Monaco GP 2008
MAY 26, 2008
Race Report - In the wheeltracks of giants
Lewis Hamilton became the first Englishman to win Monaco since 1969 on Sunday, when he drove a stunning race to beat all-comers and finish Ferrari's run of four consecutive victories. Robert Kubica was second in his BMW with Felipe Mass third, while World Championship leader Kimi Raikkonen had a shocking day and failed to score. This means that the four men are now all covered by just six points in the Drivers' World Championship, with Hamilton in the lead with three points more than Kimi. Massa is one behind his team-mate and Kubica two behind him.
Hamilton's race strategy might not have won him the race if things had gone to plan, but an early brush with a wall sent him into the pits for a new rear wheel and the team took the decision to fill the car to the brim. The strategy was spot on and Hamilton drove away, while Ferrari floundered.
As it turned out, it was a little bit closer than it appeared. The race ended because of the two-hour rule, but on the last lap Lewis picked up a puncture. If the race had gone to its planned length he would probably have been beaten...
The track was damp at the start but rain soon began to fall as the cars diced through the first lap. Already in trouble was Heikki Kovalainen who failed to get away from the pre-grid and had to start from the pitlane. That was a disaster.
At the start Massa had no problem staying ahead while Hamilton got away well and went down the inside of Raikkonen to take second place. Kubica was also on the move and relieved Fernando Alonso of fourth place. He was lucky to get through unscathed as Nico Rosberg ran into him at the hairpin on the first lap, a move which sent Nico into the pits for his first nose change.
As the rain increased the conditions became steadily trickier and Hamilton backed off so as to be able to see a little more. The track was by then very wet and Lewis went wide at Tabac and snagged the barriers on the outside. The blow was sufficient to puncture the right rear, but he was close enough to the pits to be able to get in and out and still remain in fifth place.
"I felt I had a good car, and that I could challenge Felipe," he said. "But I couldn't see anything so I just stayed in second place. As the rain came down there was so much spray. Through Tabac there was a river across the road and as I was beginning to catch him I hit that and oversteered into the wall. I just touched it, but I couldn't believe it."
There were soon other incidents. Raikkonen's challenge was blunted when it emerged that Ferrari had changed his tyres too late on the grid. This meant that he had to drive through the pits, which allowed Kubica to get up on to Massa's tail. And then Felipe went off at Ste Devote and suddenly there was a BMW Sauber in the lead and looking very strong.
"It is so easy to have a small loss in concentration," Massa said. "I braked beyond the line where you exit the pits and just couldn't stop the car. Then I lost the radio for 20 laps, and was looking to the boards, so it was not so easy to know what was going on in the race."
Kubica stayed ahead until the 26th lap when it emerged that he had been running with a very low fuel load. Massa went on another seven laps and by then Hamilton was closing in on him. He would go on for another 21 laps before he headed for the pits and the gap by then was nearly 40secs. Kubica's two-stop strategy put him out of the serious running. Hamilton was able to refuel, switch to soft compound dry weather tyres, and resume without even losing the lead. It looked like it was just a case of coasting for home when Nico Rosberg made a real mess of things in the Swimming Pool and crashed heavily, bringing out a Safety Car. Nico was out of contention by then having pitted for a second new nose, having lost the second in a mid-race bingle when Fernando Alonso tried a daft manouevre on Nick Heidfeld.
Rosberg's shunt was a big one and it took a while to clear it all up. This meant that all of Hamilton's challengers were lined up behind him. But he kept his cool, did a brilliant restart and that was the last anyone saw of him.
"The track was getting dry, but I managed to look after them and that was what really gave us the win. I could stay out, no problem. And I was used to the safety car so I did a good job; remember last year in Canada? It was no sweat. I just kept it nice and cool at the end, but I was counting down the laps."
Kubica and Massa were unable to do anything but the concertina-ing of the field was to wipe out the unlucky Adrian Sutil, who was running fourth in his Force India. This had been achieved by staying out of trouble and taking advantage of the mistakes of others. He had started 18th, set the 16th fastest lap of the race, but had risen through the ranks. He deserved the finish, but he found Raikkonen behind him and the Finn got into a real tank-slapper in the tunnel. He caught it twice (and they were great catches) but by the time he had done that he was going too quickly and careened into the back of Sutil.
Poor fellow. He did not deserve that.
"I can't believe it, " said Sutil. "It was so close. It feels like a pain in my heart. It is like a dream gone to a nightmare - suddenly you are in the car and it looks all fantastic, then you have to accept it is not going to happen. We had a really good strategy and it seemed to work and we were so close to the podium and the points. It was a real shock. A few tears came."
The team was bereft as well for Raikkonen's disaster had cost them millions. Not only did the team lose the points that Sutil would have scored, but Scuderia Toro Rosso was there to pick up the leftovers with Sebastian Vettel getting a good haul of points instead.
"It was the saddest moment of my motor sports career," said team boss Vijay Mallya. "To achieve a top five position in Formula 1 was a dream that ended just seven minutes and less than five laps from the chequered flag."
Kimi at least admitted that he had not had a great race with his penalty and two broken front wings. He went home with no points.
"I am sorry for Sutil," he said."I could do nothing to avoid him. It's a shame how things went today, as we had the potential to do well.
In the end fourth place went to Mark Webber, who drove a strong race with Red Bull. Toro Rosso had something to smile about as Sebastian Vettel came home fifth after a big fight with the Honda of Rubens Barrichello and the Williams of Kazuki Nakajima. Earlier he had also tussled with Nelson Piquet until he spun out.
"It's great to score my first points of the season," said Vettel. "Special thanks for the pit stop which was fantastic and gained me two places.
The last point went to Kovalainen.
"I tried to push as hard as I could," he said, "but I could only go at my real pace when there was a gap. My car was good and the speed was there."
It was a bad day for Renault with Alonso running into incident after incident. He hit a wall at Massenet and damaging the right rear wheel, then he smashed into Heidfeld with a daft move on lap 12. He then had a big fight with Rosberg.
"The track was always changing; the car was sensitive and I made some mistakes,"he said. "After that, we tried to change our strategy, but it did not really pay off."
Piquet looked like making up for his poor qualifying but he switched to dry tyres too early and spun out. Button survived to the flag but the damage on the first lap ruined his afternoon. The two Toyotas failed to shine with Timo Glock spinning three times and Trulli finishing behind him for no obvious reason. Heidfeld had an awful day and finished four laps down.
Fisichella disappeared with gearbox trouble while Bourdais and Coulthard went off in the rain in separate incidents but Bourdais clonked into the Red Bull.
Hamilton said afterwards that the win had been the high point of his career and so it was.
"In the last few laps I was picturing it: Ayrton Senna won here many times, so for me to win here would be amazing. The last 20 laps were very emotional and I was just trying to keep that in and to keep the car on the track. It is an incredible feeling, really emotional."
"This is my favourite circuit, this was the race I wanted to win more than any other in the world. When I was a kid I looked at the tunnel, the swimming pool, it just looked spectacular so automatically it became my favourite race. And I was very, very close to winning last year. This is the best, even if I was to win here again, this will be the best one."