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GP Week : Issue 118
I ’m afraId I used up all mySeb- friendly superlatives in the Barcelona report, so the best I can do right now, as the 69th monaco Grand Prix dissolves reluctantly into recent history, and the boys pack up and head for home, more exhausted after this double-header than they were even after China, is to say: “he was even better”. Of course we’ll never know – Seb will never know, Adrian Newey and the rest of the Red Bull team will never know – what would have happened had the race not been red- flagged after 72 laps (with six to run). Seb’s Pirelli primes at that point were 56 laps old and fading fast; Seb was driving on a knife- edge, with Fernando Alonso’s Ferrari filling the mirrors, while Jenson Button’s McLaren was doing a similar thing to the Ferrari. Jenson’s primes were comparatively new (24 laps old); Fernando’s had done 38 laps. My gut feeling is that Fernando would have won had the race run through to lap 78 without a break: I have no real evidence for such a statement and I could very well be wrong: you’d have to be verging on the certifiably stupid these days ever to under- estimate Sebastian Vettel. Equally, Fernando Alonso looked cool under fire and extremely composed as he began to force an opening in the closing stages: the Ferrari had the edge on grip (as amazing as it is to write those words!) and Fernando is very good at applying the pressure; he does so about as naturally as he breathes oxygen. As I say, though, we’ll never know; the point is moot. What we do know is that in a cacophony of noise, scraped metal, tyre- troubled Force India (Sutil), shunted Toro Rosso (Alguasuari), heavily crashed Renault (Petrov) and damaged McLaren (Hamilton), Petrov was evacuated to the medical centre (where he was diagnosed to be okay) and the race was paused. They pulled onto the grid exactly in the order (back-markers and all) on which they crossed the line. There was considerable confusion at this point. The regulations used to say (still say?) that no race is re-started if more than 75 per cent of its distance has been covered; at Monaco, the FIA ruled a re-start. F1 wanted a chequered flag, a raised arm. Still more poring over the Sporting regs: Can you make repairs? Can you change tyres? “Modifications can be made” was the affirmative phrase in question: it doesn’t say that tyres could not be changed. Lewis Hamilton’s damaged rear wing was replaced. And no fuel, of course, was added. Asithappened,pressing‘play’,and restarting the pack behind the Safety Car on fresh tyres, with everyone ‘equal’ again, altered the top end of the race not a jot. Seb Vettel took off as he had from the original grid and paced Fernando and Jenson through to the finish. Seb Vettel, World Champion, won his first Monaco Grand Prix. It did, however, take poor Pastor Maldonado out of the proceedings (Lewis punted him off at Sainte Devote at the restart, thus robbing the Williams driver of a well-earned fifth or sixth place) and it did give us another dose of brilliance from Kamui Kobayashi: with Lewis all over him – literally – on the final lap, Kamui kept his cool and finished P5 – his best result yet. So we could say, if we wanted to, that Seb won on all counts: he won the race through to lap 72; and then he endorsed that with a sprint win. The bottom line is that Seb won the pole with a devastating burst of brilliance in Q3 – and winning the pole at Monaco, adjustable rear flaps or not, is but a short step away from winning the biggest F1 race of the year. Seb was fun to watch from the start of practice on Thursday, when he wore his new Monaco-spec helmet (complete with ‘Monaco’ postage-stamp logos and graphics) and flung his RBR7 around the streets as if he wanted it to be anything but neutral. He braked too late, he locked the fronts, he flicked the rear, he played with understeer. And then he strolled back down to the motorhome to talk to his Dad and say hi to the gathering throng. No acolytes, no heavies. Just Seb, enjoying his motor racing and very much enjoying Monaco. Saturday morning was foreshortened. Nico Rosberg, spearheading Mercedes’ more diligent approach to race trim homework, was out on a full load of fuel, his (prime) tyre pressures deliberately set down a little to allow for the extra build up in heat and pressure. Out of the tunnel, in seventh gear, already pushing hard, he hit the brakes as his Mercedes bottomed out over the pronounced ripples that had developed over the new track surface there. The left rear, still spongy, grabbed and locked, immediately flicking the car to the right, into the guard-rail. Debris flying, the Merc eventually came to rest well past the chicane, narrowly avoiding the air-filled barrier that marks the beginning of the fencing that runs up to Tabac. It took a while to clear up the mess; the MGP boys, amazingly, had the car (new bodywork, front suspension, floor, gearbox) ready for the closing minutes of Q1. Another accident (Vitantonio Liuzzi) stopped FP3 early; no-one completed their heavy-fuel programmes. Given Nico’s shunt – and given the empty track that followed FP3 – it is astonishing, I think, that FP3 wasn’t extended. Rules are rules, though (two hours must separate FP3 from qualifying) and no-one wanted the GP2 race to be delayed because Saturday night at Monaco is party time. Priorities are priorities. Sebperfectlymanagedqualifying.Hedid what he needed to do in Q1, suddenly looking neat and supple where on Thursday he had been all tyre smoke and rapid wrist movement. In Q2, on super-softs for the first time, he broke free from all except McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton; he was out early for Q3 and dug deep for a defining lap, committing earlier by a few feet into Casino Square, teasing the throttle earlier into Tabac and then leaning on the super-softs – left, right – into the swimming pool. Into La Rascasse, that innocent, tight right-hander, Seb was Kimi-like: brake late and deep to the inside, hold the rotation until just before the exit. Straight line up the slight hill; flick right over the hump. And then clean and load-free, avoiding a bobble, as he accelerates, rear flap down, towards the start-finish line. 1min 13.556 sec. What could Lewis do? What could and would have happened had Monaco gone 78 uninterrupted laps is sheer speculation. What did transpire was a marvellously entertaining race around the streets of Monte Carlo ... Streetfighting 22