2010 Monaco Grand Prix (Monte Carlo, Round 6, May 13th – 16th)

©FIA. Monaco Track Map
At just over two miles long, the Monte Carlo circuit is unique in modern Formula 1 competition. A supremely narrow 19-turn course that weaves its way around the famous Monaco streets that lines the Mediterranean and one of the sport’s standing remnants of the old days of motor racing – there really is no other circuit on the calendar that tests a driver’s concentration to such a high degree. Inevitably it means that only the race drivers will be behind the wheel in practice on the opening day – with track time so valuable, the reserves are destined to take a back seat. Especially as the track has some minor changes, albeit to the kerbs rather than the circuit itself. Sections around the Nouvelle chicane and the Swimming Pool have been raised to a height of six-inches to slow the sections slightly, but mainly to dissuade drivers from hopping over the red and white strips and gaining illegitimate time.

With the track being the shortest of the year, the gap from first to last is also reduced, although the HRT’s of Bruno Senna and Karun Chandhok continue to bring up the rear of the field. The next few races could indeed be crucial for the Spanish squad as news begins to creep out that they are in dire financial straits and for now FOM boss, Bernie Ecclestone has extended a helping hand to the team. It’s a catch-22 situation for a team mired at the back of the field; with no money coming in for updates, that situation seems set to continue and did so after the conclusion of first practice on Thursday morning – both Hispania cars set times more than one second slower than the nearest competitor and more embarrassingly, slower than a number of GP2 cars from their first session. Admittedly Chandhok did himself no favours with a spin through Massanet and while the Indian only glanced the barrier it was enough to finish his session early.  Kamui Kobayashi has a more severe accident at the end of the ninety-minute session – as the Sauber driver threw his car through the Swimming Pool section, he hopped over the newly heightened kerbs and ploughed into the awaiting barrier.  The collision making sure that a new front wing and left rear suspension would be required for second practice.
Early on the top of the timesheets were dominated by the Toro Rosso machines, but as the session wore on, the frontrunners began to claim the faster times – first Jenson Button, then Felipe Massa and Lewis Hamilton exchanged the top spot, before Fernando Alonso lay the final claim to the fastest time.  Mercedes decided to revert to their shorter wheelbase car to make cornering much easier and while Michael Schumacher was able to lay claim to 6th place at the end of the session, Nico Rosberg mostly stayed in the garage – a suspension problem curtailing any longer runs for the German.
The early part of session two is also led by red bull liveried cars, but this time it’s the first team that head the sheets as first Sebastian Vettel goes fastest, before the German is quickly pipped by his team mate Mark Webber.  For a time, Hamilton joins the battle to be fastest, but eventually the 2008 World Champion and his Australian rival tumble slowly down the timesheets as both Ferrari’s return to the top of the pile, joined this time by the Renault of Robert Kubica. Come the end of the 90 minutes, even the Pole could not hold on to the supreme pace set by the fastest cars and the session ended with Alonso claiming top spot and his Ferrari team mate notching up fourth fastest.  In between the Maranello pair, were the Mercedes of Rosberg and Vettel in his Red Bull.  This was a vital session for Rosberg after he lost so much ground earlier in the day and the German capitalised by not only being quick, but also garnering a large number of laps in the session – with only 60 minutes of practice left on Saturday morning, it could be vital.  There were a number of brief offs during the afternoon for Massa and Timo Glock (twice) at Saint Devote, while Jaime Alguersuari, Vitantonio Liuzzi and Schumacher needed to take shortcuts across the Nouvelle Chicane; thankfully no damage was inflicted, but that says nothing for a driver’s embarrassment.

