McLaren sparkles amidst Monaco monotony

27/05/2007
NEWS STORY

In recent weeks we've witnessed a number of reports in the British media claiming that Lewis Hamilton's meteoric progress in F1 has caused problems at McLaren, with The Times talking of "civil war" within the British team.

Ron Dennis has dismissed the gossip out of hand, and much has been made of the story that earlier this weekend he was seeking out his two young hot shots in order that they could accompany him to a sponsor meet and greet. He eventually found them hidden way, locked in battle on their Playstations.

Then again, this is a man who brought Ayrton Senna to his team to join Alain Prost, thereby creating one of the most legendary, albeit volatile, driver partnerships in the history of the sport.

The fact is that this afternoon, Ron Dennis and his protégés will be put to the ultimate test. Depending how things pan out McLaren can either achieve a unique victory here this afternoon or witness a disaster in the making, giving the media reason to argue that some of the more negative reporting in recent weeks was not as misguided and sensational as some believe.

Quite simply, McLaren can emerge later this afternoon as victors, adding another 18 points to its World Championship tally, or witness its two star drivers taking one another out at the first corner.

Although Monaco is a race usually won, or lost, at the first corner, it is essential that common sense and professionalism prevails, and that both Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton realise that the Monaco Grand Prix is all about seventy-eight laps, not one corner.

No doubt, Ron will be sitting down with his drivers warning them to curb their enthusiasm, temper their exuberance… for they can either emerge from this race as heroes or zeroes, and Ron's seen it all before.

We only 'lost' one car at the first corner in yesterday's GP2 race, and if these guys - who give exuberance a whole new meaning - can do it, so can the F1 boys.

Waiting to profit from any mistake by the McLaren duo will be Felipe Massa, who will be keen to take his third successive win, and at the same time further establish his standing at Ferrari.

Though we don't expect them to be challenging for the win, Fisichella, Rosberg and Webber should be in line for some decent points, especially if it all goes pear-shaped at the start. Let's not forget, Monaco has a long, long reputation for serving up freak results.

As for BMW, we're confused. Seventh and eighth is (relatively) disappointing, however, the German team doesn't appear to be making much of a fuss. Therefore, one wonder, is the Bavarian outfit taking a strategic gamble, after all, we've seen them take a few odd, but successful, risks in the previous four rounds.

Finally, there's Kimi Raikkonen, who will be keen to make up for yesterday's error. No doubt Ferrari has him on a good strategy which should see him challenging for points and possibly a podium position. But a win. We doubt it. Then again, this is Monaco.

We did see the safety car yesterday during the GP2 race, therefore it is not inconceivable that it could make an appearance again this afternoon. This in itself could throw the race on its head, particularly in light of the new rules, which will force teams to think long and hard about their strategy should the 'SC' boards be held out.

With twenty minutes to go, the sun is shining on some parts of the track, but there are plenty of clouds in the sky, particularly out over the Mediterranean, some of them looking quite threatening. There are still damp patches from earlier rain showers, indeed there is damp in the air.

With the cars lined up on the grid, the air temperature is 24 degrees C, while the track temperature is 34 degrees. Some drivers will be making one stop today, others two stops, but no more than that. The tyre options are soft and supersoft, the supersoft know to degrade quite quickly.

The majority of the drivers are starting on the harder compound - in other words the soft.

They head off on the parade lap, Alonso leading the field. Being such a short lap there's a mad scramble as crew members head back to the pitlane.

The grid forms…. The lights come on… then one by one they go out.

Hamilton tucks right in behind his teammate, the field piles through Ste Devote intact, just the two BMWs appearing to nudge one another.

At the end of the first lap it's Alonso, Hamilton, Massa, Fisichella, Heidfeld, Rosberg, Barrichello and Webber. Raikkonen is up to twelfth.

It's all over for Liuzzi who hits the barriers at Massenet, the Italian was running thirteenth at the time, behind Raikkonen. The yellow flags come out as the Toro Rosso is recovered.

Hamilton shadows the race leader as Massa heads a train of cars. Raikkonen is all over Button who is hustling Wurz.

