Another race, another week of wondering whether the other Formula 1 teams would make enough progress to catch Brawn GP. Saturday's qualifying session for the Monaco Grand Prix looked pretty familiar, save for a sorely missed flash of red on the front row. This week's top three? Not surprisingly, Brawn's Jenson Button and Rubens Barrichello bracketing Ferrari's former champion, Kimi Raikkonen. Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel was fourth, with last year's runner-up, Felipe Massa fifth in the other Ferrari. Massa had shown the updated F60's potential by qualifying fourth last time out in Spain, but it was refreshing to see both Ferraris in the front three rows for a change. Would KERS help Kimi grab the lead going into turn one? Would Brawn show any chinks in its previously impervious armor? Would Vettel somehow get through to bring Red Bull its second victory of the season? Follow the jump to find out.
After returning to Europe last week, Formula 1 made its annual stop in Monte Carlo this weekend for the Monaco Grand Prix. The crown jewel on the F1 calendar, Monaco is the series' most prestigious event, attracting a worldwide who's who to the stands and harbor. A notoriously difficult track for passing, this street course is very unforgiving. Because the overtaking opportunities are few, drivers tend to make dramatic passing attempts with often catastrophic results. If they can't pull off the pass, the race comes down to starting position and pit strategy for the most part. That, and getting a good launch at the green flag.
While some thought Kimi might stand a chance at getting ahead of Button into the first turn, he ended up doing well to hold onto third as not only Rubens slipped past, but Vettel gave it a go too before Kimi managed to close the door on him. Running their first stints on the super-softs, the Brawns and Vettel should have been about even, but far too soon Vettel's Red Bull didn't seem to be making the most of those tires anymore. In less than 7 laps he was some three seconds off the pace.
Massa, Nico Rosberg and Heikki Kovalainen were all over him but couldn't seem to get by. Massa was pushing hard and eventually went a bit too far, cutting a chicane that would have resulted in a penalty if he hadn't allowed Vettel back through immediately. As Massa slowed to let Sebastien through, Rosberg seized the opportunity to shoot for daylight and slipped inside the Ferrari, too.
Rosberg kept charging, and by lap 10, he got past Vettel as well. Massa and Kovalainen got through soon after as Vettel's tires were shot. He was forced to pit, lest he fall further back through the running order. After getting fresh rubber, he began working to make up lost ground. Unfortunately, he pushed too hard and found the barriers at Sainte Devote.
That was about the time that the Brawns started to slow, as well. Button did a bit better at dealing with the increasingly poor handling of his car, however, and pulled away from his teammate. When the first stops were over, Jenson was some 15 seconds clear of Rubens. As slow as Rubens had been lapping, neither Ferrari managed to get past Barrichello during that first round of stops, but not for lack of trying.
Once they had switched to the harder tires, Barrichello managed to keep the gap between the Brawn cars pretty steady, but slowly growing over the rest of the field. Ferrari was now on the super-softs, and after a few laps started falling further behind the championship leaders. Despite slowing quite a bit at the end, the Scuderia still managed to keep ahead of the hard-charging Webber, who was by then having tire problems of his own. So it was another Brawn 1-2 in Monaco, with Ferrari an inspiring 3-4, and Webber in fifth.
Rosberg and Renault's Fernando Alonso managed to come home sixth and seventh, having gambled a bit on short middle stints with the soft tires. McLaren almost snagged seventh, but Kovalainen spun into the barriers at the Swimming Pool on lap 52.
Teammate and defending champion Lewis Hamilton wasn't able to make up too much ground, having started at the back of the field following an early spin in qualifying. He finished 12th, giving McLaren another disappointing finish in what had been hoped to be one of their best races this year. Jenson probably got a good look at Hamilton's Monaco-special, diamond-encrusted helmet as he once again lapped his countrymate late in the race.
Toro Rosso's Sebastien Bourdais and Force India's Giancarlo Fisichella went for one stop strategies, with Sebastien edging Fisi for the final point. To be honest, Force India had to be thrilled with ninth.
Had he not botched Mirabeau on the penultimate lap, Kazuki Nakajima would have snagged a top ten for Williams, instead handing it to Toyota's Timo Glock. Nick Heidfeld and Jarno Trulli bracketed Hamilton in 11th and 13th places respectively. Sutil got 14th with Nakajima was credited with 15th.
BMW's Robert Kubica dropped out after just 31 laps. That was still 20 laps better than Toro Rosso's Sebastien Buemi who ended the day for himself and Nelson Piquet Jr. when he ran up the rear of the Renault at Sainte Devote on lap 12.
The most exciting part of the race was probably the cut chicane by Massa or possibly when he was warned about cutting it again later in the race while running solo, trying to catch the Brawns. Kimi too. Our favorite moment, though, had to be when Button parked at parc ferme following the checkers, rather than at the podium, on the other side of the track. He leaped out and jogged half way around the course to accept his trophy. Yep, he jogged over a mile, after winning a 78-lap F1 race on a challenging street circuit. The show off.
Button now has 51 points in the drivers' championship, Barrichello 35, Vettel 23, and Webber 19.5. In the constructor's race, Brawn GP has as many points at 86 as the next three competitors combined. The good news for fans of the Old Guard is that McLaren and Ferrari appear to be very close to eclipsing second-best Red Bull, and they have their sights set on the newcomers. Next up: The Turkish GP on June 7.