Both Renault’s are the first on track at the beginning of Saturday Free Practice, led by Kubica and it is the Pole that registers the fastest time of the session and while a Ferrari takes up the second spot and the Red Bull in third spot; however it is Massa placed behind Kubica rather Alonso. The double World Champion has looked very racey all weekend, twenty minutes into the session there is disaster for the Spaniard as he lets his F10 machine drift wide through Massanet, severely damaging his right front and ripping his right rear wheel clean off. Upon inspection, it’s revealed that the cracked chassis was cracked on impact, ending not only the practice session for Alonso, but also taking him out of qualifying. At the race where grid position is absolutely vital, the Ferrari will start from the pitlane. Alonso is not the only driver having difficulties on the Monaco streets. A slide for Adrian Sutil through the Casino Square sees his Force India fall backwards towards the guardrail and the ensuing contact damages his rear wing; however at least Sutil’s damage is repairable. Others to have offs include Schumacher and Petrov, both of whom took to the escape road at Mirabeau rather than clout a barrier. Kobayashi also has an impressive spin at La Rascasse – losing his Sauber upon entry, he keeps his car spinning full circle and exits the section the right way around; fantastic control from the young driver. Glock’s problematic weekend continued throughout the session as another hydraulic failure sees the Virgin machine pull off early in the session – he sets no time; however the Virgin team had at least sent both their cars out with properly aligned steering columns, unlike HRT. With the day still young, Chandhok is allowed on track by the Spanish squad with an out of kilter steering section – it’s a poor error by the new team and something that should never happen at this level. Both Senna and Chandhok finish third practice five seconds slower than Kubica and with every passing day, pressure continues to weigh on the shoulders of the team.

There were plenty of drivers worried about being blocked in the first qualifying session and while some did have troubles during the twenty minute run, all those that were expected to get through did; however the Lotus of Heikki Kovalainen ran Alguersuari, Nico Hulkenberg and Kobayashi close; however spins for the Finn at both Loews and Mirabeau did not help his cause or his tyres.  With Alonso not running in qualifying, the six additional reject spots were eventually taken up by the three new teams.  There was some relief at the HRT camp as Senna qualified his machine less than four seconds slower than the fastest lap by Massa, although a differential problem for his teammate rendered his fastest lap the slowest of the session. While one Renault pushed hard and fast, the second trailed some way behind and although the French squad are quite openly geared towards Kubica, it must surely hurt Petrov’s confidence to line up only 15th for the race.  It certainly did not help that he sent his car careering into the barriers at Sainte Devote with only two minutes remaining on the clock.  The Russian has some supreme races so far this year; however with passing next to impossible, it may be difficult for the rookie to repeat any Grand Prix heroics on the famed streets.  Petrov was joined on the Qualifying 2 sidelines by both Toro Rosso’s, both Sauber’s and Sutil.  Hulkenberg’s improvement as a driver continues as the reigning GP2 Champion only just misses the final session by mere two-tenths of a second behind the reigning World Champion.
It almost seemed inevitable in a way – a Red Bull took pole position again and Mark Webber accumulated his second top spot in succession.  That makes six consecutive poles in six Grand Prix weekends so far this season; a remarkable record.  Rosberg may have been fastest in qualifying second session with Massa topping the opening twenty minute run, but it was Webber on top when it counted the most.  Kubica actually led most of the final session until he was pipped by the Australian; however the Renault man stayed ahead of the other Red Bull piloted by Vettel.  Massa placed his Ferrari on the second, reclaiming some pride for the Italian squad.  The Brazilian was tailed by four Mercedes powered cars with Hamilton in 5th and Button 8th in their McLaren’s, while Rosberg led Schumacher in the British sandwich.  Both the Mercedes drivers complained that they were held up in the last session, with Schumacher the most irritated – he was blocked by his younger teammate.  Rubens Barrichello and Liuzzi claimed good 5th row starting positions for their respective teams, although they may find it harder to progress higher up from there; however 78 laps is a long distance and anything can happen at Monte Carlo.