On lap 4, Alonso posts a new fastest lap (16.787), extending his lead to 1.8s, with Massa a similar distance behind. Running last is Ralf Schumacher in the Toyota, Trulli is doing little better, running seventeenth.

Alonso continues to set a blistering pace, ass Michael Schumacher watches, the German showing little emotion. Fellow German Nick Heidfeld, on the supersoft compound, is under intense pressure from Nico Rosberg, who is having the race of his life.

As Alonso extends his lead to 2.9s, Hamilton up his pace, both McLarens lapping in the 1:16s. The first five are spread out, with the main traffic jam stuck behind seventh placed Barrichello.

After ten laps the order remains the same, Alonso, Hamilton, Massa, Fisichella, Heidfeld, Rosberg, Barrichello, Webber, Kubica and Wurz. Raikkonen is unable to get past Button in much the same way as Schumacher cannot get by Albers.

It's a supreme drive from Alonso who is now 4.9s clear of his teammate. Behind Fisichella, in fourth, there's a 16s gap to fifth placed Heidfeld, who is still under intense pressure from Rosberg.

Kovalainen is all over Coulthard, the Finn having an obvious score to settle following yesterday's qualifying.

The front four are running in the 1:17s, while the next nine cars are all running in the 1:19s.

Out front, Alonso appears to be enjoying a leisurely Sunday afternoon drive, as Hamilton remains over 7s behind, with Massa just 2.2s down the road. There's a gap of 10s to Fisichella then another 22s to Heidfeld.

In all honesty, even though there are a couple of 'battles' going on, this is incredibly boring, it's all too processional. And there's still 60 laps to go!!! What wee need is some rain, an unfrocked priest…. Anything to liven this up.

At the end of lap 19 Webber drives into the pits and into retirement, the Australian's day's work over. Back on track Hamilton posts a new fastest lap (16.374), his first of the race. The Englishman remains 6.7s behind his McLaren teammate.

The blue flags come out as Alonso attempts to get past a train of cars led by Jarno Trulli. The Spaniard gets by, but Hamilton loses precious time, before finally nailing the Toyota driver.

Alonso is on a blistering lap, getting the McLaren wonderfully sideways as he bangs in a new fastest lap (15.721). Hamilton hits back with a 16.085. Ron Dennis will be enjoying this, but he will be watching the situation carefully.

At the end of lap 23 Fisichella is the first of the front runner to pit, followed by Rosberg. The Italian rejoins behind Heidfeld.

As Alonso continues working his way through the field, first Kovalainen then Coulthard, Hamilton continues to apply the pressure, posting a string of fast laps. Massa has fallen to 9s behind the Englishman.

At the end of lap 25 Alonso pits, as does Massa, rejoining in second third, neither having lost position.

Hamilton, now 15s ahead of Alonso, goes quickest in the first sector. He's quickest again in the second, finally crossing the line at 15.372, a new fastest lap. However, Alonso keeps him honest, the Spaniard posting a 15.462, despite a heavy fuel load.

At the end of lap 28 Hamilton pits. After an 8.9s stop he rejoins the race in second, 4.8s down on his teammate.

Massa misses the chicane at the swimming pool, as Raikkonen continues in tenth, still stuck behind Jenson Button.

Behind the leading three, Heidfeld, who has yet to stop, is running fourth, ahead of Fisichella, Barrichello, Kubica, Wurz, Button and Raikkonen.

At the end of lap 32 Heidfeld finally pits, rejoining the race in eighth, the 'meat' in the Button/Raikkonen sandwich.

Davidson gets a drive through penalty having been adjudged as having ignored the blue flags. Meanwhile, Rosberg complains of a vibration at the rear, which the Williams crew suspect as being due to "wheel imbalance".

Button has shaken off Heidfeld, who is now under attack from Raikkonen. Meanwhile, at the end of lap 37 sixth placed Barrichello finally pits.

As Hamilton remains under 4s behind Alonso, Massa has fallen to more than 31s behind, the Ferrari driver appearing to have given up any hope of challenging for the win. He remains over 12s ahead of Fisichella.

Kubica, who has yet to stop, is up to fifth, ahead of Wurz and Button, who also have to stop.

