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Monaco Flashback 2008 - oh so close for Sutil 22 May 2009

Adrian Sutil (GER) Force India F1 VJM01.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 6, Monaco Grand Prix, Race Day, Monte-Carlo, Monaco, Sunday, 25 May 2008 The podium (L to R): Robert Kubica (POL) BMW Sauber F1, second; Lewis Hamilton (GBR) McLaren, race winner; Felipe Massa (BRA) Ferrari, third.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 6, Monaco Grand Prix, Race Day, Monte-Carlo, Monaco, Sunday, 25 May 2008 Raikkonen loses control of his car and hits the back of Sutil 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 Adrian Sutil (GER) Force India F1 VJM01 retires from the race.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 6, Monaco Grand Prix, Race, Monte-Carlo, Monaco, Sunday, 25 May 2008

Adrian Sutil made headlines back in 2007 when he topped the Monaco timesheets for Spyker during a wet final practice session. A year later he was again proving his Monte Carlo credentials for Force India, this time in the race. Unfortunately, however, a wayward Ferrari ruined his result. We look back at Monaco ’08…

During both Thursday practice sessions, it was pretty much normal service, with Kimi Raikkonen setting the morning’s fastest time for Ferrari and McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton the afternoon’s. Nico Rosberg was the strongest contender not running in a red or silver car, finishing second after lunch for Williams. Sutil, fighting understeer and tyre graining, was 17th in P1 and 18th in P2.

Saturday’s final practice saw some drama, with a rain shower, and the quickest runner, Heikki Kovalainen ending the session in the wall, after clipping the barriers exiting the Swimming Pool. Qualifying, however, belonged to Ferrari, with Felipe Massa snatching pole from team mate Raikkonen in the dying seconds.

True to form for Monaco, the McLarens weren’t far behind, with Hamilton third and Kovalainen fourth. BMW Sauber’s Robert Kubica took fifth, while Rosberg backed up his practice form with sixth ahead of Renault’s Fernando Alonso, Red Bull’s Mark Webber, Toyota’s Jarno Trulli and David Coulthard in the second Red Bull. Sutil qualified 19th but would start 18th, after team mate Giancarlo Fisichella and Toro Rosso’s Sebastian Vettel received gearbox penalties.

Saturday’s showers were obviously a sign of things to come and on Sunday the rain began falling just ahead of the race. But whilst the glamorous guests dodged the drops on the grid, Ferrari made a critical mistake, failing to fit the mandatory wet-weather tyres to Raikkonen’s F2008 in time. It would ultimately mean a drive-through penalty for the Finn, but there were other problems for him to contend with at the start as Hamilton got the jump on him to seize second place behind Massa.

At that point, however, Raikkonen’s bad fortune seemed to pass to the British driver, who struck the wall whilst exiting the Swimming Pool. Forced to pit with a right-rear puncture, it looked like Hamilton’s race was run, but his team loaded his MP4-23 with fuel and when the safety car emerged on Lap Eight after Red Bull’s David Coulthard and Toro Rosso’s Sebastien Bourdais went off at Massenet, Hamilton started to capitalize. Following Raikkonen’s drive-through penalty, he was soon running in third behind Kubica and Massa.

Further back Sutil was steadily moving up the field in the tricky conditions. Having started with a lot of fuel, the Force India driver was enjoying the race of his life, skillfully passing rivals and taking advantage of a one-stop strategy to make it first into the midfield and then into the points. The German couldn’t believe his good fortune.

“I had the feeling 'today could be my day’,” explained Sutil. “The car was well prepared, the strategy was perfect and my team did a fantastic job. From the start I had a fantastic feeling in the car and was sure to make a perfect race. I love the Monaco race and when it’s wet anything is possible. For sure it was unbelievable when my engineer told me over the radio, ‘You’re lapping Kovalainen, you’re not racing him. Just overtake him’. And when I heard, ‘Massa is in front of you and Kimi is behind you,’ I felt really, really good.”

Although he wasn’t one-stopping like Sutil, Hamilton’s early unscheduled stop and heavy fuel load meant he could leave it very late indeed - lap 54 - before visiting the pits again, and was thus able to leapfrog Massa and Kubica to take the lead. In Formula One racing, a win is never in the bag. And on lap 61 Rosberg, who’d already had to pit for two new noses, hit the wall and the safety car came out.

Hamilton’s 40-second advantage was immediately negated, but when the race restarted he kept his head - and the lead, eventually taking victory ahead of Kubica and Massa. He described the race as the “highlight of my career”. And so it might have been for old friend Sutil too. But nine laps from the flag and running in fourth, the young German’s dream faltered when Raikkonen lost control of his Ferrari exiting the tunnel and ran into the rear of the Force India, puncturing the VJM01’s rear tyre and damaging its rear suspension. Sutil crawled back to the pits, but was forced to retire, missing out on the chance to score the team’s first-ever points.

“I can't believe it, it was so close,” he said. “It feels like a pain in my heart. It is like a dream gone to a nightmare - suddenly you are in the car and it looks all fantastic, then you have to accept it is not going to happen. A few tears came out as the adrenaline was high - I just can't explain it.”

Although the stewards did investigate the incident, it was decided no action was necessary. What might have been Sutil’s fourth place went instead to Red Bull’s Mark Webber, who crossed the finish line ahead of Vettel, Rubens Barrichello’s Honda, Kazuki Nakajima’s Williams and Kovalainen. Raikkonen himself didn’t get off completely scotch free after the incident, falling back through the field to finish in ninth.

As for Sutil, there was a silver lining. For one thing, his reputation was revitalized, while the backing of his fans and team management boosted his confidence for the rest of the season. “The great support from Force India, sponsors, my manager and all the sympathies of my fans made it much easier for me accept what happened,” he concluded.

For video highlights of last year's Monaco Grand Prix, click here.