In what was easily the finest race of the season so far, Lewis Hamilton has sensationally won from third on the grid. The afternoon didn’t go perfectly for McLaren as team mate Heikki Kovalainen was unable to follow Hamilton to the front of the pack. However, with changing conditions during the race, time limits coming into force and altering strategies as the laps counted down, each team earned their money today. Lets take a closer look at the 2008 Monaco Grand Prix.
As the cars began to move away from their start boxes on the warm-up lap, Heikki Kovalainen was left behind, his engine having apparently stalled. As the rest of the field left the startline, Kovalainen was wheeled off the track and when the Mercdes power-plant was restarted, the Finn rolled down to the end of the pitlane and was able to leave once the rest of pack had passed the pit-exit at Ste Devote.
As the cars waited on the grid, rain began to fall and although it was fairly light, it was enough for all drivers to choose wet tyres, or as they are still commonly known as, intermediates. These tyres, produced by Bridgestone as are all tyres in Formula One, are very flexible in the changing conditions and can run in the quite-wet through to the quite-dry.
Lewis Hamilton got away from the grid well and squeezed his way past Kimi Raikkonen as pole-sitter Felipe Massa tip-toed his Ferrari through the first corner. With the drivers having not seen much of the track in over fifteen minutes, the first lap in wet conditions was always going to be an interesting spectacle in itself. All drivers got through Ste Devote without drama and the race began.
Although the first lap went reasonably well with little contact made between the drivers, it wasn’t long before the rain became a little heavier and the drivers started to move around more with the loss of traction control. Jenson Button and Nick Heidfeld made contact, the damage occurring mostly on Button’s Honda and the Briton having to pit for a new nose at the end of the lap.
Toyota driver Timo Glock entered the pitlane on lap three for a new nose, himself getting out of shape at Anthony Nogues and damaging the front-end of his car. And then, running in second and sandwiched between the Ferrari’s, Lewis Hamilton slapped the barrier at the Tabac corner and going into the Swimming Pool complex. The knock damaged Hamilton’s right-rear tyre and the Briton was given the pit call.
With more rain falling many drivers were making calls to the pits asking about full wet (actually called Extreme Wet) tyres and Kimi Raikkonen was starting to loose pace on team mate Massa. After a lap or two it was clear that BMW pilot Robert Kubica was gaining and it wasn’t long before the Polish driver was starting to really hassle the reigning world champion, Kubica revelling in the degrading conditions.
Alonso, via Radio: I hit the barrier. I hit the barrier. Fernando Alonso.
On the eighth tour of Monte Carlo, two-time Monaco winner Fernando Alonso clipped the wall himself, causing damage to his right-rear wheel and once again, requiring the cameras to point towards the pitlane. As Alonso recovered himself to the pitlane though, David Coultard and Sebastien Bourdais were resting on the outside of the Massenet/Casino corners at the top of the hill, substantial damage seen on both cars. Replays showed Coulthard getting his Red Bull crossed up and running out of road for his corrections. His car came to a stop with a crumpled front-right, only to then get shunted forward as Bourdais mimicked Coulthard’s accident, landing at the same place and tapping the Red Bull.
This incident brought out the safety car for the first time and the pitlane was closed. However, with a damaged car Fernando Alonso had to pit and came in to get his damaged tyre replaced. As he left the cameras noted the pit lane was effectively closed with the red light on, and at the time it was believed that the former champion had run the light and rejoined the track illegally. However, as no investigation was announced we can only assume the FOM-operated cameras were a little behind in showing the view of the lights (or Alonso was ahead at the time).
Two laps later and the Mercedes safety car peeled off the damp track and the race restarted.
The Middle, sort of…
It was as the race restarted that it became known that Kimi Raikkonen was under investigation by the stewards. A lap later the reason was announced; Ferrari had been late in putting on his choice of tyres while the cars were waiting on the grid before the start of the race. The teams must make a decision and bolt on the wheels three minutes prior to the warm-up lap, and due to the difficult conditions, all teams left it until the last possible moment to make the call. Ferrari, it seems, were a little late. Raikkonen toured a further two times before rolling through the pitlane to serve his drive-thru.
Lap eleven saw the changing conditions bring different cars into play, and Nelson Piquet Jr. made a move on Adrian Sutil, the German driver performing well (mostly) in his Force India. Piquet’s team mate Fernando Alonso was also on a charge, the Spaniard passing Mark Webber’s Red Bull on track for position. However, as the Renault driver pulled away from the Red Bull, Alonso was soon to lose his margin when making a bold move on Nick Heidfeld.
Running down to te Loews hairpin, Alonso moved up the inside of the BMW and contact was made, the track simply not being wide enough and the cars simply not having enough lock to go through two-abreast. Heidfeld was pivoted around and found himself blocking the apex of the corner and the ensuing cars bundled up behind. Mark Webber came very close to clipping the rear of Alonso as he struggled to slow his Renault-powered car, the pair only separated by the wdith of a cigarette paper.
Lap fifteen saw further action at the front when race leader Felipe Massa went too deep into turn one, the Brazilian driver being forced to run straight on into the small run-off area and recover his Ferrari with a controlled spin. This error enabled Robert Kubica, who was running a close second at the time, to glide past and take the lead of the race. Massa recovered, but he lost the commanding position and could only watch as the BMW rear wing moved ever further out of reach.
