Monaco GPR Race Recap: Rosberg wins SC paused, red flagged, processional, dicey GP

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Nico Rosberg took a decisive win for the 2013 Grand Prix of Monaco, a race paused and stopped by two Safety Car periods and a Red Flag. While tyre strategy originally looked to be the only way to gain position, the late stoppage allowed teams to attempt the final thirty laps without changing tyres.

Mercedes seemed ready to put its tyre degradation issues behind it after a Pirelli designated test, despite official protests from Red Bull and Ferrari. Sebastian Vettel finished second, a position he held after pit stops under the first SC, with Mark Webber completing the podium. Lewis Hamilton spent much of the race looking racy behind Webber after slightly botched strategy allowed the Red Bulls to separate the Mercedes drivers. Adrian Sutil rounded out the top five, using his time around the hairpin to pass most drivers in front of him.

Charles Pic retired first, stopping his Caterham in the pit entry as the engine caught fire. He got out quickly, and the marshals were able to extinguish the fire and clear the blocked pit entry. Felipe Massa retired second, nearing halfway, after repeating his St. Devote crash from Saturday and hitting the tyre barrier heavily, bringing out the first Safety Car of the 2013 season. Monaco continued to cause firsts, as a red flag stopped the race with just over thirty laps to go, as Max Chilton attempted to pass Pastor Maldonado, came back over too soon, and forced the Venezuelan into Armco and straight on at Tabac. Marshals had to reattach some air fence, so the race was stopped. Chilton received a drive-through penalty for causing the collision.

Romain Grosjean and Daniel Ricciardo forced the second SC as the former ran into the back of the latter coming out of the tunnel. Ricciardo became momentarily airborne and both went straight on through the chicane. There were numerous other more minor incidents as drivers attempted to push their cars into smaller spaces than they required.

Rosberg (1:13.876) won pole during one of the most traffic-filled qualifying sessions of the season on Saturday. While Monaco is known for its short lap and lack of passing room, Saturday’s passing rain showers ensured that most of the field lapped during most of qualifying. Only Massa did not participate, after damaging his Ferrari in FP3. The crew was unable to repair the car in time to set a time in Q1. Grosjean also suffered from FP3 woes, but his Lotus mechanics gave him just enough time to get out, and he qualified thirteenth.

Hamilton qualified alongside his teammate, just unable to match the German’s pace. Nor could Vettel or Webber do so, though either looked ready to steal pole until the final moments of Q3. Raikkonen and Alonso rounded out the third row of starters. Though Red Bull seemed ready to dominate last season at Monaco, after qualifying the team looked able only to capitalize on Mercedes’ rapid deterioration in race pace in the hunt for a fourth straight victory along the Mediterranean.

Some of the heaviest running of 2013 happened in Q2, with teams making late calls to switch to slicks from inters as the circuit dried. Alonso stopped twice in the final minutes, having to return to the garage for slicks without completing his hot lap after changing to a new set of inters. Di Resta fell afoul of a bad call in Q1, managing only seventeenth on used inters.

Rosberg led all three practices, with Alonso, Hamilton, Grosjean, Massa, and Webber joining him in the top five at the end of the various sessions. Despite Monaco’s typically crashy sessions, only there were no incidents in FP1 on Thursday morning, and only Grosjean crashed in FP2 Thursday afternoon.

Most of the damage occurred Saturday morning, the least advantageous time to that point for the teams. Grosjean crashed, Massa, crashed, and Sutil crashed. The former two did so at Sainte Devote, while the latter crashed at Massenet. Still, many drivers took regular advantage of the escape area at St. Devote while even more came close to skimming the barriers.

After his issues in qualifying, Marussia changed Bianchi’s engine before the race. It did not help, as he could not start the formation lap and was pushed off to pit lane. The sun shone brightly Sunday morning, with a tightly packed and celebrity filled grid causing what seemed to be a bit of claustrophobia from Vettel. Button complained of a lot of clutch slip on the formation lap.