After the flyaway races finished three weeks ago, Webber was 8th in the title race – a long way behind by the Chinese Grand Prix winner, Jenson Button and seemingly under the thumb of his teammate.  However by the end of the sixth race at Monte Carlo, both Red Bull drivers were co-leading the championship ahead the of Alonso’s Ferrari, while Button had dropped to fourth place.  On a circuit where overtaking is near to impossible, the Australian converted to his brilliant pole position into a race win, but it was not an easy victory.  Four safety car periods constantly punctured Webber’s lead, but in the clear running he was simply much faster than the rest of the field and it all started when he got clear away from the starting grid in the lead; however there were changes aplenty behind him as Vettel slotted ahead of Kubica for 2nd place, Rosberg fell to 8th and Barrichello sliced his way up to 6th place – indeed Barrichello had a far better opening lap than his team mate Hulkenberg.  As field guided their way around on the opening tour, the young German driver slid off line in the tunnel and crunch the wall hard, leaving shards of debris all over the tunnel exit – safety car number 1.  As the Williams team pondered upon thoughts of a mortally wounded car, the Ferrari team reconsidered race strategy – with Alonso starting from the pits, the Italian squad brought the former World Champion in for a change to hard tyres; a risky strategy would necessitate a full 76 lap run on one set, but with a weak hand, it was the only gamble left to play.  Alonso’s position in the field remained the same – last, but the Spaniard probably shed a smile when at the start of the third lap, a silver car parked to one side with plumes of smoke pouring out of it’s rear end.  Button was out early of the race he won twelve months earlier.
The safety car lasted approximately five laps and once it vacated the circuit, Webber pulled away from his team mate; first by 1 second, then 2 and by the thirteenth lap, the Australian was four seconds ahead of Vettel and while the main pack remained static, Alonso began to pluck off the backmarkers.  It took him some time to force way passed di Grassi, but he eventually nailed the Virgin (so to speak) out of the tunnel – soon he had Glock, Kovalainen and Trulli; Alonso was 17th and catching the back of the mid-pack – the strategy was clearly working and was worrying the cars from 4th place onwards.  The Ferrari driver’s odd strategy meaning the possibility was there to leapfrog much of the field – including his teammate, Felipe Massa.
While the Renault powered front three fought or their respective positions, fourth place Massa was constantly under threat from behind from Hamilton, but the Englishman relieved that pressure with his one and only stop on the 18th lap.  It was a canny bit of manoeuvring from McLaren as Hamilton fed back out on track just ahead of Alonso; for now, race position was secured, but with more stops coming, the former Champion was certain to climb back up the standings.  Soon twenty laps are in the books and now the pitlane comes fully to life as Massa, Schumacher, Barrichello and Liuzzi all pit in – tyres are changed and strategies are played out and it is Alonso that wins out as beats all but Massa to the first corner.  It was a double whammy for Barrichello though; the Williams crew are slower to get their man out and he is beaten to the pit out line by his former teammate Schumacher.  The veteran has been less than positive about his time as Schumacher’s Ferrari partner and the German is the last driver he wanted ahead of him.  Keen to make up from a poor start, Schumacher’s Mercedes associate, Nico Rosberg picks up the pace now that the traffic has been removed from his front wing and the former Williams pilot registers fastest lap after fastest lap and as both Renault’s pit and Vettel pit, he jumps up to second place.  As good as Rosberg’s times are, their not good enough to get him ahead of Webber when the Australian pits – the Red Bull squad making their tyre changes seem ultra smooth and polished and fast enough to halt the progress of the Mercedes.  Pedro de la Rosa also ducks in for a stop at this time; however his Sauber remains permanently stationary – his hydraulics system collapses, finishing his race early and within five laps, a miserable day is capped off for the Swiss squad when Kobayashi pulls off the circuit citing a dead gearbox.  In amongst this, both Virgin’s pull out of the race with Glock’s car possessing an extremely bent steering arm; contact with the barrier is not thought advisable in Monte Carlo and it seems Glock needed to be certain.  The race is two-passed the two-third distance mark when Rosberg, tired of following Webber, pits his Mercedes and emerges behind both Ferrari’s, Hamilton and Schumacher – despite his fast laps up front, Rosberg managed to lose a spot to his teammate.  Rosberg can count himself lucky that he pitted when he did as coming around Massanet bend, a left rear suspension failure pitching Barrichello hard into the guardrail’s bringing out the safety car once again – poor luck for Barrichello, who was on for a solid points finish.
It takes four laps to clear the mess and upon the green flag, Webber in his Red Bull pulls away again; the 35-year-old seemingly unstoppable and heading to his first Monaco victory, while behind him a conga line of various Renault, Mercedes and Ferrari powered cars fall behind in his wake – even the Mercedes powered Force India duo join the points race with Sutil heading Liuzzi for 9th and 10t.  Although the Force India squad continue to gather strength, they had yet to score a double-points finish up until this stage – where better to do it than Monaco?  For nine laps, the race ran without issues, until the safety car emerged again on lap 44 although on this occasion, the reason was less obvious.  A marshal flagged that a drainage cover may have been lifted out of its slot during Barrichello’s accident, thereby presenting a real danger to both drivers and corner workers – the inspection took up two laps and the race allowed to continue, but once again Webber’s lead was gone… and once again he pulled away from the pack upon restart.  As he was in Barcelona seven days previously, Webber’s pace was relentless and while those behind registered laps in the 1 minute 16 second range, the race leader felt content enough to run 75-second laps – he was not going to give this up any time soon regardless of what was thrown at him.
While the battle up front was being played out for points, there was a fight for pride at the rear of the field between Lotus and Hispania Racing; however while Jarno Trulli was busy looking large in Chandhok’s mirror’s for 16th place, both Senna and Kovalainen pulled into the pits to retire the same time – Senna with more hydraulic issues and Kovalainen with bent steering.  With both Chandhok and Trulli instantly promoted two more places, Trulli began to look more an more feisty and on lap 75 attempted a move into La Rascasse corner; it was clumsy and ill-advised and sent the Lotus careering over the top of Chandhok and took both cars out of the race in one foul swoop and it brought out the safety car for the final time.
Webber led the field around, but with so little time remaining, the race was destined to end under yellow., but while the 2010 Monaco Grand Prix had set itself up for an anti-climactic finish, controversy reigned in the pack.  The safety car peeled in at the end of the final lap and while in normal circumstances racing can resume from the final corner, this does not apply on at race completion – unfortunately no one had relayed this information to the Mercedes team.  Under the belief that passing is allowed once the safety car pulled, Schumacher dived inside a sideways Alonso at Antony Noghes corner and temporarily gained 6th place across the line.  After much argument, a twenty second time penalty was applied to Schumacher, which dropped the German from 6th position to 12th place and firmly out of the points – but none of this should take away any column inches away from Mark Webber.  The Australian dominated this race and seemed content ahead of Vettel and third placed Kubica; the Polish drove a quiet but solid race for another podium finish.  Behind the leading trio, the Massa-led Ferrari duo took 4th and 6th as the sandwiched Hamilton, with Rosberg, Sutil, Liuzzi and Buemi taking the final points spots.  Nothing can take this wonderful win away from Webber who was absolutely flawless when it mattered most and he now heads the title hunt jointly with Vettel, leading by virtue of more victories – another 1-2 finish for Red Bull who are looking more and more bulletproof.  Alonso moves up to third in the Championship, with Button dropping down to fourth, but it is still very close as only eight points separate Webber and Button.
Monaco may not always deliver in terms of excitement and today it existed only in brief spells and like Barcelona last week, the event started well before tapering off in the second half.  Although not something normally commented on here, it could not be ignored just how many grandstands were partially empty this year.  If Formula 1’s main event cannot pack out the stands, then the sport may need to look very hard at what it is doing to attract fans – especially with news that Istanbul organisers are slashing ticket prices in order to get anyone to go.
Rating: 3 out of 5

