Finn untouchable as Williams score best result of 2005
With a dominant victory in Monte Carlo to match the one he took in Spain a fortnight ago, Kimi Raikkonen has moved up to second place in the drivers championship. The sheer margin of the Finns superiority - leading from his P1 grid spot all the way to the flag - will have struck further fear into the rest of the paddock.
Indeed, if he watches the tape of the Monaco Grand Prix, Raikkonen might be surprised to see how difficult it was for his principal challengers.
Surprised, because the Finn in his McLaren was the only man who sailed round the streets of the Principality with such insouciant ease that one is tempted to suggest that he enjoyed a nice Sunday afternoon drive.
Starting from pole position, he rocketed into the lead from Renault drivers Fernando Alonso and Giancarlo Fisichella, as Jarno Trulli sprinted off the line in his Toyota to head the Williams of Mark Webber and Nick Heidfeld.
Raikkonen was known to be on more fuel than Alonso, but even so he pulled steadily away. By lap 23 he was 5.5s clear as traffic made the gap fluctuate, but then came an incident at Mirabeau on lap 25 when Christijan Albers spun his lapped Minardi. An unsighted Michael Schumacher, running eighth right behind David Coulthard, snagged the back of the Red Bull as the Scot slowed to avoid Albers and momentarily the track was blocked.
Out came the Safety Car, and many of Raikkonens rivals headed for the pits to take advantage of the chance to refuel. Not Raikkonen. The Renaults came in together; Alonso losing time as sufficient fuel to get him to the flag was pumped in, and Fisichella lost time waiting for his team mate to be serviced. Raikkonen could not take on enough fuel at that stage to go the distance because of the high initial load he still carried, and for a while McLaren appeared to have made an error of judgement. It turned out to be anything but.
By the time the racing resumed on lap 29, Raikkonen still had 5.6s in hand over Trulli, who also didnt stop, while Alonso was third ahead of Webber, Heidfeld and the Saubers of Felipe Massa and Jacques Villeneuve. The Brazilian had also refuelled, but the French-Canadian was on the same long-stop strategy as the leaders. In traffic, however, he would be one of several drivers to lose out.
Now it was a matter of Raikkonen pushing to open sufficient margin for his sole stop. When it came on lap 42 he was 34.7s ahead, and a lap later he still had a 13s margin over Alonso, who had displaced Trulli when the Italian dropped to fifth following his stop on lap 39.
Now Raikkonen had it all his own way, for Alonso had his hands full with the two Williams as his Renault ate its rear Michelins. By lap 60 Alonso was really feeling the heat, and behind the leading quartet it was battle royale as Fisichella was likewise fighting a losing battle with his tyres keeping an increasingly hungry Trulli, Massa and Montoya at bay. Yes, that would be the Juan Pablo Montoya who started from 16th on the grid, and who was already up to 12th place at the end of the opening lap!
This was a humdinger of a race behind Raikkonen. The Williams pair had swapped places during their final stops, Heidfeld on lap 57, Webber on lap 58, and as things headed towards the final eight laps Heidfeld finally got the run he needed on Alonso and slipped down the inside going into the chicane on lap 72. Immediately he sprinted away, leaving a frustrated Webber to have one unsuccessful stab at Alonso there on lap 74, and a better one on lap 75. Each time he and the Spaniard ventured over the chicane entry kerb, but the second time Webber made it stick as they accelerated side by side to Tabac.
It might have been game over for the podium places, but there had been lots of action further back. It began when Trulli caught Fisichella napping at Grand Hotel, jumping over the kerb as he grabbed fifth place on lap 64. Fisi had to stay out wide, and was immediately gobbled up by Montoya and the two Ferraris of Rubens Barrichello and Schumacher. The Brazilian had lost time with a drive-through penalty for pit lane speeding on lap 45, the German had lost a lap having a new nose fitted after the lap 25 incident with Coulthard. But since then he had been setting fastest laps and now all of them were nose to tail chasing Montoya.
No sooner had the Williams duo disposed of Alonso than he found his mirrors full of Montoya, Schumacher Jnr, Barrichello and Schumacher Snr. This was no place for the faint of heart!
Alonso held on by the skin of his teeth, but Schumacher Snr got Barrichello on the last lap and almost collided with brother Ralf after they had crossed the finish line, Ralf sixth, Michael seventh. It was a fantastic climax to a gripping race.
Massa finished just outside the points in a frustrated ninth, having had to go up the escape road at Ste Devote on lap 62 avoiding an unsuccessful move over the inside kerb by team mate Jacques Villeneuve! As Villeneuve nosed into the outer wall Massa recovered and went on to push ahead of the unhappy Fisichella on the 74th lap, while Villeneuve ended up 11th behind Trulli. Fisichella was 12th from Tiago Monteiro, whose Jordan team mate Narain Karthikeyan retired on lap 19 after four pit stops to complain about falling hydraulic pressure in his Toyotas valve actuation system.
Albers made it home, but Patrick Friesacher dropped his Minardi into the chicane wall after spinning there on lap 30. It was an unhappy day for Red Bull, too, as Coulthard retired with rear-end damage after being hit in the Mirabeau incident by Schumacher, and Liuzzi retired with a right rear tyre problem on lap 60.
Raikkonens win was the most dominant of the season, and brings him up to second place in the championship race with 27 points. Alonso still leads, of course, with 49, but now that McLaren have 51 points to Renaults 63 the blues know that they are in a real fight.