Wet conditions got the better of Ferrari at Monaco allowing Lewis Hamilton to claim victory at the principality despite hitting the barrier in the early running.
Kimi Raikkonen went backwards and ended up crashing into Adrian Sutil and Felipe Massa was out-raced by Robert Kubica on a drying track at Monte-Carlo.
Wet track at the start
Rain had threatened all weekend long but stayed away from qualifying. An all-Ferrari front row is not often considered a surprised in Formula 1 but at Monaco, where the team hasn’t won since 2001, it was.
Felipe Massa has never pretended to like Monaco – and when he took pole position the general expectation was that he was running a light fuel strategy. But that assumption was never really tested because of the rain that fell on the Monte-Carlo circuit 20 minutes before the race started.
More drama before the start: Heikki Kovalainen’s McLaren stalled due to a software problem, and the Finnish driver was pushed into the pits to start. But despite the treacherous surface the field kept good order through the first corner, with Lewis Hamilton beating Kimi Raikkonen away from the lights to steal second.
But before the first lap had finished the bumping had begun. Nico Rosberg tapped the rear of Fernando Alonso’s Renault at the hairpin damaging his front wing. The Jenson Button, who had made an excellent start, tried a hasty move on Nick Heidfeld and clouted the BMW, requiring a pit stop of his own.
That left Massa in the lead, drawing away from Hamilton and Raikkonen, followed by Robert Kubica and Fernando Alonso, both of which looked quick. Jarno Trulli in sixth began to fall back, holding up his team mate Timo Glock, then Heidfeld, Mark Webber, Kazuki Nakajima, David Coulthard, Rubens Barrichello and Adrian Sutil.
Yes, Adrian Sutil. The Force India driver had prospered at the start and was already up to 13th. That became 12th when Glock lost his front wing on lap three. Sutil would gain several more places by not making that kind of mistake.
Hamilton hits the wall
The slow speed of the ‘Trulli train’ had an important bearing on the race when Hamilton hit the barrier at Tabac on lap six. It wasn’t a huge hit, but it was enough to deflate his right-rear tyre. The McLaren limped back to the pits where he took on a belt of fuel and his pit crew resisted the temptation to switch him onto extreme wet tyres.
It looked like a mistake at the time because the rain was still falling and the track was getting ever wetter. But within a few laps the rain had ceased and would not return. Thanks to the ‘Trulli train’, Hamilton came back out of the pits in fifth place, With Raikkonen now second ahead of Kubica and Alonso.
A trio of crashes at Massenet on lap eight brough the safety car out. Alonso was the first to run wide and hit the barrier, but just like Hamilton the damage was restricted to a tyre that was quickly replaced. Alonso had been on the standard wet tyres but on the formation lap had pressed his team to switch him onto the deeper extreme wets, which they did not do.
Moments later David Coulthard and Sebastien Bourdais also crashed at Massenet, bourdais hitting the crashed car of Coulthard having already lost control.
Massa loses the lead
The safety car period eliminated what had been an impressive 11.5s lead for Massa. It was at this point that Ferrari’s race began to unravel. First of all Raikkonen was served with a penalty as his mechanics had not cleared the grid quickly enough before the start of the race. He served the penalty on lap 13.
The recovering Alonso slotted past Webber and began attacking Heidfeld. But a poorly-timed move at the hairpin on lap 14 cost Alonso his front wing and damaged Heidfeld’s car as well. Webber passed the pair of them and Alonso, along with Nico Rosberg, headed for the pits. Heidfeld followed a few laps later after being passed by Sutil. The Force India driver was now sixth, although it later transpired he had passed Barrichello, Nakajima and Nelson Piquet Jnr under yellow flags, but escaped a penalty.
Heavy with fuel, Hamilton started to lose touch with Massa and Kubica. Kubica was putting Massa under pressure and Massa responded with some faster laps – and then went straight on at Ste Devote. In a replay of Michael Schumacher’s mistake at the same corner in the last wet Monaco Grand Prix in 1997 he was able to continue without hitting anything, but he was powerless to stop the BMW driver taking over the lead.
