Monaco GP - Sunday - Race Report
Webber the street fighter
Mark Webber won his second Monaco GP in three years after a superbly controlled lights to flag drive. It meant that for the first time in the history of the world championship, six different drivers have won the first six races of a season.
Webber had been magnanimous about his Saturday 'pole', admitting that it had been Schumacher's day but he'd take it nonetheless. And having taken it, he wasn't about to waste it.
Starts have not always been Mark's strength but this time both the Red Bull and Rosberg's second-placed Mercedes were off like jack rabbits.
"The initial getaway was good and I knew straight away that it was good enough to get to Turn 1 in front," Webber said. "Then it was reasonably straightforward at first -- getting a gap on supersofts and managing it to Nico, then a matter of trying to get a reasonable gap with the weather threatening around pit stop time."
This was a race that the strategists didn't call quite right beforehand. For anyone starting from the top six or seven grid slots Monaco has traditionally been a two-stop race, with those further back often trying just the one.
Last year, Sebastian Vettel won it with a one-stop, but that required the handy help of a late race red flag that permitted a change of tyres. This time, given the degradation patterns of the 2012 Pirellis, many thought that a one-stop would be a real long shot. But nobody quite knew.
Vettel, starting ninth after a tricky qualifying day, and on the prime tyre, was one man expected to try it but, as things turned out, the entire top 10 made it through with just one visit to the pits.
The dilemma for the leaders on the supersofts was how to take them far enough into the race to facilitate the one stopper, an equation that became further complicated by the possible arrival of rain around the stop time, tempting drivers to stay out even longer in case a switch to rain tyres was required.
Up front it was a question of who would blink first and force the issue. That man was Rosberg, who headed for the pits after 27 laps. The order when he did so was Webber, Nico, Hamilton, Alonso, Massa, Vettel - all covered by 13.5s.
Rosberg had been just 2s behind the lead Red Bull when he pitted, with Hamilton and Alonso running as one a further 5s behind, with Massa well in touch and Vettel 2s further back and looking good.
Sebastian was helped a little by an early Safety Car after a messy first corner. Grosjean and Alonso made contact and the Lotus then hit Schumacher and spun out. There would be no repeat of Saturday's glory for Michael either. Schumacher completed the first lap eighth and was destined to retire with no fuel pressure 15 laps from the end.
As the rest scrambled to miss Grosjean's stricken Lotus, Kobayashi's Sauber was knocked into the air and tagged Button's McLaren, meaning that Jenson, who started a lowly 12th, dropped another couple of places.
Button spent much of a frustrating afternoon behind Heikki Kovalainen's Caterham before hitting it and spinning out after 70 laps. There had been some fairly robust defence from the Finn prior to that, some of which left Jenson unimpressed.
Back to the front though, "and it was a bit of a surprise that Nico went in when he did," Webber admitted. Red Bull did not bring the race leader in for another two laps.
"I was just hoping that Nico wasn't getting the tyres in..." Webber said, "but I had trust in the guys and the strategy."
Normally, the 'undercut' as it's called, is the best strategy, but not today. In Monaco it took drivers longer to get the prime tyres up to temperature and Webber pitted out still in front, by 1.5s.
McLaren pitted third-placed Hamilton on the same lap as Webber but Ferrari kept Alonso out for another lap and Fernando immediately started to turn the timing monitors purple with quickest sector times. When he pitted a lap later, he came out in front of Hamilton, now third behind Webber and Rosberg.
Here was a chance for Ferrari to have won the race. As Alonso admitted later, if they had kept him out another couple of laps he would likely have jumped Rosberg and Webber too.
But, as he also said, it's fine with hindsight but it was hard to predict both the time it took to warm up the primes and the fact that Fernando would be capable of setting purple sector times on supersofts more than 30 laps old!
While that's true, the team had timing monitors in front of them displaying the information, so did they consider leaving Alonso out?
"We considered it but thought at that stage that we were doing the right thing," team principal Stefano Domenicali explained.
"Fernando did a perfect 'in' lap, the team did a perfect pit stop and we jumped Hamilton. Maybe we could have waited to see the other sector times but in Monaco the lap is very short and you don't have so long to think."
When the leaders all pitted it left Vettel in front, going very quickly on the new primes he'd started on that were now 30 laps old. The gap to Webber was 10s but it started to grow rapidly as Sebastian lapped in the low to mid 1:19s, while Webber circulated in low 1:21s on his new primes. This was a surprise.
Within six laps the gap was out to 16s and that prompted a radio message from Mercedes to Rosberg suggesting that Webber was deliberately backing up the field to give Vettel the requited 20s needed to pit and re-emerge still in front.
Team orders, of course, are not illegal and it would have been a smart move. Vettel could then have allowed Webber to re-pass and Red Bull would have had itself a 1-2. But that, in fact, was not what was happening.
"It was tricky to get the primes started," Webber explained. "Seb was in the groove and doing some quick times. I had to keep an eye on the gap while ensuring that I got the tyres to the end of the race. At the start of the stint I had very low front grip."
Webber kept the gap at around 16s and when Vettel pitted on lap 46 he re-emerged fourth, right in front of Hamilton. Lewis was not amused, feeling that with a bit of warning he could have done something about it.
With that segment of the race negotiated, Webber should have been safe, but there was another snake to slide down in the form of the elements. With 10 laps to go, spotting rain started to intensify. With eight laps to go the surface was greasy, the first five were nose-to-tail and the pressure was on the race leader.
"It's incredibly tricky leading in those conditions," Webber conceded. "All of a sudden the car is wheel-spinning, the front end's not biting and that's not very encouraging around this place when you are leading with 10 laps to go..."
He coped superbly though, and didn't put a wheel wrong.
"It's great to win here twice fair and square off the pole," he smiled. "Nico kept me honest and it was a good grand prix. I think we got the absolute maximum out of this weekend."
Rosberg sportingly admitted that Webber had driven a great race, never giving him the sniff of a chance.
"Mark controlled me well and I have to say I think I had the best car," Rosberg said. "It makes me hope for a lot more in the next few races."
Alonso, too, was happy: "I was trying to finish in front of Sebastian and Lewis. Race-by-race you concentrate on different drivers. At the next one it will be Mark because he's now second in championship."
Behind Hamilton and a happier Massa, Paul Di Resta and Nico Hulkenberg put both Force Indias in the points, with Raikkonen and Bruno Senna claiming the final points.
For both Lotus and Williams it was a disappointing race. With Grosjean out on the first lap and Raikkonen struggling in the first stint when the temperatures dropped, Lotus technical director James Allison called the race "a completely joyless experience from start to finish."
Pastor Maldonado proved that a fortnight is a very long time in motor racing, quite literally going from hero to zero when he hit De la Rosa's HRT in the first corner melee and then crashed with a broken front wing and it was left to Senna to bring the team its lone point.
Amazingly, Alonso now leads the championship alone, with 76 points. Vettel and Webber have 73 points each, Hamilton has 63, Rosberg, 59, Raikkonen, 51, and Button, 45 after his third non-score in six races.
Red Bull Racing became the first repeat win team of 2012 and now enjoys a 38-point advantage over McLaren in the constructors' championship. Montreal is next. Seven from seven, anyone?