Race Start:
Rosberg started neatly, with Hamilton already pointing at his teammate in his grid slot. Hamilton pushed, but could not take the lead. He fought off Vettel, who had first attempted to squeeze past Rosberg, to keep second, though Vettel continued to look for any way past the Mercedes. Sutil tapped Button’s rear at the hairpin and took part of his own front wing. Button cut the chicane fighting with Perez. Rosberg led at the end of L1, with Hamilton, Vettel, Webber, Raikkonen, Alonso, Perez, Button, Sutil, and Vergne the top ten. Vettel continued to push Hamilton, but the Briton kept blocking his progress.

Maldonado and van der Garde both pitted on L1. A bit of car sat just barely off the racing line at the chicane, with yellows waving. Meanwhile, Button continued to complain of Perez’s tactics, saying that the latter “keeps turning on me.” He added, “I know we’re teammates, but he cut the chicane to keep position.” Replays showed Perez trying quite hard to pass his teammate, forcing both to take avoiding action a couple of times. Quickly, Monaco’s insistence on single-file racing imposed itself on the drivers. Even so, Mercedes told Rosberg to look after his tyres. So, too, did Red Bull to Webber, suggesting he maintain a two second gap.

On L9, Pic’s Caterham caught fire. He pulled off in the pit entry, blocking the entrance and forming a ball of smoke and extinguisher that covered the track momentarily. Di Resta had popped into the pits for a tyre change before Pic blocked the entrance

End L10:
The Safety Car was not deployed as the marshals worked quickly to clear pit in at the end of L10. Rosberg still led Hamilton, with Vettel, Weber, Raikkonen, Alonso, Button, Perez, Sutil, and Vergne the top ten. Rosberg had a second and a half on his teammate. Massa had quietly moved up to sixteenth, though Rob Smedley told him to “start thinking” about adding ten or fifteen laps to his target time to stop for fresh tyres. Button was in front of his teammate after McLaren told Perez to return the position from cutting the chicane.

With parts of the field stacking up neatly, pit stops promised to be a mad rush. Unlike previous rounds, most teams were expected to go for a one or two stop strategy. Meanwhile, Button had caught up Alonso by L15, lingering a half second behind his fellow former world champion. As L20 came and went, the front three found two seconds separating them, with Webber and Raikkonen just over a second apart. Alonso had decreased his gap to Raikkonen from over four seconds to almost three, while Button had slightly backed off the Spaniard.

Pit Stops Begin (L23):
Ricciardo pitted on L23, as did Bianchi, who had recently suffered a bit of damage from contact with Maldonado. Chilton stopped the next time ‘round. Red Bull released Webber, who set a race fast lap on L24, almost a second faster than his teammate just ahead on the same lap. Van der Garde pitted on L25, then so did Webber after his hot lap. Webber pitted from fourth, rejoining in eleventh, between Hulkenberg and Bottas.

In actually exciting passes, di Resta used DRS and fresh tyres to neatly sweep by Massa for fifteenth. Raikkonen and Button pitted on L27, then so did Massa. Raikkonen slotted in just behind Webber, with Button close behind. Hulkenberg pitted next, even as the Mercedes drivers calmly remained on track, but posting nearly matching lap times just under 1:20, then dropping their times again.

Alonso pitted on L29, dropping from fourth to eighth, and coming out just behind Raikkonen. Gutierrez pitted as well, while Mercedes looked as though they might soon begin preparing to pit. Perez, then Vergne pitted on L30.

Meanwhile, Massa crashed at St. Devote, directly into the tyre barriers. He looked to be lightly limping as marshals helped him across the tyre barrier, and was then put into a neck brace while sitting at the marshal stand. He had locked up, smashed the left front and side across the Armco, then slid sideways into the tyres in a mirror image of his Saturday crash. Vettel and Sutil pitted soon after the crash, with Bottas, Grosjean, and Maldonado following them in.

