Sunday, May 25, 2008


When Ferrari wrapped up the front row of the grid for the Monaco Grand Prix, Lewis Hamilton’s only real hope of victory seemed to lie in the hands of the weather gods. It duly rained before the start, but after six laps the Englishman walloped the wall hard on the exit to the Swimming Pool, while trailing poleman Felipe Massa’s Ferrari. Into the pits he came, and at that stage the race seemed to belong to the Brazilian.McLaren, however, brimmed the MP4-23 with fuel, and Hamilton caught his first break when the safety car was deployed on the eighth lap after Red Bull’s David Coulthard and Toro Rosso’s Sebastien Bourdais went off at Massenet. The racing resumed on the 11th lap, and two laps later Kimi Raikkonen dropped out of second place when he had to serve a drive-through penalty for having his tyres fitted too late in the grid. Now BMW Sauber’s Robert Kubica moved up to push Massa, and was able to snatch the lead when the latter slid momentarily up the escape road at Ste Devote on the 16th lap. Hamilton was chasing hard after them, with Raikkonen now trailing in fourth place.Kubica stayed ahead until he refuelled on the 26th lap, whereupon Massa went back into the lead until his stop on the 33rd lap. By then Hamilton was up to second, and after moving into the lead… he just kept going.He did not have to refuel until the 54th lap, and that lengthy stint proved absolutely crucial. Kubica had already stopped for the second time a lap earlier, so was no further threat, and having built a lead of 37.6s Hamilton could refuel, switch to Bridgestone’s soft tyres, and resume still in the lead.Still he was not home and dry, however. He was 40 seconds ahead when Nico Rosberg, running a lap down after two pits stops to replace damaged noses, tanked his Williams hard into the walls on the exit to the Swimming Pool on the 61st lap. Out came the safety car again, and suddenly Hamilton’s huge advantage had been eroded completely. He kept his head when the race restarted on the 68th lap, however, and was able to pull away to what he described as “a very emotional triumph. The highlight of my career.”Behind him, Kubica had no trouble fending off Massa for second for BMW Sauber.Adrian Sutil could have finished fourth for Force India - yes, that’s right - having driven a superb race with a heavy fuel load. But he was the biggest loser in the second safety-car incident. He had been comfortably ahead of Raikkonen’s Ferrari when Rosberg crashed, and was later assaulted by the red car going into the chicane as the race resumed. Raikkonen had got into the same sort of tank-slapper as David Coulthard did in qualifying, and though the Finn kept control of his car he smacked hard enough into the back of Sutil’s car to remove his own front wing and put the unfortunate German out of the greatest race of his life.As Raikkonen fell back, Mark Webber finished fourth for Red Bull ahead of Sebastian Vettel, who finally got a break to bring his new Toro Rosso STR3 home fifth in front of Rubens Barrichello’s Honda, Kazuki Nakajima’s Williams and Heikki Kovalainen, all of whom fought throughout. The McLaren driver had to start from the pit lane after his MP4-23 stalled on the grid, and scooped the final point by keeping Raikkonen at bay to the flag, which fell two laps sooner than scheduled as the race reached the two-hour mark.Behind Raikkonen, Fernando Alonso was 10th for Renault after a series of collisions, then came Jenson Button, who lost his Honda’s front wing on the opening lap in a brush with Nick Heidfeld, the Toyotas of thrice-spinning Timo Glock and Jarno Trulli, and Heidfeld himself, who was assaulted by Alonso in a brush at the Lowes hairpin.Besides Sutil, Rosberg (who was subsequently sent to hospital for precautionary checks), Coulthard and Bourdais, Nelson Piquet dropped out of a tough fight with Vettel after brushing a wall, and Giancarlo Fisichella’s 200th race ended in retirement too.The result of a nail-biting race puts Hamilton back in the championship lead with 38 points to Raikkonen’s 35, Massa’s 34 and Kubica’s 32. In the constructors’ stakes, Ferrari have 69 to McLaren’s 53 and BMW Sauber’s 52. The battle for the world championship has suddenly come alive again.

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