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A Game Of Two Halves

ROUND 6 – Monaco, 26 May 2013, Monte Carlo

1st: Nico Rosberg (Mercedes), 2hrs 17m 52.056s (av. race speed 113.378 km/h)
2nd: Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull Renault), gap: 3.888s
3rd: Mark Webber (Red Bull Renault), gap: 6.314s

Fastest Lap: Vettel, 1:16.577 = 157.018 km/h on lap 77
Pole Position: Nico Rosberg (Mercedes), 1:13.876 = 162.759 km/h


A GAME OF TWO HALVES

For almost half of its 78 laps the Monaco Grand Prix was as sleepy as the city is when the race isn’t in town. Then it came alive – but Nico Rosberg came through two Safety Car periods and a Red Flag period to secure his second career victory for Mercedes ahead of Red Bull pair Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber. It is 30 years since Rosberg’s father Keke won the Monaco race in similar style for Williams Ford.

“This is my home, I grew up here and went to school here, so to win is very special,” said the 27-year-old German, who nearly blew it all with a poor start. “It was my childhood dream to win this race and to do it in a Silver Arrow on the streets where I have lived all of my life is fantastic. I can’t quite believe it has happened yet and it will probably take a while to sink in. Thank you to the team for the car that we had this weekend and it’s good to have been able to show the same level of performance on Sunday and convert our pole position.”

Vettel and Webber knew their chances were compromised when Rosberg claimed his third pole in a row and the fourth for Mercedes in 2013, with teammate Lewis Hamilton right alongside him. Vettel then lamented the early pace: “You expect two Silver Arrows in front of you but today it was two buses going for a cruise!” he said, underlining the Silver Arrows’ tyre conservation strategy. But the first round of pit stops brought the Englishman undone, allowing both Red Bulls through. Vettel profited from other drivers’ misfortune to extend his championship lead to 21 points over Kimi Raïkkönen.

Webber’s second podium of 2013 came, ironically, after one of his best race starts. “We knew we were a little bit up against it starting on the second row, but I got an absolutely incredible start and it’s sod’s law that it’s the shortest run into the first corner here. Seb and I had nowhere to go, so we were lifting while Nico and Lewis looked like they had tricky ones. We will save some of those starts for future reference!” Mark is fifth overall on 57 points, 50 behind his teammate.

The first of several major incidents came after 30 laps when Felipe Massa’s Ferrari careered into the barriers on the left of the Ste Dévote corner – almost a straight copy of the Brazilian’s crash in practice, and one that saw him taken to hospital for precautionary checks. It brought out the Safety Car for the first time in 2013. Massa had started from the back after the team failed to repair his car in time for Q1. The race was then red-flagged after 46 laps when Max Chilton’s Marussia and Pastor Maldonado’s Williams clashed and the protective barriers at the trackside came adrift. Neither driver was badly injured.

A final Safety Car intervention was needed with just 14 laps to go when Romain Grosjean’s Lotus slammed into the rear of Daniel Ricciardo’s Toro Rosso, sending both cars up the escape road beyond the Nouvelle Chicane. The Australian was out on the spot; Grosjean pitted, rejoined, but was called in immediately as the team felt the car was unsafe. “I could see that Grosjean had got a good run out of the tunnel and that he was close, so I defended my line and the next thing I knew he was over the back of me,” Ricciardo said. “I haven’t seen it on a TV yet, but at the moment I believe it was a misjudgement on his part and a costly one that was quite dangerous, even if we are both okay.” It was Grosjean’s fourth accident of a weekend which again highlighted his reckless reputation and drew stern criticism from team principal Eric Boullier.

The other driver to attract criticism was Sergio Pérez, but in his case it came from two other drivers. One was his McLaren teammate Jenson Button, who complained to the team by radio about the Mexican repeatedly turning in on him; the other was Kimi Raïkkönen, who called Pérez an idiot when his Lotus was attacked on the way into the chicane. “It was a really disappointing day. Because of one stupid move from Sergio we’ve lost a lot of points to Sebastian in the Championship and you can’t afford to lose ground like that. He hit me from behind and that’s about all there is to it. If he thinks it’s my fault that he came into the corner too fast then he obviously has no idea what he’s talking about.” They clashed again on lap 69, dropping Raïkkönen out of the top 10, but the Finn produced an astonishing final lap to swoop past Nico Hülkenberg’s Sauber for 10th place. He has now gone 23 straight races in the points and needs one more to equal Michael Schumacher’s all-time record.


Other talking-points

Massa’s misfortunes were compounded by a poor race performance from Fernando Alonso in the sister Ferrari. Never up to speed all weekend, the Barcelona winner fell victim to Adrian Sutil’s Force India and Button’s McLaren in the closing stages to end up seventh, a result that inflicts major damage on his 2013 title hopes.

Sutil was one of the stars of the day after qualifying eighth, claiming his first top five result since Spa-Francorchamps in 2010. “I noticed that the hairpin was an area where there was a chance to overtake so I tried it with Jenson and it worked. Then I did the same with Fernando and it worked once again. So I think I showed that overtaking is possible in Monaco,” said the German. Teammate Paul di Resta, on the other hand, rued a wrong tyre call in qualifying that kept him out of Q1, trailed outside the top 15 but found late pace to come through for ninth.

“It’s fantastic to see how much we’ve improved in such a short period of time.” That last remark by Rosberg could be the only cloud on his sunny Sunday: Mercedes are under protest from Red Bull and Ferrari for a tyre test conducted after the Barcelona race which their rivals claim was illegal.


Next race: round 7, Canada, June

Metropolitan, marvellous – and so like Melbourne: watch for a full Montreal preview right here…

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