2011 Monaco Grand Prix is as tight as it gets [spoilers]

2011 Monaco Grand Prix - Click above for high-res image gallery

The funny thing about speed is that it's relative, at least in a cognitive sense. Sure, you can measure the pace at which a moving object travels over ground, water, air, or even space. But place a Formula One race car on a wide-open track-say, Turkey's Istanbul Park, for example-and it doesn't look or feel like it's going nearly as fast as the same car does along the tight, winding streets of Monte Carlo. That's what makes the Monaco Grand Prix so exciting. This year's especially, packed as it was with nail-biting action. Follow the jump to read how it went down.

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After the practice sessions were done, Saturday's qualifying rounds held their own share of action. After qualifying an impressive tenth place on the grid, rookie Sergio Perez crashed his Sauber-Ferrari during the third and final session. After careening sideways into a safety barrier at the end of the high-speed straight, he came away with a concussion and bruised leg – thankfully nothing more serious. Doctors kept him in the hospital for observation, leaving his slot on the starting grid vacant and bumping every driver below him up a spot.

Lewis Hamilton was penalized down to tenth position for illegally cutting a chicane, then bumped back up to ninth after the Perez shunt. Pole position, as usual, went to Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel, who lined up in front of teammate Mark Webber in third. Between them, McLaren's Jenson Button started in second. Fourth place went to Fernando Alonso (who had showed considerable pace in the practice sessions), then Mercedes GP's Michael Schumacher in fifth, Ferrari's Felipe Massa (sixth), Mercedes' Nico Rosberg (seventh), Williams' Pastor Maldonado (eighth), the aforementioned Hamilton (ninth) and Renault's Vitaly Petrov (tenth).

2011 Monaco GP

The remaining slots were filled by Barrichello (Williams), Kobayashi (Sauber), di Resta and Sutil (Force India), Heidfeld (Renault), Buemi (STR), Kovalainen and Trulli (Lotus), Alguersuari (STR), Glock and d'Ambrosio (Virgin), Karthikeyan and Liuzzi (HRT).

With the formation lap successfully completed without incident, Vettel made a strong start off the line to fortify his lead. Button followed in hot pursuit, while Alonso squeezed past Webber for third. Rosberg jumped up a couple of positions while Schumacher dropped, subsequently re-taking Hamilton in the famously tight hairpin. It would take another ten laps for the young Brit to pass Schumacher.

Following Hamilton's pass on Schumacher, Barrichello pulled the same on lap 12, sending the seven-time world champion into the pits and dropping him way down to 21st out of 23 cars running. On the next lap, Massa incurred minor damage to his front wing brushing up against Rosberg, but the damage hardly cost him time in the ensuing laps. By lap 15, race leader Vettel was already lapping back-markers.

When first round of pit stops started, Button ducked in from second to rejoin in fourth, and Rosberg dropped from seventh way down to 18th after his stop. Vettel and Webber suffered from prolonged pit stops in the Red Bull box, the leader dropping to second and his teammate tumbling from fourth to fourteenth. Alonso then pitted from the lead to rejoin third behind Button and Vettel.

2011 Monaco GP

By lap 20, Maldonado was under pressure from Petrov and Hamilton in positions 5 through 7, as Williams' rookie driver clearly wasn't up to the pace of the pursuing Renault and McLaren. With so few passing opportunities on the streets of Monte Carlo, however, he was still holding them at bay. Hamilton then caught his pit crew off-guard with a surprise stop that dropped him from seventh to fifteenth.

Button was still in the lead at lap 32, over thirteen seconds ahead of Vettel with Alonso. Barrichello, Kobayashi, Sutil, Heidfeld and Buemi, none of whom had pitted yet, chased in positions four through eight. Webber, Massa, Hamilton, Maldonado, Petrov, Schumacher and Rosberg, all having stopped, followed in places nine through fifteen. The rest of the field was still in the running.

That changed a lap later, as Glock was the first to retire, parking his Virgin-Cosworth at the side of the track on lap 33. Barrichello then pitted from fourth to rejoin down in thirteenth, and Button made his second stop, dropping from the lead to third place.

Back around that famous hairpin, Hamilton tried to pass Massa but ended up colliding. The McLaren driver complained over the radio that the Ferrari had shut the door on him on purpose, but a subsequent stewards' investigation placed Hamilton at fault and hit him with a drive-through penalty. That would be of little consolation to Massa, who hit the barrier in the tunnel, ending his race. Schumacher was next to retire, his Mercedes petering out in the middle of the track.

2011 Monaco Grand Prix

The commotion resulted in the deployment of the safety car for the first time this season, at which point the parade regrouped with Vettel in the lead, Button in second, Alonso in third. It took another four trips 'round the city before the safety car was withdrawn on lap 39. Nine laps later, Sutil, Kobayashi and Webber were still in a tight race for places four through six. Button and Hamilton followed one after the other into the McLaren pit box, the former dropping from second to third and the latter keeping his ninth position.

By lap 59, Alonso had closed in tight on the back of leader Vettel's RB6, looking for his opportunity to pass as Button closed in, forming a tight three-way battle.

Kobayashi pulled a kamikaze pass on Sutil on lap 66, but the real commotion came on lap 69. As the frontrunners came up on heavy lapped traffic, Sutil collided with the wall, and Alguersuari, trying to evade the out-of-control Force India car, ran up Hamilton's tail. Alguersuari and Petrov were taken out in one fell swoop. The safety car came out under a red flag to stop the race for the first time in years.

Around 15 minutes later, the action resumed under the safety car for lap 73 of 78. The green flag waved at lap 74, and soon thereafter, Hamilton put Maldonado into the wall. The second crash caused by Hamilton was still under investigation as we went to press. The yellow flag went out once again (but with no safety car) and was soon withdrawn.

Two laps later, Vettel, Alonso and Button were already some 20 seconds ahead of Kobayashi in fourth. The Sauber driver then appeared to have let Webber by after a trackside official mistakenly waved a blue flag to indicate Kobayashi should move over, apparently thinking the two were on separate laps.

The close-fought battle at the front drew to a close two laps later. Alonso and Button were unable to get past Vettel now that all three drivers were on fresh tires in one of the most down-to-the-wire ends to a race in recent memory.

2011 Monaco GP

As the three champions took their spots on the podium beside Prince Albert, Webber came in fourth, Kobayashi fifth, Hamilton sixth, Sutil seventh, Heidfeld eighth, Barrichello ninth and Buemi tenth with the last point. Rosberg, di Resta, Trulli, Kovalainen, d'Ambrosio, Liuzzi, Karthikeyan all finished outside the points. Having made it the bulk of the race distance, Maldonado was also deemed to have completed, but Petrov, Alguersuari, Massa, Schumacher, Glock and Perez were all not classified.

2011 Monaco GP

The results of the chaotic race further propel Vettel's and Red Bull's lead in the championship with 143 and 222 points respectively, Hamilton and McLaren in second with 85 and 161. Their teammates Webber and Button follow in third and fourth, Alonso and Ferrari behind them in the standings. The circus heads to Montreal for the Canadian Grand Prix in two weeks.

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