying poorly yesterday, Nick Heidfeld in the other BMW-Sauber gained an impressive five spots in the first five laps, jumping from 13th to 7th.
It seemed the race never really settled into a rhythm, and as the rain continued to fall, the rooster tails grew. Who would crash first?
While both Hamilton and Fernando Alonso in the Renault had minor run-ins with the wall and each was forced to pit as a result, it was David Coulthard in the Red Bull and Sebastien Bourdais in the Toro Ross that had the race’s first real shunt.
On lap 16, race leader Massa spun harmlessly, which allowed Kubica in the BMW to grab the lead, always a good sight. Meanwhile, the rain had subsided.
From there, Kubica and Massa went back and forth setting the race’s fast lap, and a dry line began to develop over parts of the twisty track.
Midway through the race, another burst of rain was expected, though it never materialized, and by lap 45, Renault made the bold move to put Fernando Alonso on dry tires. No doubt every other team would be scrutinizing his lap times to see if there was any advantage to be gained by switching compounds.
On lap 53, when he set the race’s fastest lap, the choice was clear, and one by one the drivers came in for dry tires, Kubica and Heidfeld among them.
All the while, the lowly Force India car of Adrian Sutil was having one hell of a race, and the German had got himself from 19th at the start to 4th by lap 58. On that same lap, Massa pitted and was in just long enough that the BMW of Kubica could get by, propelling himself in to 2nd behind Hamilton.
By this point, Heidfeld had had too much bad luck throughout the race–no fault of his own–and had been lapped several times.
A lap 61 crash brought the Safety Car out, which drew race leader Hamilton’s 40-second gap to Kubica down to nothing. The BMW driver had a real shot at winning.
In Formula One, races last 300 kilometers or two hours, whichever comes first. Because of the rain-soaked laps–which were run fully 20 seconds or more off the dry pace–the time limit came into play as the cars embarked on lap 64 of the scheduled 78, still under the Safety Car.
The SC pulled off with 11:30 to go, but Kubica just couldn’t keep pace with Hamilton on the restart. Sadly, Raikkonen struggled to control his car under braking out of the tunnel and slammed into the back of Sutil. The impact ended Sutil’s day and pooped on the potential for millions of dollars of Force India sponsorship in the near future.
As the final minute ticked away, Hamilton held on to lead Kubica and Massa across the finish line. This marked the first victory by a British driver in Monaco since Graham Hill won in 1969.
Kubica did all he could to secure a great result, and he ran a faultless race, while Heidfeld finished back in a disappointing 14th, a full four laps down.
No doubt about it, the rain made the race today, and it really showed just how noodly these potent machines can be when the going gets slick.
Canada is next, on June 8. Both BMW men will have much to prove there. Heidfeld because of today’s dismal result. Kubica because of the massive crash he sustained there last year.
BMW-Sauber won’t go away. Both drivers are in the thick of the championship, and the team is well in reach of the constructor’s trophy. Good news for Munich.
Monaco Race Results
4. Webber–Red Bull
5. Vettel–Toro Rosso
Driver’s Championship Top 6