It was one engine manufacturer that brought the top three drivers to the front of the Monaco grid, but Sebastien Vettel wasn’t going to allow another team to usurp the dominance of Red Bull as the lights went out in the coastal principality and the young German moved swiftly and purposefully into second ahead of Robert Kubica. Avid viewers of the world’s most famous motor race didn’t have long to wait to see the first appearance of a predictably prominent safety car, with Williams’ protégé Nico Hulkenberg touching the barriers in the ram packed tunnel section leading to a debris strewn racing line.
The yellow flag froze the race order, but brought severe problems for last year’s race winner Jenson Button, as his engine cooked under pressure and signalled a retirement for the World Champion on lap three. For the second time in as many years, the Brit concluded his time in the blue-ribband event with a little jog back to the pits.
Alonso who started the race from the pit lane, found his progression through the field hindered as he struggled behind the defensive Virgin of Lucas di Grassi, but passed on lap 10 to fight his former team mate Jarno Trulli for P18. Dispatching the Italian with relative ease, he was back on the gearbox of the second Virgin, as the much more experienced Timo Glock found himself powerless to defend an aggressive move out of the tunnel. Alonso’s refined overtaking manoeuvre combined with the raw pace of the Ferrari only served to highlight the disparity between the established pecking order and the new boys around the streets of Monte Carlo.
Lewis Hamilton entering the pits very early on lap 18 was the first of the leading pack to stop, caused curious glances along the length of the pit lane as the strategy illustrated a fundamental need to curb the quick advancement of Fernando Alonso. The stop brought the sole remaining Brit and McLaren out in to twelfth position, but ensured he was in the sights of arch rival Alonso as the pair parried a half second gap for much of the middle stint.
Rather standard pit stops for the leading Red Bulls on subsequent laps around forty minutes into the race, but the period saw the retirement of both Virgins as Glock and soon after, di Grassi, stopped out on track with seemingly obscure mechanical failures. It was also a fairly tricky time for backmarker Heikki Kovalainen, as a lengthy stop, contributed to by a faulty and stubborn wheel nut, ensured the Finn remained towards the rear of the pack.
Lap 31 and a stunningly forceful impact at Massenet left the flaming and dismembered Williams of Rubens Barrichello out on track, welcoming the second safety car of the afternoon and ensuring the healthy lead of the Red Bulls was adequately diminished. The Brazillian was less than impressed as a very admirable drive was cut short by a rear failure; replays suggesting his steering wheel was flung into the track.
Force India, who were once again running comfortably within the top ten were two fifths of a Mercedes-powered assault on the lead, but it was still, more than half way into the race, Renault power that was dominating in the principality.
Formula One is a renowned high-tech venue, yet still in this day and age little trivialities like drain covers can still cause upset, or more accurately a safety car as one eagle-eyed marshal was sent to investigate. It knocked down Webber’s lead and brought Robert Kubica right up the backside of Vettel; the German seemingly unable to match the pace of his previously subservient team mate, who was lapping half a second faster in the closing stages of the Grand Prix.
The slower back markers proved to be a real issue for Vettel, but a great coup for the chasing Pole Robert Kubica, as he closed right down on the Red Bull’s gearbox at the entrance to the tunnel. It wasn’t enough to bring a valid overtaking opportunity, but the disruption did allow Webber to increase his lead over the chasing pack by almost seven seconds.
Schumacher, who led his team mate for the second time in as many races, was showing competitively behind Alonso, keeping a consistent margin, but couldn’t find the pace or the opportunities to take his old nemesis for sixth place. Which, as the cars bedded in for the final laps of the Grand Prix, was exactly what Sebastian Vettel did, as the Red Bull number one began to find lightning pace before a frightening incident at Rascasse between Trulli and Chandhok brought out the safety car, christened Mark Webber’s first and much overdue win around the glistening streets of Monte Carlo.