SC Restart/Halfway (L39):
The SC remained on track for quite some time, as we waited for the Medical Car to remove Massa to the medical center. On the restart, Rosberg got well enough away to keep Vettel behind. In fact, Rosberg soon had a clear gap back to his rival countryman. There seemed to be no overtaking, as drivers were incredible careful with each other through the hairpin. Alonso looked ready to pounce on Raikkonen, even as Hamilton worried Webber just ahead.

Alonso desperately tried an over under through the hairpin, looking for a bit more pace into the tunnel and through the chicane and for at way around Raikkonen. However, Hamilton made the bigger move on Webber, just shoving his way into the inside of Webber at Rascasse. They fought brilliantly with less than inches between them, but refrained from contact. Webber did not leave space at Rascasse on the next lap.

In the front, Rosberg had quickly made a gap over Vettel. In continued fighting, Alonso again looked for a way to gain line at Raikkonen at the hairpin, but went so wide that Button jostled him from the rear. Button would rue getting too close to Alonso, as it followed that Perez came alongside his teammate exiting the tunnel and dove to the inside and took seventh from Button through the chicane. He did not cut the chicane, but came close. Button radioed, asking the team if everything was ok with Perez’s move.

Perez attempted the same move on Alonso, leaving the Spaniard to take to the escape road to avoid collision. He maintained his position. Perez radioed to complain that Alonso cut the chicane to maintain position, while Alonso had quickly radioed that he had to avoid position.

Red Flag (L45):
Bianchi had pitted and remained in the garage just before a red flag came out to stop the race. Maldonado and Chilton came together, forcing Maldonado into the air and leaving him to go straight on at Tabac. As he ran into the air fence, it wrapped itself around his Williams. Chilton came over too early on Maldonado while attempting to pass him, pushing the Venezuelan into the Armco and forcing him straight on. Maldonado hopped out of his car and appeared unhurt.

Under Red Flag, teams were able to change tyres as the cars re-gridded. Rosberg led Vettel, Webber, Hamilton, Raikkonen, Alonso, Perez, Button, Sutil, and Vergne as the top ten. Di Resta, Hulkenberg, Ricciardo, Grosjean, Bottas, Gutierrez, Chilton, and van der Garde completed the running order.

However, the order might have been a bit fluid as Martin Whitmarsh indicated that the FIA had told Alonso to give Perez the sixth position they had been fighting over. Alonso walked over to shake Perez’s hand whilst they waited for the restart on the grid. Various radio transmissions indicated that that Alonso could return the position on the restart, though Ferrari clearly planned to spend the ten minutes before the restart arguing the outcome. The stewards would remain busy, as they investigated the Chilton/Maldonado incident.

Restart (31 Laps Remaining):
The race restarted under the SC after a formation lap. Only Raikkonen and Hulkenberg restarted on the soft (harder) tyre. Alonso gave Perez sixth position behind the SC. Rosberg repeated his first restart success, leaving Vettel nowhere to go but stay behind him. The field made it safely through the hairpin, with Hamilton again looked for a way around Webber. Alonso also dodged around behind Perez. The stewards, meanwhile, gave Chilton a drive-through penalty for causing a collision. He served it immediately.

Rosberg soon had more than a second on Vettel, who seemed to have a train of cars stacked behind him, all separated by less than a second between them. Hamilton attempted to pass Webber, or at least looked for an opportunity to do so at nearly every turn. Sutil managed to actually pass another driver, coming from well behind through the hairpin on Button, nearly causing contact, but forcing his way through to take eighth. Perez forced another driver to take evasive action at the chicane, with both cutting the corner as the former hip checked the latter.

Rosberg had two seconds lead over Vettel with twenty five laps to go. The next twelve drives each had less than a second between each other. Sutil in particular looked ready to pass Alonso, going wide around the rear of the Spaniard at the hairpin. He remained behind for another lap. On the next lap, though, Sutil repeated his move on Button on Alonso, who had drifted wide, moving up to seventh. That move put him directly behind Perez, leaving the two diciest drivers on the circuit to fight each other with twenty laps to go.