At this point the race settled briefly, with Kubica a couple of second ahead of Massa, Hamilton seven seconds back and falling further behind, and Raikkonen a further second back and losing touch with Hamilton.
On lap 26 Kubica made his first pit stop, his lead over third placed Hamilton having grown to 18.5s. The Polish driver came out of the pits just as Raikkonen was about to go past, but the Ferrari went wide at Ste Devote allowing Kubica to keep third. That damaged Raikkonen’s front wing, forcing him to pit.
Massa stayed out six laps longer than Kubica and moved ahead of him, but his pit stop promoted Hamilton into the lead. Now the track was drying rapidly and the fastest lap time began to fall.
Hamilton pulls ahead as track dries
Hamilton was able to extend his lead by entire seconds at a time, extending his advantage from 13.2s on lap 34 to 23s by lap 42. Kubica meanwhile was falling back from Massa and was now six seconds adrift. Behind him were Webber, Sutil, Raikkonen, Barrichello and Nakajima.
By lap 50 the track had moved into the zone where teams were starting to consider switching to dry-weather tyres. As the remaining moisture began to dry Massa suddenly began to lose pace and the gap between him and Hamilton grew to 33 seconds, and Kubica was right on his tail.
One of the first drivers onto dry tyres was Mark Webber, although the Red Bull driver struggled to get up to speed at first. Alonso then switched to dry tyres, as did team mate Piquet, but the Brazilian crashed out at Ste Devote not long afterwards.
Alonso, however, fared far better on the dry tyres and when he set the fastest middle sector of the race it signalled to the rest of the field that the track was ready for grooved rubber. Nonetheless McLaren took the precaution of bringing the out-of-position Kovalainen in for dry rubber first on lap 49 before Hamilton followed five laps later.
Massa delayed his switch to dry tyres until lap 56, three later than Kubica, which proved to be a mistake. The BMW driver was quickly up to speed and when Massa came out of the pits Kubica was already through into second.
Rosberg crashes hard
But with Hamilton 40 seconds ahead it looked as though there would be no battle for the lead – until Rosberg crashed heavily on lap 62, causing the second safety car period of the day. The Williams driver ran wide on the entry to the Swimming Pool complex, clipped a kerb and hit two barriers before coming to a rest. Shattered parts of his FW30 were spread across the track.
The lapped cars took a long time to disentangle themselves from the safety car queue and when the race got going again Hamilton led Kubica and Massa, with Sutil a remarkable fourth having changed to dry-weather tyres and stayed ahead of Raikkonen. Webber’s delay had dropped him to sixth ahead of Sebastian Vettel and Barrichello.
But Sutil’s strong run came to a cruel end after the restart on lap 67. Raikkonen wasn’t even looking to make a move on him at the harbour chicane when the Ferrari slewed out of control and Raikkonen hit Sutil’s car square up the back.
Both drivers headed for the pits but only one came out – and it wasn’t Sutil, whose car had sustained too much damage. Raikkonen took a new front wing and kept going, but he fell to ninth and out of the points for the first time this year.
Hamilton wins in Monaco
That was the final act in a dramatic and chaotic race. Hamilton took the chequer and on his slowing down lap discovered he had a puncture – most likely caused by Rosberg’s crash, although exactly when he picked it up is not clear.
Kubica and Massa filled the podium with Webber inheriting fourth from Vettel, Barrichello, Nakajima and the recovering Kovalainen.
Outside the points were a few drivers who must have rued hasty moves at the start of the race: Alonso, tenth behind Raikkonen, Button in 11th, and 12th-placed Glock who reversed into the barrier at Mirabeau on lap 39. He still finished ahead of team mate Trulli and last of the classified finishers Nick Heidfeld.
Giancarlo Fisichella in his 200th Grand Prix suffered the only mechanical failure of the race, retiring on lap 26 with suspected gearbox problems.
Hamilton’s win puts him back on top of the drivers’ championship with Massa and Raikkonen in close attendance. In two weeks’ time he returns to the scene of his maiden Grand Prix victory, Montreal, looking to extend his advantage.