Despite the Loews corner not being wide enough for Alonso and Heidfeld to go through side-by-side, man-on-a-mission Sutil did manage to make a pass stick going through the 30mph hairpin, the German squeezing his Force India by Kazuki Nakajima’s Williams. On lap 21, the positions were Kubica, Massa, Hamilton, Raikkonen, Webber, Sutil, Jarno Trulli and Rubens Barrichello.
Five laps later and the second Ferrari was in trouble. In an almost identical incident to his team mate, Kimi Raikkonen went too deep into Ste Devote, only this time the Ferrari driver damaged his car, the front wing hanging on by the smallest of attachments. Raikkonen pitted at the end of the lap having lost a lot of time having to make a full lap of the course before being able to stop for repairs. Further time was lost when the Ferrari mechanics fumbled with a clip on the new nose.
Around the lap-thirty-three mark, a lot of drivers were entering the pits for scheduled stops, as oposed to emergency repair stops. Felipe Massa made a call into the pit lane as did Heikki Kovalainen, the McLaren driver seemingly struggling to move through the field. Most drivers stayed on intermediate tyres though, the track stil being damp from the rain showers.
The conditions meant that as each of the cars came into play, the fastest lap count become quite hectic. Initially it was between the Ferrari and McLaren drivers, but now all manner of pilots were posting quick laps. Mark Webber, and Adrian Sutil all had the fastest lap at some point during the middle of the race.
On lap 38 Giancarlo Fisichella became the third retiree of the race, his Force India suffering from not having first or second gears. A handful of laps later and Renault opted to run on dry tyres. The rain had stopped but the track was still wet. Although a drier line was emerging, it was perhaps a little early for full dry tyres. It proved too much for Nelson Piquet and after a couple of tours on dries he was seen in the wall. His race was over.
With Lewis Hamilton having been forced to pit earlier in the race, the team opted to fill his McLaren with fuel and adjust his strategy to a one-stopper (in terms of fuel). The Woking-squad did this in Turkey at the last race (going from two to three stops), and although it was a close call, the team and driver came under heavy criticism. However, this time around it appeared to have been a good call and with his car at the front of the race (after the cars ahead had pitted), Hamilton started to pump in some hot laps. As the gap increased Hamilton suddenly came into play and the British driver tirelessly pounded around in attempts to increase the margin as much as possible.
By lap 52, it was clear that dry tyres were the way to go, and Felipe Massa was enjoying good grip with his. Hamilton, who was still on the intermediates was having to move his car around the track looking for damp patches to control the temperature of his boots. the lap times between the pair moved around but Hamilton was still in a commanding position.
Alonso took the fastest lap on the 53rd tour, and minutes later Hamilton pitted for similar rubber. As the Briton left the pitlane he had retained the lead. The race, as they say, was his to lose. Heikki Kovalainen then clipped Jenson Button, the Honda driver being forced into a spin. Moments later Felipe Massa pitted for new tyres, but not being up to temperature the Brazilian struggled with exiting the pitlane. Robert Kubica, with warm tyres, took the opportunity and glided past the Ferrari to take second place.
The whole time during the middle part of the race a lot of drivers who wouldn’t normally do so well were in good positions. Mark Webber had managed to avoid major incident and was in the points. Adrian Sutil was amazing in the fifth/sixth area and being guided around by the experienced Mike Gascoyne on the pitwall.
With the wet weather creating slower lap times, the rarely used time-limit rule was brought into play. The rule states that a grand prix will last its alloted laps or a maximum of two hours, whichever happens to come first. The two-hour limit was due to come first, which essentially meant that the race would run for ~74 laps.
On lap 61, Nico Rosberg slammed his Williams into the wall, suffering a double-impact and retiring from the race. This incident brought out the second and last safety car period, allowing the marshals time to recover the stricken car and sweep the carbon fibre from the track. With eleven minutes left on the clock, the safety car peeled into the pitlane and the race restarted for a second time. As the cars thundered out of the tunnel on that lap, Kimi Raikkonen lost his Ferrari under braking and ploughed into the back of Sutil. The incident was caused when Kimi braked as the car moved over a slightly damp patch of tarmac, the Finn losing control of the rear of his Ferrari and becoming almost a passenger as he attempted to slow it down. Kimi damaged his front wing and Sutil was able to get himself back to the pits. However, while a simple nose-replacement was all Raikkonen needed, Sutil’s Force India suffered from a destroyed diffuser and the team switched the engine off. A disconsolate Sutil, who was on the verge of scoring his and the team’s first points, vacated the car and hid at the back of the garage.
The remaining laps went by with no further incident. Lewis Hamilton took his second win of the year, his career sixth and moves himself and the team back into the championship hunt. Robert Kubica kept a cool head all day and brought his BMW home in second, and reward justly deserved for his hard work during the race. Felipe Massa disappointed from pole position, only managing to claim third for the Scuderia. Considering the Brazilian had few incidents, the result was not what the Maranello team had hoped for and losing Raikkonen from the serious points mean the Italian squad have taken a blow in the title’s standings.
Mark Webber collected fourth and Sebastian Vettel finally picked up some points by finishing fifth for Scuderia Toro Rosso. Rubens Barrichello came home in sixth with Kazuki Nakajima and Heikki Kovalainen taking seventh and eighth. Amazingly, only five cars retired from the event-filled race, and the result has meant that the championship tables have been tightened up.