Sunday, May 16, 2010

F1: Mark Webber wins thrilling Monaco Grand Prix

There's just something about Monaco. The sheer beauty and romance of the place. The fact that I wouldn't be able to afford so much as a bottle of water there does not diminish the thrill I experience as I watch the cars stream through St Devote, or Casino Square, or tackle the tight Loew's hairpin. You can always guarantee that this race is going to have some drama and/or controversy. Today there was an abundance of both.

Before the race had even started Duncan got really grumpy about Martin Brundle's gridwalk, suggesting it had passed its sellby date. I don't think so - it's comedy gold and you never quite know what he's going to next. Mind you, on a grid that today boasted Michael Douglas and J-Lo, Brundle found us Gerard Butler and the Sugababes. The girls were there as guests of Red Bull so it might have been polite and chosen Mark or Seb as their favourites, but they looked a bit blank when Martin asked them who they wanted to win before stumbling over Jenson and Lewis' name. I love it when Brundle just grabs random people and starts talking to them, or falls out with TV people from other countries. Today he pointed out the Spanish girl who always kicks his legs if he gets in her way.

Back to the race. We managed to avoid carnage at the first corner, and both Rubens Barrichello and Sebastian Vettel had fabulous starts. Barrichello managed to pass both Mercedes (although they returned the compliment in the pitstops) and Vettel got past the Renault of Kubica. However, the safety car was out by the end of the lap when Nico Hulkenburg had an awful looking accident in the tunnel, the darkness showing up the sparks making it look even worse. THe team put it down to a failure of the front wing. When something like that happens, your heart just stops until you see the driver move. Thankfully he was fine. Cue a safety car and Alonso, who'd started from the pitlane, cheekily took the opportunity to pit for hard tyres which he hoped (correctly) would last him to the end of the race.

Williams' woes continued when Rubens Barrichello had a spectacular accident near Massenet, which was initially thought to be a puncture but which the team describe as a "failure on the rear of this car". It's a shame because Rubens had been happier on the grid than we'd seen him for a wee while. He's seemed unhappy so far this year because the FW32, frankly, doesn't really compare well with last year's Brawn. It was heartbreaking to see his race end with him throwing his steering wheel in anger right into the racing line, ready for poor Karun Chandhok to run over. He survived, though. I can't think Frank Williams will be very happy, as these things cost a fortune.

A second, short lived, safety car came out shortly after Rubens' accident apparently because there was a broken drain cover near the scene of the accident, but this seemed to come to nothing.

All the while, the lead never changed with Mark Webber staying out in front - the real controversy happening behind him.

Double world champion Fernando Alonso had started from the pit lane after being unable to take part in qualifying after another accident again near Massenet. He worked his way through the field but Lucas Di Grassi deserves a medal for keeping him at bay for a fair few laps. Similarly, Heikki Kovalainen was not just going to blithely give up track position just because a Ferrari was demanding it.

However, technical supremacy gave way and he was able to cut through the field like a knife through butter, ending up in 5th place ahead of Michael Schumacher and Nico Rosberg.

They say things come in threes, and so there was a third safety car this afternoon. For someone who was trying to follow the Lib Dems' Special Conference via Twitter as well as the race, keeping up with everything was a bit of a challenge, but I literally jumped out of my seat in horror when I saw what took place at Rascasse a few laps from the end. I'm not sure of the exact circumstances which led to it, but Jarno Trulli pulled a ridiculously stupid move on the Hispania of Karun Chandhok at Rascasse and ended up airborne and almost hitting Karun on the head with the full force of his car. The Lotus ended up on fire yet incredibly, and thankfully, both drivers were fine and within what seemed like seconds, the absolutely lovely Karun was being interviewed on 5 Live (I always feel like I'm being unfaithful to Brundle when I listen to Ant and Crofty on 5 Live, but they are brilliant and today I just couldn't cope with the terminally boring Legard). What was particularly remarkable was that he seemed to bear no ill will at all towards Jarno Trulli and had accepted a simple apology. Maybe once he sees the footage he'll realise how close a call it was.

The safety car which came out as a result of that incident went into the pit lane at the end of the final lap leaving the cars to race to the end. At the restart, Michael Schumacher overtook Fernando Alonso to take 6th place. This move cost him his place, landed him with a 20 second penalty and put him out of the points. Apparently he'd fallen foul of FIA regulation 40.13 which states that

“If the race ends while the safety car is deployed, it will enter the pit lane at the end of the last lap and the cars will take the chequered flag as normal without overtaking.”

Mercedes have stated their intention to appeal this penalty and I agree with them. Their contention is that the safety car was in because it was no longer needed and the race was proceedng, even for those last few yards, on green flag conditions. Ross Brawn just does not get these things wrong.

Much had already been made over the Monaco weekend of Schumacher's erstwhile rival Damon Hill being on the Stewards' Panel this weekend. I think it was David Coulthard who said on BBC's coverage of quali yesterday that Schumi would get a £10,000 penalty just for turning up. There are 3 stewards and I think that Damon would always be looking at it from the drivers' perspective. I doubt he would be so vindictive as to award a penalty out of revenge 16 years on. He doesn't seem like that sort of person. We simply don't know what he said.

However, I think that the stewards' decision was absolutely wrong and that Schumi's points should be reinstated. Every other driver at the front thought they were racing at that restart and so protected their positions with the exception of Alonso. He has gained an advantage from an unclear situation and that needs to be sorted.

What isn't altered by this is the fact that those pesky Red Bulls now lead the championship. Their celebrations were exuberant, with Mark Webber ending up in the swimming pool on on top of their overly opulent motorhome with the trophy. I don't warm to Red Bull, but I love Mark Webber. He's had a tough road to make it in F1,so I always feel he absolutely deserves the spoils. It seems like he may have forgotten to pack a dj, though..........

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