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Monaco race analysis - Ferrari rising to Brawn challenge 25 May 2009

Kimi Raikkonen (FIN) Ferrari F2009.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 6, Monaco Grand Prix, Race, Monte-Carlo, Monaco, Sunday, 24 May 2009 Race winner Jenson Button (GBR) Brawn Grand Prix talks with the media.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 6, Monaco Grand Prix, Race, Monte-Carlo, Monaco, Sunday, 24 May 2009 Mark Webber (AUS) Red Bull Racing RB5 and Fernando Alonso (ESP) Renault R29.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 6, Monaco Grand Prix, Race, Monte-Carlo, Monaco, Sunday, 24 May 2009 Sebastien Buemi (SUI) Scuderia Toro Rosso retires from the race after a crash.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 6, Monaco Grand Prix, Race, Monte-Carlo, Monaco, Sunday, 24 May 2009 Giancarlo Fisichella (ITA) Force India F1 VJM02.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 6, Monaco Grand Prix, Race, Monte-Carlo, Monaco, Sunday, 24 May 2009

Brawn may still have had a decisive edge in Sunday’s Monaco Grand Prix, but it was encouraging to see Ferrari take another step forward. Their improved form from Spain continued, this time with complete reliability. It gave them their best result - and first podium - of 2009. There was some scratching of heads at Red Bull, who dropped to third in the pecking order, despite the arrival of a double diffuser. And there was total frustration at Toyota and BMW Sauber, both former frontrunners left trailing. We take a team-by-team look at the Monte Carlo race…

Brawn
Jenson Button, P1
Rubens Barrichello, P2

This was yet another brilliant one-two for Brawn, their third of the season and, incidentally, the third win for the same Mercedes-Benz engine in Button’s car. They sprung a surprise on their rivals when they started the race on Bridgestone’s super-soft option tyre, a route pursued only by Vettel, Hamilton and Sutil. Where others struggled on them, the Brawns loved them. When Button’s began to go off very slightly, creating oversteer, he was called in early for his first pit stop on lap 17. Barrichello had overworked his rubber sliding about as he ran too close to Button, and that decided the gap between them. An early stop for him kept him ahead of Raikkonen. It was hardly a race-threatening development. By the flag Barrichello had cut a 12s gap to 7.5s as Button backed off, and had shaken off the Ferrari challenge. Brawn now have 86 points in the constructors’ championship compared to Red Bull’s 42.5, and Button is 16 points ahead of Barrichello and looking increasingly strong in the drivers’ table.

Ferrari
Kimi Raikkonen, P3
Felipe Massa, P4

This was Ferrari’s most convincing showing since Brazil last year. Raikkonen gave them their first front-row start of the season, and their first podium, and at one stage in the middle of the race the pair of them were flying on Bridgestone’s soft rubber. Crucially, they couldn’t use the super softs at the start, which Brawn could. That was what cost them their chance. That, and Raikkonen starting on the dirty side of the grid and not really being able to capitalise on his KERS, and Massa outfoxing himself in the chicane early on when fighting for fourth with Vettel, then having Rosberg muscle past for a while as he handed the place back to the Red Bull driver. 11 points were very welcome here.

Red Bull
Mark Webber, P5
Sebastian Vettel, Retired lap 15, accident

Vettel started on the super-soft option tyres, with his lightest of all fuel load - and soon became a mobile road block. He soon switched to softs, but dumped it at Ste devote on the 15th lap after braking too late. Webber did a great job in qualifying, made a strong start, and Red Bull’s strategy kept him in play, ahead of Rosberg, to the flag. In the closing stages he was right with Massa.

Williams
Nico Rosberg, P6
Kazuki Nakajima, Retired lap 77, accident

Rosberg looked strong and opportunistic all weekend and deserved better than his sixth place. But a late fuel stop dropped him back to seventh until Renault did the same with Alonso and restored the status quo. Nakajima kept his nose clean all weekend, until dumping his FW31 head-first into the tyre wall at Mirabeau with a lap to run. He said he was pushing too hard on the option tyre.

Renault
Fernando Alonso, P7
Nelson Piquet, Retired lap 11, accident with Buemi

Alonso said his R29 kept improving throughout the race, and that after starting ninth scoring two points for seventh was satisfying. Piquet was really disappointed to be bundled off at Ste Devote, especially as he was on a long first stint and felt confident of scoring some points.

Toro Rosso
Sebastien Bourdais, P8
Sebastien Buemi, Retired lap 10, accident with Piquet

Bourdais was chuffed with a point in what he considers his home race. He nursed his STR4 on both the prime and option tyres, until he was in a position to have a clear run home. Buemi ran ahead of him until his incident with Piquet, to whom he had lost a position at the start. He said was he was so close to Piquet, planning an attack, that he couldn’t duck round him when the Brazilian braked for the first corner. He apologised to Piquet later.

Force India
Giancarlo Fisichella, P9
Adrian Sutil, P14

Fisichella was very pleased with his ninth place, especially as he was close to Bourdais at the finish and in contention for the final point. Sutil started on a one-stop strategy, which made it all the more curious why Force India ran him on the super-soft Bridgestones. These rapidly grained, dropping him down as he had to stop early, and ruining his chances of emulating his team mate.

McLaren
Lewis Hamilton, P12
Heikki Kovalainen, Retired lap 52, accident

What a contrast this race was to the last two years’ for McLaren! Hamilton’s qualifying problem was exacerbated when he was given a five-place grid penalty as the impact with the wall at Mirabeau damaged the gearbox, so he had to start at the back. He made some progress early on, but had to pit after a brush when Heidfeld squeezed him at Ste Devote on lap 10. That damaged his front wing and generated understeer, and even a change of nose at his next stop did not effect a real cure. He drove hard, but had to be content with 12th. Kovalainen ran strongly early on, faded to seventh, then spun out and took his nose off in the Swimming Pool after 51 laps.

Toyota
Timo Glock, P10
Jarno Trulli, P13

Tenth and 13th were probably better results than Toyota expected. Glock started with so much fuel he was able to run to lap 57 on the soft Bridgestones. Trulli did a two-stopper, going soft, soft, super soft, and was unable to keep Hamilton at bay in the closing stages. Assuredly, this was a disaster for Toyota in which they threw all manner of set-ups at the TF109 during the weekend yet never seemed to make the slightest progress.

BMW Sauber
Nick Heidfeld, P11
Robert Kubica, Retired lap 29, brakes

For Toyota, read BMW Sauber. They were in the same boat as their Japanese-German rival, which amounted to all at sea. Heidfeld ran soft and super soft to claim 11th place, and said his car was simply too slow. Kubica made a poor start, then suffered a right rear puncture. He was lapping well with a fuel-heavy car, but was forced to retire with brake problems. Like Toyota, BMW Sauber need to have a major rethink before Turkey.