Before 2012 there had never been six different winners in the first six races of an Formula One season, but the Monaco Grand Prix always looked like the day that record would be broken -- with Mark Webber on pole, Lewis Hamilton third, and prowling down in sixth, seventh and eighth: Michael Schumacher, Felipe Massa and Kimi Raikkonen. All five had a shot at making this season statistically unique.
In the end, it was Webber who sealed the deal. He consolidated pole by reaching the first corner in front and never looking back. Although the first six cars crossed the finish line nose-to-tail, this was rather more exciting than the traditional Monaco procession.
The drama started on the first lap. Romain Grosjean did not get his Lotus off the line well and was swamped by Fernando Alonso on the inside and Schumacher outside. He touched Alonso, then banged wheels with Schumacher. The rear left wheel of the Lotus was damaged, and the car spun.
Kamui Kobayashi’s Sauber then hit the spinning Lotus. Both retired, as did Pedro de la Rosa and Pastor Maldonado, who tangled at the back of the field. The safety car came out, as it had in most of the support races this weekend.
The order behind the safety car and throughout the first stint was Webber leading from Nico Rosberg, Hamilton, Alonso, Massa, Sebastian Vettel – who took advantage of the start line confusion to jump up into sixth from ninth on the grid – Raikkonen, Schumacher, Nico Hulkenberg and Bruno Senna. The variable in play was that Vettel, like Button and di Resta down the order, was on the soft tires; the others were using the supersofts.
Rosberg was the first to ditch the supersofts, stopping on lap 27. Webber followed two laps later and returned to the fray comfortably in front of him.
Vettel, who wasn’t stopping any time soon, led the race and began to put in a series of fast laps. His hope would have been to build up a cushion of over 20 seconds to be able to stop and retain his lead, but Webber began to pace himself against his teammate and Vettel’s lead never got above 18 seconds. Finally it began to decrease as his tires went away: he pitted on lap 46 and emerged in fourth, having made a net gain of two places at the expense of Hamilton and Massa.
“Obviously Seb was in the groove and underway and he was doing some very quick lap times in that part of the grand prix," said Webber after the race. "And it was hard for us to get going, so I had to keep an eye on the Sebastian gap but also manage the tires. So when Seb pitted, then I could revert my concentration back to Nico [Rosberg]. It was pretty good after that."
The threat of rain came and went -- with only a few drops on the track -- and Webber took victory, pushed across the line by Rosberg, Alonso, Vettel, Hamilton and Massa.
“It was a very, very special victory today, and hopefully there’s more to come,” said a jubilant Webber, the 11th man to become a multiple winner of Formula One’s most famous race. “The start was key, the pitstop was key, both of them went well. I did a little bit of work in between and we got an incredible victory that I’m very, very happy with. It’s great memories for me to win here twice, fair and square off the pole positions. Nico kept me honest. I had him under control but he drove well."
Red Bull Racing had a fine day pulling out a big lead on McLaren, and now lead that competition by 38 points, with 146 to McLaren’s 108. And while Fernando Alonso now leads the drivers’ championship on 76 points, he’s closely followed by Vettel and Webber on 73 each.
Vettel’s disappointment after the race was tempered with a lot of realism. “It would have been nice to have been on the podium today," he said. "I think the speed was there, but in the end we had the same strategy as the leaders, just the other way round – but we started ninth and considering it’s hard to pass here, then to gain five places was a good day. It’s definitely good for Mark to win here and also for the team to get their third Monaco win in a row – it’s impressive.”