It is ironic that while the streets of the Principality are swarming with beautiful Ferrari GT cars all week long, come Sunday, the single-seaters from the same factory seem to struggle to perform on the Monegasque street circuit. Fernando Alonso had a difficult time of it this afternoon to at least bring home a few precious points for seventh place, while Felipe Massa appeared to have a very similar accident to the one he had on Saturday morning and had to retire, fortunately without nothing worse than a stiff neck. As is often the case at this race, it was won by the man who started from pole, Nico Rosberg in his Mercedes. Joining him on the dais outside the Royal Box was the Red Bull duo of Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber. Alonso is still third in the Drivers’ classification, while Massa drops from fifth to seventh. In the Constructors’ table, Scuderia Ferrari remains second behind Red Bull, but the gap has grown from 14 to 41 points.
As the lights went out, Rosberg and Hamilton led from the front row, with Vettel in the Red Bull immediately harrying the English Mercedes driver, while behind it was also grid order, Webber, Raikkonen and Fernando sixth. Felipe, starting on the Prime Soft tyre from the back row had moved up to 18th. The race settled down into the usual Monaco high speed parade, with 5.8 seconds separating leader Rosberg from Fernando’s F138 in sixth on lap 6. However, while the first five were pretty much nose to tail, the Spanish Ferrari driver was dropping back slightly from Raikkonen in the Lotus. On lap 9, Pic had to park the Caterham at Turn 18, as flames licked the rear of his car with black smoke pouring out of the engine cover. By lap 10, the McLaren Button-Perez duo was beginning to get nearer to Fernando, and at this stage, Felipe was sixteenth.
As cars ahead of him began to pit, Felipe went up to 15th on lap 24, while Fernando was 1.8 behind fifth placed Raikkonen. Webber in the Red Bull was the first of the leaders to change tyres on lap 25, which promoted Fernando to fifth. Further back, Di Resta had managed to get his Force India ahead of Felipe. Raikkonen pitted on lap 26 as did Button and Felipe, with Fernando now up to fourth behind Rosberg, Hamilton and Vettel. Fernando switched tyres on lap 28, dropping him back down the order.
Then on lap 29 Felipe’s Monaco weekend came to an end as he appeared to have an almost carbon copy of his Saturday morning accident, except that this time the impact with the barriers at Ste Devote was even heavier. Once out of the car, it was obvious the Brazilian was in some pain and the doctors at the scene fitted a brace around his neck as he sat atop the tyre barriers. The move brought out first the yellow flags and then the Safety Car, which meant plenty of cars diving for pit lane. The leading Mercedes duo actually came in one lap later than the other front runners, so the order behind the SC on lap 33 was Rosberg, Vettel, Webber, Hamilton, Raikkonen, Fernando in sixth who was unable to profit from the SC as he had already made his pit stop, Button, Perez, Sutil and Vergne completing the top ten.
Not until half distance on lap 39 did the Safety Car come in, allowing the race to resume and while Rosberg pulled out a small gap at the front, behind it was frantic nose to tail action with Fernando snapping at Raikkonen’s heels and Hamilton nearly passing Webber at Rascasse. At the Loews hairpin as Fernando momentarily ran wide, he was clipped by Perez but everything seemed to be fine on board the F138. But with no more pit stops scheduled, would there be any way of changing the order? On lap 44 Perez tried a bold move on the Ferrari at the chicane as Fernando rode the kerb to avoid a collision, but it did not stick.
On lap 47, there was a huge crash at Tabac, when Chilton in the Marussia was defending from Maldonado in the Williams and the collision threw the Venezuelan’s car into barrier which wrapped itself around the Williams, blocking the track. Race Control immediately red flagged the race and the rest of the field reformed on the grid. The cars were released behind the Safety Car for one lap with Fernando, on fresh Super Softs, having been instructed to give his position to Perez after he was deemed by the stewards to have used the kerb at the chicane to keep his position a few laps earlier. With everyone on new tyres, we now had a 30 lap sprint to the flag.
