Webber wins again – Monaco GP race report

Mark Webber again takes a dominant win, this time on the streets of Monaco

Extent of Australian’s superiority masked by four safety car periods, including one three laps from the end

Vettel takes second to secure Red Bull one-two, with an impressive Kubica third

Controversy as Schumacher nicks sixth in final corner from Fernando Alonso

Mark Webber today took another dominant victory on the streets of Monaco, in the strongest statement of intent the Red Bull driver has yet made of his claim to the world championship.

The man from Queanbeyan was forced to concentrate fixedly throughout, in a race that was played out at a fast pace and that featured four separate safety car periods. None of it was to faze Webber, who, each time his cushion was eroded, seemed to be completely in control of the gap between himself and his rivals. He was almost effortlessly capable, it appeared, of increasing that margin.

His team-mate Sebastian Vettel, despite being outpaced and outraced by Webber, came a worthy second, making it a Red Bull one-two, not only in the race but also the drivers’ standings. Renault’s Robert Kubica, after a stellar weekend, was a deserved third, and was even capable of harrying Vettel from time to time.

Felipe Massa was fourth after a quick if unexciting weekend, with Lewis Hamilton fifth, and Michael Schumacher may have stolen sixth place from Fernando Alonso in the final corner. After a caution period which the race appeared destined to finish under, the Safety Car pulled into the pits with one corner to go. Theoretically, the cars were racing, and although no moves were attempted at the sharp end, Michael Schumacher caught Alonso napping into Anthony Noghes, and took the place. As forumula1.com goes to press, it remains unclear whether Schumacher will be allowed to keep the place.

The race began, though, with an explosive start from the Red Bulls, with Webber keeping his first place intact from Vettel, and Kubica having slipped to third. There were relatively few incidents as the pack rushed through Ste Devote, and although Schumacher complained that Hamilton had squeezed him, he did say that it was normal. Barrichello had hustled his way up to sixth, hankering after a good result. “They [the other drivers] have to fear the old bucks,” he had joked on the grid.

But it was not to be long before his team-mate Nico Hulkenberg brought the safety car out for the first time. Hulkenberg went straight into the guardrail in the tunnel in an accident difficult to understand, with the most probable hypothesis being that something had broken on the car. It was a sizeable crash, leaving debris everywhere.

The heating of the engine in the caution period was to claim Jenson Button, the next retiree. His team had left a bung in a vent, which should not have been a problem if he had been able to cool his engine with airflow. But the race was over for Button.

Webber made the restart, on lap 6, a good one. He was conscious of the need to control the pace as the Mercedes saloon pulled in, and left Vettel for dead. He set the fastest lap on lap 8, by which time spectators’ attention had been drawn to Fernando Alonso trying to make his way through the field. Alonso had started from the pitlane after not taking part in qualifying yesterday, and had pitted on lap 2 to get the mandatory tyre change out the way. He was now, though, stuck behind Lucas di Grassi in the Virgin, who was making it very difficult for the illustrious Spaniard. Alonso waved his hand and power-slid his Ferrari, and eventually was through. It was spectacular stuff, but Jarno Trulli would not prove such redoubtable opposition on lap 10 as Alonso went into 18th.

Alonso’s target was to get up into about 12th or 13th as his rivals made their pitstops, in order best to profit from his early stop. On lap 15 he made it past the other Virgin of Timo Glock, and the order was Webber, Vettel, Kubica, Massa, Hamilton, Barrichello, Schumacher, Rosberg, Liuzzi, Sutil, Buemi, Petrov, de la Rosa, Kobayashi, Alguersuari, Kovalainen, Alonso, Glock, Trulli, di Grassi, Chandhok and Senna.

Webber was not letting up, despite the fact that he was now more than six seconds up on Vettel. Lap 16 was another fastest lap from the Australian, a 1m17.784, and at the rate he was going he was making nearly a second a lap on third-placed Kubica. Even on the slow, twisty Monaco track, the extent of the Red Bulls’ superiority in general and Webber’s in particular was painfully becoming evident again.

On lap 17 Hamilton was the first of the big guns to pit, in and out of the tight pitlane in a respectable 24.737 seconds. He was out a second or two ahead of Fernando Alonso, setting the tone for the rest of the afternoon. Although he was the second quickest on the track at that point, Alonso’s charge had more or less finished – destined not to get past Hamilton, a man with similar pace that afternoon to the Ferrari man himself. In fact the grand prix in general was to be characterised (perhaps de-characterised) by the lack of overtaking, except of course for Lotus/Virgin/HRT cars. But then again it is Monaco, and its idiosyncrasies have to be forgiven.

Lap 19 saw a flurry of cars enter the pits, with Massa the front runner. Michael Schumacher, happy no doubt to have beaten Rosberg off the grid, was to profit more as he passed Barrichello in the pits. When it all shook out, Massa was in front in a net fourth, leading Hamilton, Alonso, Schumacher and Barrichello. Rosberg was not yet beaten, and showed he had some core speed with a 1m17.538 fastest lap on lap 20.

Kubica was in on lap 21, and although his stop was nearly a second in total off the chasing pack, he was not to be troubled by them. The Red Bulls then came in on the next two consecutive laps, with Vettel in first. Webber would have surely been thrilled to be out ahead of Rosberg, and could once more open out the gap. But Vettel’s margin over Kubica was not so comfortable, and the Pole was periodically to threaten the Red Bull for the rest of the race.

