Vettel holds off Alonso and Button in Monaco thriller

Sebastian Vettel took 5 race wins out of 6, but for the second race in a row, was hounded to the flag. Both Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button used their strategies to the max to push the Red Bull to its limits on the streets of Monte Carlo. Mark Webber was 4th, Kamui Kobayashi did well in 5th, while Lewis Hamilton caused several crashes and investigations en route to 6th. Here is the full report:

At the start, Vettel held off Button, while Alonso sailed up to 3rd. Nico Rosberg mved up to 5th, while a fantastic move by Michael Schumacher on Hamilton at the Casino hairpin put him up to 9th.

Sebastian began to pull away at a second a lap, while Alonso hounded Button for 2nd. Replays from the start showed that Schumacher damaged Lewis’ diffuser entering the first corner.

With quickly graining rear tyres, Michael soon came under pressure from the McLaren. A perfect combination of DRS and KERS on the start/finish straight allowed Hamilton to out-brake and squeeze past the Mercedes at Snt Devote on Lap 10. Rubens Barrichello made a move on his former teammate at Mirabeau a lap later.

Schumacher pitted in response, and changed his front wing as a precaution after his contact with Hamilton at the start. Rosberg in 5th began to hold up a train of cars behind him. Massa tried a move up the hill after Snt Devote, but clipped his front wing. Despite this, he muscled past Nico at Tabac, and Pastor Maldonado promptly followed him through.

Jenson Button was the first frontrunner to pit on Lap 16, putting on another set of super softs, in contrast to the expected 1 or 2-stop strategies. 4 seconds up the road, Vettel replied to McLaren a lap later, but disaster struck the Red Bull team. One of the tyre blankets for Vettel’s tyres was stuck on, losing precious time. Webber followed Vettel in, and lost massive amounts of time stuck behind his teammate.

New race leader Alonso stopped a lap later, and emerged in 3rd, while Button took over the lead of the Grand Prix. Interestingly, this marked the 10,000th lap led by a McLaren in Formula 1.

An impressive ascent through the field left Hamilton chasing Petrvov for 6th. He pitted on Lap 24 for super softs. However, the same mistake befell Lewis, as his mechanics weren’t ready for him, leading to a 10 second stop.

Paul di Resta was 14th after his first stop. He dived down the inside of Jaime Alguersuari at Casino, but knocked off his front wing off the Williams at the exit of the corner. He pitted for repairs, but the wrath of the stewards soon handed him a drive-through penalty as an afterthought.

Timo Glock retired on Lap 33 with suspension damage. He stopped on track, and as a precaution for a possible safety car, Button and Barrichello pitted.

A frustrated Lewis Hamilton tried a move on Massa at Casino, but replicated Di Resta’s move, and caused damage to both cars. They both continued, but Hamilton pushed Massa aside in the tunnel, and the Ferrari slammed into the barriers, causing the first safety car appearance of 2011. At the same moment, Michael Schumacher retired just after La Rascasse with an engine problem.

The safety car had caused huge problems for Button, who still had to stop again, and now had a large group of cars in between him and Vettel. As expected, the investigation into the Hamilton-Massa incident began, leading to a drive-through penalty for Hamilton. He pitted that lap, and emerged in 9th place.

Vettel was swiftly reeled in by Button after he dispatched of the backmarkers. Sebastian’s engineer instructed him to try and hold up Jenson for as long as possisble, to wear out his super-soft tyres.

Jenson opted to change his strategy, and pitted on Lap 49 for his compulsory set of soft tyres. He rejoined 3rd, behind Alonso, and 19 seconds off Vettel. He surprised everyone by setting the fastest lap of the race, only a lap after his out lap.

The McLaren was now 2 seconds a lap faster than the Red Bull, but strangely Vettel didn’t pit yet. The strategists soon realised Sebastian was staying out, and so the top 3 cars began to bunch extremely close up to each other. With 15 laps to go, Vettel’s heavily worn tyres had allowed himself to be reeled in by Alonso and Button, and so a fantastic battle developed.

Nose to tail, lap after lap, the top 3 drivers in the top 3 teams diced it out in the twisting street circuit. The tension was unbelievable, and it soon hit its limit. A massive train of backmarkers all went side-by-side into the swimming pool complex, leading to a series of crashes – right in front of the leaders. Vettel, Alonso and Button all threaded their way through the disaster zone, as the safety car was deployed again.

The replays showed the carnage – Sutil  Petrov had slammed into the barriers, while Alguersuari had run into the back of Lewis Hamilton, causing huge damage to the rear of the McLaren. The red flag was thrown with 6 laps to go, as an ambulance was deployed on track for Petrov, who was complaining of an injured back.

This gave McLaren time to replace the damaged rear wing of Hamilton. A safety car restart was promptly announced, while Petrov was taken to hospital for checks.

Unfortunately in the battle for the lead, the cars were allowed to be worked on, which allowed Vettel to change his tyres, and alleviate the risk behind from Alonso.

Soon afterwards, the safety car took the field around for one lap, and pitted. But, by the first corner, the yellow flags were already out. Lewis Hamilton, desperate to leap up to 6th, moved his car into a gap left by Pastor Maldonado. The two collided at Snt Devote, leaving the Williams driver point-less once again, and Hamilton in risk of another penalty.

Mark Webber kept the pressure on Kamui Kobayashi for 4th, and forced the Sauber wide at the Nouvelle chicane, leaving the Red Bull the position.

Fernando was unable to beat Vettel on new tyres, and the Red Bull driver hauled his way to another race win. Button rued his second pit stop call, while Webber was 4th, and Kobayashi held off Hamilton for 5th. Adrian Sutil and Nick Heidfeld collected some handy points, while Rubens Barrichello and Sebastien Buemi completed the top 10.

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