Barcelona, Monaco Grand Prix (Round 6, May 16th)
1  WEBBER       Red Bull     78 laps
2  VETTEL       Red Bull     +0.4s
3  KUBICA       Renault      +1.6s
4  MASSA        Ferrari      +2.6s
5  HAMILTON     McLaren      +4.3s
6  ALONSO       Ferrari      +6.3s
7  ROSBERG      Mercedes     +6.6s
8  SUTIL        Force India  +6.9s
9 LIUZZI       Force India  +7.3s
10 BUEMI        Toro Rosso   +8.1s
11 ALGUERSUARI  Toro Rosso   +9.1s
12  SCHUMACHER   Mercedes     +25.7s (*20 second penalty applied)
R  PETROV       Renault      +5 laps
R  CHANDHOK     HRT          +8 laps
R  TRULLI       Lotus        +8 laps
R  KOVALAINEN   Lotus        +20 laps
R  SENNA        HRT          +20 laps
R  BARRICHELLO  Williams     +48 laps
R  KOBAYASHI    Sauber       +52 laps
R  DI GRASSI    Virgin       +53 laps
R  GLOCK        Virgin       +56 laps
R  DE LA ROSA   Sauber       +57 laps
R  BUTTON       McLaren      +76 laps
R  HULKENBERG   Williams     +78 laps

