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Formula 1: Sebastian Vettel Wins Incident-Packed Monaco Grand Prix 2011

Sebastian Vettel driving during practice for the Monaco Formula One Grand Prix at the Monte Carlo Circuit, Monaco on May 26th 2011
Sebastian Vettel driving during practice for the Monaco Formula One Grand Prix at the Monte Carlo Circuit, Monaco on May 26th 2011

Sebastian Vettel has won the 2011 Formula 1 Monaco Grand Prix after an incident-filled race.

Having begun on Pole, Vettel, of Red Bull-Renault won from Fernando Alonso of Ferrari who was followed closely by McLaren driver Jenson Button.

The three car showdown, that had looked to be on the cards for the final ten laps, between these three drivers – all of whom have won a World Championship – was effectively finished, however, when a multiple car accident led to a second safety car of the race, then a Red Flag.

This stoppage meant that leading pair, Vettel and Alonso, were able to change their tyres and prevent Button – who had been catching them for some time on significantly fresher set of tyres – from catching and then attempting to pass in the closing stages.

The safety car had already put Button, who had driven fast enough to win his second Monaco GP today, at a disadvantage, when his team-mate, Lewis Hamilton, tangled with Ferrari’s Felipe Massa just after Button had made his second stop. Button had been brought in a little early to get out in clear track and get some fast laps in on Vettel and Alonso, but his team had – crucially – opted to put him on a second set of super-soft ‘option’ tyres.

Button was leading the race at this stage, but still had to change his tyres again to the Prime set. Because of the safety car, when he did so, he emerged in third place behind Vettel and Alonso.

Vettel had started the race on option tyres, and experienced woes of his own, when he found his team were not ready for him when he made his first scheduled pit stop. The team took an age to put on the harder prime tyres he was booked in for, which meant Button had been able to leap-frog Vettel for the lead on his options, and make that lead stick on his second stop, too.

But first Vettel, and then Alonso opted to make their tyres last out to the end of the race, so the watching fans saw Vettel caught by Alonso, and then Button caught them both as the race entered it’s final stages. Button put in several fast laps in a row as he looked to make his earlier race-winning position into the maximum 25 points.

The stage looked set for a Grandstand finish, however, this trio soon caught a multiple-car battle for 6th, 7th, 8th and 9th – including, for good measure, a handful of backmarkers – going through the tunnel with around 13 laps remaining. Seven cars in all were scrapping ahead of Vettel, Alonso and Button.

Monaco is a tight circuit and when this concertina of cars began making passing moves at the chicane, something had to give.

Contact was made. Several times.

First Hamilton overtook Petrov – clipping him in the process – between the chicanes, then, at the second chicane, Adrian Sutil of Force India, who was in seventh position, had to back out of the chicane altogether, as it appeared Hamilton had clipped his rear tyre in the approach.

Behind Sutil, however, bigger things were unfolding, as Hamilton hit the brakes, the Toro Rosso of Alguersuari, behind him, climbed up the back of his car, before running off into the barrier, and pulling out Vitaly Petrov – who had nowhere to go – into the barrier with him.

Both cars were deposited on the track, with no wheels pointing in the same direction.

The safety car was deployed.

It soon emerged that Petrov was in need of medical assistance, so the paramedics came out before a Red Flag was displayed.

Then came a moment that shows how the rules of Formula 1 can sometimes be counter intuitive. The teams came out and began working on their cars.

Hamilton, who had been tangling and dicing all afternoon following a start during which he was mugged by the wily old fox, Michael Schumacher, from his starting box of P9, was able to get his rear wing – so heavily damaged in the incident which caused the stoppage – fixed, at least to a state of race-worthiness, while they awaited the restart.

But, far more crucially in the context of the race, Vettel and Alonso, who had been racing on their tyres for many more laps than would ordinarily be sensible, were able to change scot-free, without losing a single moment of race time in the pits, before they were released to complete the final handful of remaining laps in a procession to the podium.

When the cars were finally allowed back out, Lewis Hamilton went on to futher blot his copybook on a bad afternoon at the office by ramming Maldonado, who had driven right up to his best in his Williams machine, out at the first corner.

When the chequered flag fell, Vettel was the winner, Alonso was second, and Jenson Button picked up the third spot on the podium.

Mark Webber, who had put a great pass on Kobayashi in the closing stages after a disastrous first pit stop (he pitted immediately after Vettel’s slow stop, and his team were not ready for him, costing him around 15-20 seconds) came in fourth.

