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Monaco race analysis - Hamilton plays it to perfection 26 May 2008

Race winner Lewis Hamilton (GBR) McLaren signs autographs for the fans.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 6, Monaco Grand Prix, Race, Monte-Carlo, Monaco, Sunday, 25 May 2008 Kimi Raikkonen (FIN) Ferrari F2008 with damage after hitting Adrian Sutil (GER) Force India F1 VJM01.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 6, Monaco Grand Prix, Race, Monte-Carlo, Monaco, Sunday, 25 May 2008 Felipe Massa (BRA) Ferrari and Robert Kubica (POL) BMW Sauber F1 in parc ferme.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 6, Monaco Grand Prix, Race, Monte-Carlo, Monaco, Sunday, 25 May 2008 Mark Webber (AUS) Red Bull Racing RB4.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 6, Monaco Grand Prix, Race, Monte-Carlo, Monaco, Sunday, 25 May 2008 Sebastian Vettel (GER) Scuderia Toro Rosso.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 6, Monaco Grand Prix, Qualifying Day, Monte-Carlo, Monaco, Saturday, 24 May 2008

After McLaren’s whitewash in Monte Carlo last season, few were predicting a Ferrari victory in this year’s race. However, all that changed after the red cars locked out the front row on Saturday. What no one could have predicted, however, was how just how unpredictable Sunday’s race would be.

On a day when it all went wrong for Ferrari, with both team and drivers admitting mistakes, McLaren made the best judgement calls. That, allied to some stunningly consistent pace from Lewis Hamilton, was enough to put the Briton back in charge of the championship standings…

McLaren
Lewis Hamilton, 1m 18.510s, P1
Heikki Kovalainen, 1m 17.282s, P8

It all seemed over for Hamilton after he punctured his right rear tyre after hitting the wall exiting Tabac on the sixth lap, but McLaren switched to a one-stop strategy and got him going quickly enough that he only dropped to fifth. He passed Alonso and Raikkonen when both made early stops, then outran Kubica and Massa and was thus able to refuel on lap 54 and stay in the lead. The final safety car could have ruined it for him, but he kept his head for a brilliant triumph which he described as the highlight of his career. Kovalainen’s car wouldn’t engage a gear at the start of the formation lap so he had to start from the pit lane with a new steering wheel. When he got a clear road he flew, but eighth and the final point was the best he could muster on another unlucky day.

BMW Sauber
Robert Kubica, 1m 17.933s, P2
Nick Heidfeld, 1m 20.251s, P14

When Kubica took the lead from spinning Massa on lap 16 it seemed that perhaps this was going to be a really big day for BMW Sauber. But a graining set of rear tyres in his second stint cost him dear, as did Hamilton’s great strategy switch, and only fast pit work when the team changed him from wets to dry tyres late on put him back ahead of the Ferrari. Second, nevertheless, was a great result for the team.

Heidfeld had an appalling weekend, but seemed set to make amends as he was up to fifth by lap 12 when Alonso assaulted him at the chicane. The resultant heavy damage sent him tumbling back down the order, on a Sunday he would rather forget.

Ferrari
Felipe Massa, 1m 17.886s, P3
Kimi Raikkonen, 1m 16.689s, P9

Massa looked in control in the wet early stages, but gradually this one slipped away from him. He lost the lead to Kubica after spinning at Ste Devote on lap 16, got back ahead in the early stops, then fell behind again when Ferrari had to switch to dry tyres as the track dried out. Third was a disappointment after the high of his pole position.

Things went wrong for Raikkonen even before the start when a wheel location problem put Ferrari beyond the three-minute warning signal on the grid and ultimately resulted in a drive-through penalty that dropped him from second place on the 13th lap. Then he needed a new nose on lap 27 after an off at Ste Devote. Thereafter he was running fifth, a long way behind Sutil, when the second safety car threw him a lifeline. He muffed that by losing control exiting the tunnel when the race went live again on lap 68, and took his nose off again on the Force India. Ninth just about said it all for the Finn, as he lost his championship lead.