20 Laps Remaining:
Rosberg had gained more time over Vettel with twenty to go, giving himself more than three seconds cushion. Marshals began waving more yellows, and Race control disabled DRS as Bianchi crashed at St. Devote, locking up into the turn and sliding into the barrier. He did not hit the Armco as Massa did, but he did make use of the tyre barrier.

Second Safety Car (L62):
Meanwhile, Grosjean and Ricciardo came together coming out of the tunnel, as Grosjean ran into the back of Ricciardo, then they remained together and went straight on at the Nouvelle Chicane. Grosjean radioed that Ricciardo had braked too early. For a moment, Grosjean was slightly wedged under Ricciardo’s rear and forced the Australian into the air. Grosjean pitted for a new front wing, but would retire on the next lap too damaged to continue. The stewards would investigate the incident. Under the SC, Gutierrez and Chilton pitted. Lotus also radioed Raikkonen that his engine coolant system is purging coolant “because it is getting too hot.”

Restart/11 Laps Remaining:
Rosberg managed a third perfect restart over Vettel. Further back, Hamilton was not a racy as earlier behind Webber, but his replacement at McLaren was all over the back of Raikkonen, with Sutil looking for a way through on Perez just behind. Rosberg had nearly a two second cushion on Vettel with ten laps to go.

Perez and Raikkonen remained locked together, Raikkonen leaving no room for Perez against the barriers out of the tunnel and into the chicane. Perez bumped into the Armco and lost large chunks of his front wing. That left Raikkonen with a puncture, forced him into a pit stop, and dropped him to sixteenth. Meanwhile, Button dropped Alonso with a pushy move at Rascasse as Alonso was distracted looking for a way through on Sutil.

Perez completely missed the chicane with five laps to go. Sutil passed Perez at Rascasse as the latter went well wide. Perez looked for a way to get back into line, nearly hit Button, then had to go off down and escape road. It ended his race, along with the likely damage he sustained in the clash with Raikkonen.

Meanwhile, Ferrari had begun offering explanations for Alsono’s poor pace just after the red flag restart. The team indicated that debris had become stuck in his front wing, but now that it had jostled free, his pace should improve in the final few laps. With two to go, Rosberg had increased his gap on Vettel to well over four seconds. Hamilton continued to worry Webber, who sat a second behind his Red Bull teammate in third. The field had begun to spread back out, though Vergne was close behind Alonso.

Vettel soon set off to catch Rosberg back up, gaining nearly two seconds in a single lap. With just one to go, it seemed far too late to regain the lead. Red Bull cautioned Vettel to not take any risks. Hamilton had backed off Webber, seemingly more content with fourth than he had been. In the end, Rosberg won after leading the timesheets for every practice and taking a decisive pole. Vettel and Webber gained good points for the championship in their Red Bull podiums. Raikkonen, who had dropped well back on his late stop, managed to take the final championship point in tenth.

Final Positions, 2013 Monaco Grand Prix:

1. Nico RosbergMercedes 1
2. Sebastian VettelRed Bull3.81
3. Mark WebberRed Bull6.31
4. Lewis HamiltonMercedes13.81
5. Adrian SutilForce India21.41
6. Jenson ButtonMcLaren23.11
7. Fernando AlonsoFerrari26.71
8. Jean-Eric VergneToro Rosso27.21
9. Paul di RestaForce India27.61
10. Kimi RaikkonenLotus36.52
11. Nico HulkenbergSauber42.51
12. Valtteri BottasWilliams42.61
13. Esteban GutierrezSauber43.22
14. Max ChiltonMarussia48.83
15. Giedo van der GardeCaterham62.53
 Sergio PerezMcLaren6 Laps1
 Romain grosjeanLotus15 Laps3
 Daniel RicciardoToro Rosso17 Laps1
 Jules BianchiMarussia20 Laps3
 Pastor MaldonadoWilliams34 Laps2
 Felipe MassaFerrari50 Laps1
 Charles PicCaterham70 Laps1


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