Monaco, Qualifying (May 15th)
3rd Session
1  WEBBER       Red Bull     1m13.826s
2  KUBICA       Renault      1m14.120s
3  VETTEL       Red Bull     1m14.227s
4  MASSA        Ferrari      1m14.283s
5  HAMILTON     McLaren      1m14.432s
6  ROSBERG      Mercedes     1m14.544s
7  SCHUMACHER   Mercedes     1m14.590s
8  BUTTON       McLaren      1m14.637s
9  BARRICHELLO  Williams     1m14.901s
10 LIUZZI       Force India  1m15.170s
2nd Session
11 HULKENBERG   Williams     1m15.317s
12 SUTIL        Force India  1m15.318s
13 BUEMI        Toro Rosso   1m15.413s
14 PETROV       Renault      1m15.576s
15 DE LA ROSA   Sauber       1m15.692s
16 KOBAYASHI    Sauber       1m15.992s
17 ALGUERSUARI  Toro Rosso   1m16.176s
1st Session
18 KOVALAINEN   Lotus        1m17.094s
19 TRULLI       Lotus        1m17.134s
20 GLOCK        Virgin       1m17.377s
21 DI GRASSI    Virgin       1m17.864s
22 SENNA        HRT          1m18.509s
23 CHANDHOK     HRT          1m19.559s
24 ALONSO       Ferrari      no time

Monaco, 3rd Free Practice (May 15th)
1  KUBICA       Renault      1m14.806s
2  MASSA        Ferrari      1m14.852s
3  WEBBER       Red Bull     1m14.945s
4  HAMILTON     McLaren      1m15.038s
5  VETTEL       Red Bull     1m15.046s
6  SCHUMACHER   Mercedes     1m15.236s
7  ROSBERG      Mercedes     1m15.252s
8  BUEMI        Toro Rosso   1m15.537s
9  SUTIL        Force India  1m15.659s
10 BUTTON       McLaren      1m15.682s
11 LIUZZI       Force India  1m15.691s
12 ALGUERSUARI  Toro Rosso   1m15.769s
13 HULKENBERG   Williams     1m16.164s
14 BARRICHELLO  Williams     1m16.232s
15 PETROV       Renault      1m16.240s
16 ALONSO       Ferrari      1m16.266s
17 KOBAYASHI    Sauber       1m16.644s
18 DE LA ROSA   Sauber       1m16.696s
19 KOVALAINEN   Lotus        1m17.782s
20 TRULLI       Lotus        1m17.865s
21 DI GRASSI    Virgin       1m18.063s
22 SENNA        HRT          1m19.720s
23 CHANDHOK     HRT          1m19.781s
24 GLOCK        Virgin       no time