At the end of lap 41 Button pits, rejoining in eleventh behind his teammate. Coulthard pits at the end of lap 43, the Scot complaining of a problem with his front wing, which is changed. Button, meanwhile, is on the harder compound, as he was in his first stint, which means he has to make another stop.

Alonso posts another fastest lap (15.284), as he extends his lead over Hamilton to 9s. Elsewhere, Wurz finally pits, as does Kovalainen, which leaves Kubica, Raikkonen, Speed, Trulli, Sutil and Schumacher as the only drivers yet to stop.

Kubica finally pits at the end of lap 45, rejoining in fifth ahead of his BMW teammate, who is still battling with Raikkonen. A strong drive from the Pole, who, with Fisichella possibly having to make another stop, could well finish fourth, as he did at Barcelona.

Kovalainen is told that he has to come in early as he has a puncture in his right rear having "brushed the barriers". Meanwhile, Raikkonen pits, as does Trulli.

After 50 laps: Alonso, Hamilton, Massa, Fisichella, Kubica, Heidfeld, Wurz, Barrichello, Button and Rosberg. Raikkonen is eleventh, ahead of Speed, Kovalainen, Coulthard, Schumacher, Sato, Trulli and Sutil.

Alonso pits, rejoining in second on the supersoft compound. Hamilton has a 12s lead over his McLaren teammate. Massa is third, 52s behind Alonso, while Fisichella is a further 23s behind.

Hamilton pits at the end of lap 52, rejoining the race 5s lap later in second. Barring a major upset, it looks as though the podium is already decided.

Massa makes his final stop at the end of lap 55, as Scott Speed complains that his brake pedal is "all the way to the floor". "OK mate, keep pushing," is the response. Meanwhile, it's all over for Sutil who thumps the barriers at Casino.

Hamilton has upped his pace, the Englishman now just 1.9s behind his teammate. Could McLaren be looking for a grandstand finish, even though there's almost another 20 laps to go?

The Spaniard loses another second to the Englishman as Ron Dennis watches from the back of the McLaren garage.

Only four cars running on the lead lap, with fourth placed Fisichella in imminent danger of being lapped by Alonso. Rosberg (twelfth) makes his second stop of the afternoon, which drops him further down the timesheets. However, there's consolation for Williams in the shape of Wurz who is looking comfortable in seventh.

At the end of lap 62, Button pits, finally fitting the softer compound. The late pits stops see Raikkonen move up to eighth, though he hasn't actually overtaken anyone on track.

That said, the Finn is now all over Wurz, the Ferrari driver currently the fastest man on track.

The McLaren continues to circulate just 2s apart, Hamilton making a couple of minor mistakes, the Englishman possibly finding it just as difficult to stay awake as the rest of us.

A minor mistake from Kubica at the hairpin, the Pole appearing to struggle for grip.

The BMW mechanics take their place in the pitlane suggesting that one of the drivers has to stop, but then they return to their garage again.

On lap 73, Alonso passes Fisichella, which means that the Spaniard has lapped everyone up to third placed Massa. Such is the pace of the McLarens. Elsewhere, Albers drives into the Spyker pit for the third time this afternoon, only this time he isn't leaving.

Speed is currently running ninth. Without wishing bad fortune on any of the drivers ahead of him, it would be good to see the American take something home following his performance here.

Alonso takes a convincing win, with Hamilton finishing just 4s behind. Today's result means that the two McLaren drivers are joint leaders of the World Championship.

Felipe Massa takes a distant third, ahead of Fisichella, Kubica, Heidfeld, Wurz, Raikkonen, Speed and Barrichello.

The McLarens were truly dominant here, but the overriding thought it what a monotonous race, with not one overtaking manoeuvre, other than the scramble at the first corner.

Renault will be delighted as much as Ferrari will be gutted, however, Monaco is a one-off and no doubt the Maranello will be up for the fight when battle resumes in north America in two weeks.

Great performances from Kubica and Wurz, while on a day that Renault has warned that its performance must improve, one wonders how Toyota must be feeling, as its drivers finish fifteenth and sixteenth.

A great performance form McLaren and its drivers, but won't it be good to get back to a proper race track, roll on Montreal.

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Published: 27/05/2007
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