Red Bull
Mark Webber, 1m 19.036s, P4
David Coulthard, 1m 42.112s, Retired lap 8, accident

A strong drive, which at some points saw him set a string of fastest laps, brought Webber a deserved fourth when things had shaken down, and a healthy five points. Coulthard was out of luck again, sliding off into the barrier at Massenet after seven laps.

Toro Rosso
Sebastian Vettel, 1m 18.787s, P5
Sebastien Bourdais, 1m 41.150s, Retired lap 8, accident

At last Vettel got something back, after a string of disappointments. Running Toro Rosso’s STR3 for the first time, he put in a drive that saw him lap quicker than Webber did in the Red Bull RB4, and took a great fifth place. Bourdais was unlucky after a promising charge in the opening laps, sliding off on the river at Massenet and hitting Coulthard’s crashed Red Bull.

Honda
Jenson Button, 1m 19.562s, P11
Rubens Barrichello, 1m 19.574s, P6

Barrichello was always a points contender with a strong drive in the midfield which, on lap 42, led to a fastest lap. He benefited from the Sutil-Raikkonen clash to take sixth and his first points since 2006. Button’s race was ruined on the opening lap when his brush with Heidfeld exiting the Swimming Pool removed his front wing.

Williams
Nico Rosberg, 1m 21.270s, Retired lap 61, accident
Kazuki Nakajima, 1m 19.910s, P7

Williams had one of the fastest cars in the race, but it all went wrong early on when fast-starting Rosberg tagged the back of Alonso’s Renault on the opening lap. That prompted one stop for a new front wing, then came another after he got involved in the Alonso-Heidfeld bump. He had a great scrap with the Spaniard, laps down, but then crashed heavily on the race’s 61st lap, bringing out the safety car for the second time. Nakajima was always in the thick of the midfield battle, and brought his FW30 home seventh for two points. In terms of what might have been, Monaco was its traditional disappointment for Sir Frank in his 600th Grand Prix.

Renault
Fernando Alonso, 1m 17.869s, P10
Nelson Piquet, 1m 31.187s, Retired lap 48, accident

Alonso had an adventurous afternoon, as he had promised. He walloped the Massenet wall the lap of the Coulthard-Bourdais incidents, pitted for a new right rear wheel, and later pulled off a good pass on Webber. Then he pushed Heidfeld into a spin at Loews on lap 12 and soon had to stop again, for a new front wing. After a fierce battle with Rosberg he had a big bounce over the kerb strips on the exit to the Swimming Pool when he had changed early to supersoft tyres before the track had dried out. Piquet fought well in the midfield and battled Vettel, but an early tyre change like Alonso’s caught him out and led to retirement.

Toyota
Timo Glock, 1m 19.618s, P12
Jarno Trulli, 1m 19.830s, P13

At one stage Toyota seemed on the pace, but gradually they fell away. Glock spun three times and finished 12th, just ahead of Trulli. Both found themselves on the wrong tyres at the wrong times.

Force India
Adrian Sutil, 1m 22.039s, Retired lap 68, hit by Raikkonen
Giancarlo Fisichella, 1m 32.849s, Retired lap 37, gear selection

Oh, what could have been! Poor Sutil and poor Force India! They both worked so well in the race, as the German moved up the field despite a very heavy fuel load. A great drive, allied to the misfortunes of others, put Sutil in fourth place, behind only Hamilton, Kubica and Massa, when Rosberg crashed on lap 61. Then Raikkonen misjudged things coming out of the tunnel when the race went live again on lap 68, and suddenly the great dream was over. It really doesn’t get much crueller than that. Replays suggested there was little the Finn could have done to avoid contact and the stewards apparently agreed, though they did admonish Sutil for a separate incident of passing under yellows. Fisichella, meanwhile, did not perform anything like so well, and quit his 200th Grand Prix with gear selection problems.