Sunday, 27 May 2012

Monaco GP Race Report: Webber does it old school

Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.

Nothing ever stands still in F1, as is appropriate in the world's most intense and fast-moving sport. But within it all some things never change. Winning around Monaco has long been about getting the lead at the first corner at controlling things from there, most probably ever since 1929. And that's exactly what Mark Webber did today.

Mark Webber took as classic-style win in Monaco
Credit: Morio / CC
It was a classic Monaco drive from Webber, in what was a classic Monaco race (classic, that is, as in time-honoured). Today we witnessed a tight, tense battle, wherein the top six cars ran in close company right to the end, but simultaneously on-track overtaking was an extreme scarcity. But Webber looked to have the whole thing under control throughout, even when the much-anticipated rain started to spot late on (again, a bit of a Monaco tradition) and lap times dropped by several seconds. But he never put a wheel out of line and only ever went as fast as he needed to. It all added up to him taking the final flag first.

I won't make any secret of the fact that it pleases me when Mark Webber wins an F1 race. His is a genuine, honourable and honest personality, and one who is a great ambassador for the sport (as they say in the UK: you could imagine having a pint with him). And this is especially welcome in an age wherein, with respect, many F1 drivers have been mollycoddled by a team or manufacturer from an early age, and their relative lack of 'life experience' sometimes shows. Webber by contrast has had to fight for everything he's ever had, and that shows too. And, most importantly, he's bloody quick.

And it continues a season in which Webber has bounced back from his 2011 relative struggles. The racy competitor of 2010 looks to be right back with us, and he's now but three points off the drivers' table top.

Nico Rosberg ran in Webber's wake throughout
Credit: Morio / CC
Nico Rosberg ran in Webber's wake for the duration and finished a close second. His was a fine effort and he reckons his machine was quicker than that of Webber. It was just a pity that overtaking is pretty much a no-no at the Principality; Rosberg was given graphic demonstration of this today.

They were followed home by two 'high climbers': first off, Fernando Alonso finished third having started in fifth. He biffed Romain Grosjean out of the way in the run down to turn one (a, shall we say, robust move which triggered a bit of chain reaction and put Grosjean out), and then leapfrogged Lewis Hamilton into third in a motor racing equivalent of rope-a-dope, hanging back in the early stages, only to drive like a demon as the (what turned out to be the front runners' one and only) stops approached. A rapid in-lap and equally rapid Ferrari crew servicing got the deed done.

And Sebastian Vettel claimed fourth place, from ninth on the grid, after applying a contrary pit strategy. He started on the soft tyres, kept the leaders in sight and ran much deeper into the race than those around him before pitting, including an impressive stage when on older tyres he lapped quicker than the more recently-pitted guys behind. It, after he stopped, put him right into the leading train, ahead of Lewis Hamilton (leaving Lewis a little frustrated by it all).

Hamilton and Felipe Massa completed the procession in close company, and all of the top six were a credit to themselves, making no mistake that I could see in this possibly the most challenging race on the calendar. And in Massa's case it represented something of a redemption. If the decision on his 2013 Scuderia future hasn't been made yet then a few more drives where he keeps Alonso in sight (as he did in China and Bahrain, as well as here) could just be enough to save him.

Fernando Alonso completed the podium
and, astonishingly, leads the
drivers' championship
Credit: Ryan Bayona / CC
The result leaves us with a tight championship order, with seven drivers within 31 points of the table top. And, astonishingly given how much of a dog the F2012 seemed to be when it first turned a wheel, Alonso leads the way. And that Ferrari is improving...

And Webber's triumph means we now have six different race winners from the first six rounds of 2012. This is unprecedented, unless you include the 1951 season, but that doesn't really count for a few reasons (see here). And with the likes of Hamilton and both Lotus drivers yet to trouble the podium top who would bet against the forthcoming Canadian round making it seven from seven? A couple of records did fall by the wayside today though. One is, Red Bull became the first team to win twice this year, so the record of the number of different teams winning consecutive opening races of a year is shared with 1983. And, including races at the end of 2011, the number of different winners winning races in a row fell from seven to six today (as Webber won the final round of 2011). The all-time record is nine winners in nine races, set in 1982.

And sadly, in another time-honoured F1 tradition, proceedings had the threat of a technical protest, against the Red Bull's floor, hanging over it a little. It seems the threat to the Monaco result has receded for now at least. It remains an unfortunate element of F1 that results can always be changed post-hoc hours later because of technical infringements (it's completely alien to most other sports). Perhaps a system such in NASCAR, where they have the scrutineering before the race and all can therefore be certain that the cars that compete are within the technical regulations, wouldn't be the worst idea. In any case, let's hope it doesn't overshadow a close, tight Monaco race, with a worthy winner.

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