On lap 52, behind Fernando, Sutil got his Force India past Button’s McLaren at the hairpin, as Rosberg pulled out a visible gap over second placed Vettel and the rest of the pack. Hamilton was putting Webber under a lot of pressure for the final podium position. Fernando was coming under more and more pressure from Sutil and, on lap 57 the German squeezed by at the hairpin in a high risk move, so that the sole remaining Ferrari in the race was now eighth. Lap 62 brought out the Safety Car again, as Grosjean drove his Renault into the back of Ricciardo’s Toro Rosso on the run out of the tunnel. Racing resumed on lap 67. Lap 70 and the fiery Perez damaged his front wing trying to pass Raikkonen at the chicane, so the Finn’s race was ruined as he had to pit with a puncture, while the Mexican still managed to continue in his McLaren. It was now that Button also managed to pass Fernando. Perez could no longer control his damaged car and dropped back, so the Ferrari man was seventh, ahead of Vergne, in the Ferrari powered Toro Rosso, who was putting him under intense pressure in the closing stages, but the two times Monaco winner managed to keep him at bay, hanging on to seventh place at the flag. Behind the podium trio came Hamilton fourth, then Sutil and Button ahead of the Ferrari man, with the remaining points going to eighth placed Vergne, Di Resta and Raikkonen.
Although this period of the championship is known as the European part of the season, the F1 circus now heads across the Atlantic for a brief North American trip and the Canadian Grand Prix in a fortnight’s time.
Stefano Domenicali: “We can’t be happy with this weekend, not just because of the outcome of Fernando’s race, but also because of the bad accidents that Felipe had. Fortunately, despite the violence of the impact, he is fine and has already gone home and I believe that in the space of a few days he will back in perfect shape and ready to race in Montreal. Apart from all the misfortune, it was a complicated race, conditioned by a few problems of a technical nature. Now it is important for us to understand why we were not as competitive as we were in previous races and try to react right away in Canada. Our aim is still to improve our qualifying and try to get back to the pace we had seen to date.”
Fernando Alonso: “Unfortunately today we didn’t manage to have a good pace, as is usually the case on Sunday and I wasn’t pessimistic about not being competitive yesterday, because so far, things have always improved in the race. That wasn’t the case today, maybe down to a lack of traction, a problem we had seen before in Bahrain. This race came at the end of a weekend that overall was difficult, starting with a qualifying that left me in the middle of a group of drivers who had nothing to lose. If I had not cut the chicane, I would not have been able to avoid colliding with Perez and the same thing happened at Loews with Sutil. As for what Sergio did, I don’t have much to say, his approach reminds me of my own in 2008 and 2009, because when you are not fighting for the Championship, you can take more risks, while for me today, it was important to finish the race and bring home as many points as possible. That approach has allowed me to close a bit on Kimi in the classification and even if the gap to Vettel has grown a bit, we know that sooner or later, an opportunity will come to close up on him too. Today’s outcome doesn’t bother me in terms of the next round in Canada, because we have to consider Monaco a law unto itself, with a different set-up and unusual strategy as well as being a place where it is almost impossible to overtake. We know there is still much to do to improve, but we are looking ahead with confidence.”
Felipe Massa: “Today my race ended on lap twenty eight after an accident at the Ste. Devote corner, just as happened yesterday morning in the third free practice session. I was taken to hospital for all the precautionary checks and luckily everything is in order. I’m alright, I’ve just got a slight pain in my neck, but nothing serious. Now I will look to get in shape and be back 100% for the Montreal race. All I want to do is put this bad weekend behind me and think about doing well in the rest of the season.”
Pat Fry: “First and foremost, I’m pleased that Felipe is okay. Today’s accident looked very similar to what happened in the third free practice session, but in fact the two incidents are very different. Unlike yesterday, it seems that today’s incident can be attributed to a problem on the left front corner of the car. It’s too early to say precisely what happened and in the next few days, we will try and ascertain the exact cause back in Maranello. As for the race, I don’t think it was the Monaco Grand Prix everyone was expecting where usually the drivers take to the track to race on the limit. Today it seemed more a race of containment, with a slow pace dictated by the leading group: it was reasonably clear that the fact the cars were grouped together had thus reduced the strategic choices for those behind. It was impossible to find a space to make a stop and not come out in traffic, especially because the pace of those running at the back was the same as that of those at the front. Furthermore, the various safety cars and the red flag meant the same reasoning applied in the second half of the race and therefore it was a procession for the whole race which would only permit a few risky overtaking opportunities.”