On lap 28, when Rosberg finally pitted, the order sorted itself out. Webber was followed by Vettel, Kubica, Massa with a closing Hamilton and Alonso, Schumacher, an out-of-position Kobayashi, Sutil, Barrichello and Liuzzi. Meanwhile we had lost the two Virgins to what looked suspiciously like suspension issues.

Bernd Maylander and the Safety Car were then called into action once more, after a big shunt involving Rubens Barrichello. As he went up the hill into Massenet, Barrichello’s Williams snapped sideways, hitting the Armco on both sides of the track as the energy dissipated. A clearly-fired-up but intact Barrichello threw his steering wheel out of the car, to be rather comically hoovered up by a passing HRT. “After the pitstop the car didn’t feel good – the steering wheel was numb,” Barrichello later fumed. What appeared to be two mechanical failures had blighted Williams’ weekend, and they leave the Principality with nothing. Which was also what Mark Webber’s cushion had disappeared into as they followed the Safety Car round.

As the Safety Car came in, the field were now on lap 38 and the spectacle was once more diminished as the procession continued. Webber was once more harvesting as fastest lap after fastest lap appeared under his name. Sutil, with the demise of Barrichello, was in an excellent ninth, with team-mate Liuzzi not far behind.

On lap 44, the Safety Car was out yet again, this time for the improbable reason of a loose drain cover near the scene of Barrichello’s shunt. As was his habit this afternoon, Webber was on the ball for the restart, but the proximity of Hamilton to Massa came to nothing, like much of the other competitive racing. Even when Massa missed his braking point into the Nouvel Chicane, no places were exchanged. It was starting to become dull, and Hamilton seemed to accept his fifth-placed fate. Alonso was not in a position to challenge him, at any rate, conscious of the need to conserve the rubber that he had worn since the second lap.

Meanwhile Webber had broken into the 1m15s, with concentration and mechanical reliability all he needed to secure the win. Ten laps, from lap 50 to 60, passed with literally nothing to report, and pretty yachts, girls and boys were taking everybody’s attention away from the racetrack. By lap 62, Vettel was encountering traffic, but Kubica, like others before him, was not nearly close enough to really threaten. Red Bull were on the radio to Mark Webber in the meantime, telling him to chill his beans a bit. He could afford to.

On lap 71 the order was similar. Webber, Vettel, Kubica, Massa, Hamilton, Alonso, Schumacher, Rosberg, Sutil, Liuzzi, Buemi, Alguersuari, Petrov, Chandhok and Trulli. They had lost Kovalainen and Senna, as well as Kobayashi in an unremarkable exit. Then on lap 72 spectators and fans had a glimmer of hope, as Vettel suddenly found a semblance of a reply to Webber. He was a full nine-tenths quicker than Mark on that lap, and it raised some hope of a grandstand finish to what had been an essentially forgettable spectacle.

But those hopes were dashed as, with three laps to go, Jarno Trulli attempted a ridiculous manoeuvre into the Rascasse on poor Karun Chandhok. Chandhok obviously wasn’t expecting such a bizarre thrust, and turned in, causing the Lotus to take to the air, and bounce down perilously close to the Indian’s head. With the green and gold car parked ignominiously on top of the battered HRT, there was no real choice but to bring out the Safety Car once again, and condemn the race to a finish behind it.

With a lap left the marshals had cleared the hairpin, leaving Bernd Maylander in the curious and rare position of having to bring the pace car in on the last lap, with a corner to spare. Obviously the spectacle of the winner crossing the line behind a silver car with flashing lights is not an appealing one, but the decision was to leave the stewards with a puzzler over whether Schumacher’s expert pickpocketing of Alonso as the cars filed through Anthony Noghes was in fact legal.

It was not to bother Mark Webber, as he steamed over the line to take the historic win. “It is absolutely incredible. To win in Monte Carlo is very special. This place is such a test for two hours; we were tested quite often with Safety Car restarts and backmarkers. I’m absolutely elated,” sighed an obviously drained Webber.

Vettel was conciliatory and magnanimous. “I wasn’t able to keep up with him,” said the German. “[But] by the time I felt the grip I wasn’t too far off. To be honest I had to look in the mirrors [because] Kubica was pushing quite hard…we couldn’t have done better today,” he finished.

Kubica, for his part, was satisfied with a good performance. “Starting on the first row on the dirty side was always going to be difficult. After the restarts on the prime tyres we were slightly better than we were on the options. But then I got a very bad vibration and I couldn’t see where I was braking. Third place we have to be positive. Congratulations to our guys and to Renault for three places on the podium,” he added.

Christian Horner paid tribute to both his drivers, in a result that will leave the Red Bull team principal more than happy. “This is even sweeter than Spain. Mark Webber has had the week of his live. He thoroughly deserved the win. And Sebastian did well to hold off Kubica too,” he said.

Some were perhaps hoping before the weekend that Red Bull’s fast-circuit dominance would not translate to slower, more high-downforce tracks like Monaco. But the nature of Webber’s performance today has blown that theory out of the water. 2009’s Red Bull was an outstanding car, but 2010’s is even better. And as long as they don’t encounter any more reliability issues as they had in the early season, it is difficult to envisage the others catching them.

As for Webber, he will be particularly savouring the victory over his team-mate Vettel. He has hit a sweet spot, the Australian, and will want to crush Vettel’s will completely. The German will not sleep well until he has found out why he is not as quick at the moment, though, Webber can rest assured. If nothing else, that inter-team battle has the potential to be close for the rest of the season.