Kobayashi claimed fifth place after a solid drive in the Sauber, while Hamilton was sixth, albeit with a stewards inspection looming over him when the flag fell – he seems likely to be docked at least some positions for the move he pulled on Maldonado.

Hamilton had already been given a drive-through penalty earlier in the afternoon, for the horrific attempt he put on Felipe Massa at the Loews hairpin shortly before Massa was into the barrier during his second attempt at overtaking in the tunnel – the move which led to the first safety car that put paid to his team-mates advantage, no less.

Sutil placed seventh for Force India – a great result from starting in P15, followed by the final points finishers of Heidfeld, Barrichello and Buemi.

While Vettel – quite deservedly for dogged determination under severe pressure, putting in 50+ laps on tyres designed to do no more than 45 – and Alonso deserved their placings, it would have been highly interesting to see how things had panned out had they not been forced to stop; and then allowed to change their tyres when they did so.

Having said that, up until the final 15 laps, this has been a highly entertaining Grand Prix, which looked set for one of the best finishes in history.

It’s Sebastian Vettel who benefits once more, with his first ever Monaco Grand Prix victory coming in 2011. Vettel extends his lead in this Championship to a huge 58 points over Lewis Hamilton: it could be more when the stewards are done looking at the various tapes of today’s race from the British former Champ.

Alonso’s second showed once more why his cool, consistent head – and fast driving – will see him difficult to shake off in any championship race. But one has to feel for Jenson Button, who put in fastest lap after fastest lap in the middle part of the race, and did nothing wrong, only to find that his team’s strategy combined with Lady Luck to put him into a third place that was the least he deserved.

For the neutral fan, it is a great shame we were denied the finish that looked to be on the cards: as Vettel attempted to carry his fading tyres through the last few laps, with Alonso crawling on the back of his Red Bull machine, himself on tyres well past their best and firmly in the sights of yet another former champion in possession of significantly more grip.

But that’s racing, and, in motorsport, fortune favours the brave.

With debates over the suitability of Monaco for the modern racing car hovering, as ever, somewhere in the vicinity, another highly entertaining race had seen the good, the bad and the downright ugly that this demanding track so often produces. For entertainment value, this was first class, even allowing for the staccato finale.

Finishing Positions – Formula 1 Monaco Grand Prix 2011

Pos Ctry Name No Team Gr Race time Pts
1 GER Sebastian Vettel 1 Red Bull-Renault 1 02:09:38.37 25
2 ESP Fernando Alonso 5 Ferrari 4 00:01.14 18
3 GBR Jenson Button 4 McLaren-Mercedes 2 00:02.38 15
4 AUS Mark Webber 2 Red Bull-Renault 3 00:23.10 12
5 JAP Kamui Kobayashi 16 Sauber 13 00:26.92 10
6 GBR Lewis Hamilton 3 McLaren-Mercedes 9 00:27.21 8
7 GER Adrian Sutil 14 Force IND-Mercedes 15 lapped 6
8 GER Nick Heidfeld 9 Renault 16 lapped 4
9 BRA Rubens Barrichello 11 Williams-Cosworth 12 lapped 2
10 SUI Sebastien Buemi 18 Toro Rosso-Ferrari 17 lapped 1
11 GER Nico Rosberg 8 Mercedes GP 7 lapped
12 GBR Paul Di Resta 15 Force IND-Mercedes 14 lapped
13 ITA Jarno Trulli 21 Lotus-Renault 19 lapped
14 FIN Heikki Kovalainen 20 Lotus-Renault 18 lapped
15 BEL Jerome d’Ambrosio 25 Virgin-Cosworth 22 lapped
16 ITA Vitantonio Liuzzi 23 Hispania-Cosworth 24 lapped
17 IND Narain Karthikeyan 22 Hispania-Cosworth 23 lapped
18 VEN Pastor Maldonado 12 Williams-Cosworth 8 crash, 73 laps
19 RUS VITA Petrov 10 Renault 11 crash, 67 laps
20 ESP Jaime Alguersuari 19 Toro Rosso-Ferrari 20 crash, 66 laps
21 BRA Felipe Massa 6 Ferrari 6 crash, 32 laps
22 GER Michael Schumacher 7 Mercedes GP 5 retired, 32 laps
23 GER Timo Glock 24 Virgin-Cosworth 21 retired, 30 laps
24 MEX Sergio Perez 17 Sauber 10 DNS, 0 laps

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Stories from the Sport Desk at The Global Herald.

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