MONACO GP - SUNDAY - RACE REPORT

On the waterfront

Fernando Alonso, Monaco GP 2006

Fernando Alonso, Monaco GP 2006 

 © The Cahier Archive

In Elia Kazan's Oscar-winning movie "On the Waterfront" in 1954, Marlon Brando delivered a classic line: "I could have been a contender," he said. "I could have had class and been somebody. Real class."

On Sunday afternoon on the waterfront at Monaco Michael Schumacher might have been forgiven for thinking similar thoughts. This could have been his race if he had not gone off at Rascasse on the last lap of qualifying. The FIA Stewards and everyone else in F1 - except those wearing red (and even some of those) felt that Michael had done it deliberately. The punishment was to be sent to the back of the grid.

In the race Michael went through Rascasse at racing speed 78 times without once getting it wrong. He drove a super race and dragged himself up to fifth place. He set the fastest lap of the race.

He could have been a contender.

Instead, his title rival Fernando Alonso swept to another victory. There were other contenders but Fernando had it all under control. Ferrari people said it was not fair.

After qualifying Jean Todt decided that he wished to express his "great displeasure" with the decision of the race stewards and gave his own ruling, saying that the stewards had no evidence and has assumed that Michael was guilty. This was a very silly thing to do for two reasons: he sounded like a man who lives in an ivory tower and thinks he is a king; and it left Ferrari open to further punishment from the FIA.

As Honda learned last year it is usually best to take the smack on the wrist without yelping too loudly.

Fortunately on Sunday morning the FIA President Max Mosley was in a generous mood and said that sometimes people said silly things when they were angry.

Todt's superior Luca Montezemolo took a wiser course of action and was neither heard nor seen at Monte Carlo.

Ferrari's shame and discomfort was the big story on Sunday morning and the only thing that the team could do was to make the best of a bad job. With Schumacher and Massa out of sight of the TV cameras trained on the grid at the start, Ferrari was forgotten as the field hurtled down into Ste Devote. Almost everyone managed to behave but MF1 Racing's Christijan Albers and Tiago Monteiro got into a pickle when the Dutchman squeezed the Portuguese into the pitwall. This made a mess of Tiago's front wing and screwed Albers as well because those mean old stewards decided to punish Christijan as well and so both cars were delayed.

At the front Alonso made the most of pole and Webber slotted in behind, leaving the two McLarens behind him. Rubens Barrichello was fifth but Nico Rosberg came off the grid like a man with a low fuel load and was ahead of Jarno Trulli and David Coulthard before the first corner. It is such moments that make the big difference in Monaco. There was another such moment at the start of the second lap when Webber went into Ste Devote and "got on the brakes a sniff late". As he teetered on the brink of disaster Raikkonen pounced and blasted ahead of the Williams on the run up the hill towards the Casino.

That is all that it takes at a place like Monaco.

Strategy is everything and so it was really a question of who was going to be where and when. The fast men were all stopping early and the front four soon left the rest of the pack sitting in a noisy train behind Rubens Barrichello who had a lot of gas on board and hoped to use a one-stop strategy to get up to the podium. It would have worked too if Barrichello had not been busted for speeding in the pitlane. That meant a drive-through penalty and thus fourth place and so more pain at Honda. Jenson Button actually lapped the track faster than Barrichello in the race but his 13th on the grid, a poor start and slower cars around him meant that he never looked good and ended the day 11th. It looked a lot more awful than it was but it was still awful. The Honda needs to go quicker.

With Barrichello holding back the rest of the pack, the fight for victory was only ever going to be between the top four and it was clear from the start that Montoya was not going to be a contender. He could not hold onto the pace of Webber.

In the first stint Webber was hanging on but after the first stops he was charging and it was clear that the Bridgestone tyres were rather good. In the middle part of the race he was able to put pressure on Raikkonen. Kimi was pressuring Alonso but everyone knew that Fernando was just taking things easy. It might have looked close but it wasn't really.

In the end both Raikkonen and Webber would disappear. Mark went first when exhaust gases burned through wiring looms and he stopped with the back end in flames on lap 49. Webber never seems to get any luck. Rosberg suffered the same exhaust gas problem and that caused his throttle to stick and he ended up stuck nose-first in the tyres at the final corner.

Raikkonen lasted until lap 51 when the Mercedes V8 failed as Kimi was running behind the Safety Car.

The good news for McLaren was that the cars were quick on a track where tyres and mechanical grip are more important than aerodynamics and where the cars never get fast enough for flexi-wings to create an advantage.

It was not an accident that Williams and McLaren were as good as they were.

The demise of Raikkonen and Webber gave Montoya second place and third ended up going to the best survivor rather than a real contender. After Raikkonen and Webber were gone the place belonged to Barrichello until he went speeding down the pitlane and so dropped to fifth. Trulli took over in his Toyota but broke down nine laps later and so David Coulthard took the place. His fastest lap was only the 19th fastest out of the 22 drivers and so one can say quite safely that this was a victory of strategy: the team going for an early first stop and then a non-stop run to the flag. It worked for David and indeed for Michael Schumacher was well as he would end up fifth.

That was a decent result for Michael. Yes, he had had some misfortune but he drove hard and well and left the Ferrari people with only one thought as they packed up on Sunday night.

What might have happened.