Monaco, 2nd Free Practice (May 13th)
1  ALONSO       Ferrari      1m14.904s
2  ROSBERG      Mercedes     1m15.013s
3  VETTEL       Red Bull     1m15.099s
4  MASSA        Ferrari      1m15.120s
5  SCHUMACHER   Mercedes     1m15.143s
6  KUBICA       Renault      1m15.192s
7  HAMILTON     McLaren      1m15.249s
8  SUTIL        Force India  1m15.460s
9  BUTTON       McLaren      1m15.619s
10 WEBBER       Red Bull     1m15.620s
11 PETROV       Renault      1m15.746s
12 BUEMI        Toro Rosso   1m16.276s
13 HULKENBERG   Williams     1m16.348s
14 BARRICHELLO  Williams     1m16.522s
15 LIUZZI       Force India  1m16.528s
16 DE LA ROSA   Sauber       1m16.599s
17 KOBAYASHI    Sauber       1m16.818s
18 ALGUERSUARI  Toro Rosso   1m17.023s
19 KOVALAINEN   Lotus        1m18.184s
20 DI GRASSI    Virgin       1m18.478s
21 TRULLI       Lotus        1m18.667s
22 GLOCK        Virgin       1m18.721s
23 CHANDHOK     HRT          1m20.313s
24 SENNA        HRT          1m22.148s

Monaco, 1st Free Practice (May 13th)
1  ALONSO       Ferrari      1m15.927s
2  VETTEL       Red Bull     1m16.000s
3  KUBICA       Renault      1m16.016s
4  WEBBER       Red Bull     1m16.382s
5  MASSA        Ferrari      1m16.517s
6  SCHUMACHER   Mercedes     1m16.589s
7  HAMILTON     McLaren      1m16.647s
8  BUTTON       McLaren      1m16.692s
9  SUTIL        Force India  1m16.805s
10 BUEMI        Toro Rosso   1m16.857s
11 ROSBERG      Mercedes     1m17.149s
12 BARRICHELLO  Williams     1m17.331s
13 LIUZZI       Force India  1m17.704s
14 PETROV       Renault      1m17.718s
15 ALGUERSUARI  Toro Rosso   1m17.991s
16 HULKENBERG   Williams     1m18.397s
17 DE LA ROSA   Sauber       1m18.434s
18 KOBAYASHI    Sauber       1m18.547s
19 GLOCK        Virgin       1m19.527s
20 KOVALAINEN   Lotus        1m19.606s
21 TRULLI       Lotus        1m19.902s
22 DI GRASSI    Virgin       1m20.566s
23 SENNA        HRT          1m21.688s
24 CHANDHOK     HRT          1m21.853s

Driver Team Points
1. Mark Webber Red Bull Racing 78
2. Sebastian Vettel Red Bull Racing 78
3. Fernando Alonso Ferrari 75
4. Jenson Button McLaren 70
5. Felipe Massa Ferrari 61
6. Lewis Hamilton McLaren 59
7. Robert Kubica Renault 59
8. Nico Rosberg Mercedes GP 56
9. Michael Schumacher Mercedes GP 22
10. Adrian Sutil Force India 20
11. Vitantonio Liuzzi Force India 10
12. Rubens Barrichello Williams 7
13. Vitaly Petrov Renault 6
14. Jaime Alguersuari Scuderia Toro Rosso 3
15. Sebastien Buemi Scuderia Toro Rosso 1
16. Nico Hulkenberg Williams 1
Constructor Team Points
1. Red Bull Racing 156
2. Ferrari 136
3. McLaren 129
4. Mercedes GP 78
5. Renault 65
6. Force India 30
7. Williams 8
8. Scuderia Toro Rosso 4

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