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Sunday, May 22, 2005

Notes from Monaco

What? The race at Monte Carlo a procession you say? No overtaking what? Pah.This weekend's Monaco Grand Prix must have been the best in years. Incidents, accidents and wild overtaking manuvers.

The procession did happen at the first third of the race. Fernando Alonso keeping in touch with Raikkonen, not allowing the Finn to run away with it as he did at Barcelona. Giancarlo Fisichella made a great start to leapfrog ahead of the Williams of Mark Webber. Mark made an absolutely horrid start by contrast and found himself behind Jarno Trulli.

And situation remained until an incident with a spinning Freisacher at Mirabeau caused an accident involving Coulthard, Michael Schumacher which delayed the Saubers of Massa and Villeneuve, Barrichello and Montoya. In trying to avoid Freisacher, Michael ran into the back of a slowing Red Bull of Coulthard. Coulthard's machine damaged beyond repair and Michael into the pits for a new nose cone.

This brought out the safety car and thats when the fun started. The Renaults decided to pit for fuel. Both cars were fueled for the race. Fisichella pitting at the same time as Alonso and was therefore incredibly delayed in the pits losing loads of places. Furthermore, the safety car period lasted for a few laps starting on lap 25. In a 78 lap race, the Renaults were carrying lots and lots of fuel. This was probably to their detriment towards the end of the race.

Jarno Trulli got himself into second after the end of the safety car period. He was not really on the pace today and therefore once the safety car period came into the pits, Kimi in the lead simply drove away again. Trulli in the meantime helped the Finn by holding everyone else up. Behind Trulli, Alonso was being dropped. His car absolutely brimming with fuel.

The McLaren team suspected that the Renaults were fueled to the end and told Kimi to simply go for it. Which he did, pulling a thirty second lead over Alonso. Trulli was always going to come into the pits again, so they were not worried about him.

In came Trulli into the pits. And after that Kimi dropped in as well. Kimi left the pits still in the lead.

After all the pitstops were sorted out, Trulli found himself behind Fisichella. Montoya behind Trulli. His teammate Ralf behind the McLaren ahead of two Saubers ahead of two Ferraris in beautiful train of cars duking it out for 5th position.

A chain of events then started. Montoya, obviously in a very rapid McLaren was all over Trulli. Trulli, I suppose getting nervous what with the Renault getting ever slower launched himself directly into the apex of the Loews hairpin. This startled Fisichella and forced him to take avoiding action. Trulli went past. So did Montoya and the Saubers. In the following few corners so did the Ferraris.

In the words of Martin Brundle, the whole pack simply hung Fisichella out to dry. However, that move cost Trulli and Montoya was able to take him at the end of the tunnel. Trulli's tyre being damaged in his space shuttle launch.

That someone dared to overtake in Monte Carlo probably inspired one ex world champion Jacques Villeneuve. So, JV decided to take his teammate going into Sainte Devote. He left his braking to bloody late however and found himself locking up all the way into the tyre barrier at Sainte Devote. Massa with no room to turn had to turn into the escape road. This let the Ferraris through and they set about catching Ralf Schumacher, and had a good scrap with the Toyota.

Peter Sauber will no doubt once again be crossed with JV. His antic probably cost them some good valuable points.

In the meantime, up the road, Alonso, like his teammate was really struggling. I have a feeling the heavy fuel loads on the Renault must have led to both of them using up their tyres at an astronomical rate. At two thirds distance the tyres on the Renault had already lost two of its inside rear grooves. Not a good sign for the French team.

The two Williams behind Alonso were simply all over him. Alonso in fact made a mistake at the swimming pool complex and nearly lost it. But both the Willimas had pitstops to do. Nick Heidfeld came into the pits first. This worked to his advantage because it allowed him an extra clear lap. His teammate still stuck behind Alonso's Renault, came in a lap later and got out behind Nick. That must have been heartbreak for Webber but was great news for Nick who now was in a podium position, outshining his much fancied teammate yet again.

Both the Williams caught Alonso again in absolutely no time at all, the Renault's tyres deteriorating by the second. Some 15 laps remained by the time the two Williams got back behind Alonso's exhausts. Nick Heidfeld getting absolutely racy. In the end he took his chances. Up ahead of Alonso, Jarno Trulli in a damaged Toyota was still circulating and they all were coming up to lap him. Perhaps Alonso was watching the Toyota ahead of him too closely and coming out of the tunnel Nick Heidfeld simply nailed him under braking into the Nouvelle chicane.

The German now set off into the distance, with second surely in his grasp. Behind him, it was Mark Webber's turn. The Australian was in no mood to be outdone by his German teammate. A ding dong battle ensued. Now, we've seen this before this season, at Imola, when Alonso defended his lead against Michael Schumacher.

But where Michael failed, Mark Webber showed a fierce determination to get by. Webber, just like Heidfeld followed the Renault closely in the tunnel and planned to get him under braking. However, Alonso made life more difficult for Mark. He overshot and bounced on the kerbs on the Nouvelle chicane. Alonso meanwhile, decided to take advantage and just straight lined the chicane and retook his position in a move that was probably illegal.

Mark however, wasn't about to give up and went for it again at the same spot. Again, he missed the turning in point and bounced on the chicane. Now, Fernando, despite clearly being able to make the chicane, decided to straight line it. However, his rear tyres now shot suffered massive wheelspin and Mark Webber with BMW power and much superior traction, managed to outdrag the Spaniard into Tabac.

Alonso decided to let Mark go. Behind him, Montoya in clear air, closed in rapidly up behind the Renault. At the end of the race, the Colombian was simply right behind the Renault. One more lap and I have no doubt that Montoya would have been past.

Behind them, Michael Schumacher managed to get by Rubens Barrichello going into Nouvelle. It looked a little easy. Did Barrichello once again simply surrendered his dignity and race position?

Well, whatever it was, that gentlemen is how we do that. Kimi Raikkonen winning two on the trot after his third straight pole position. Alonso finished in fourth position, his worst finish yet this season. Nevertheless, Fernando still managed to get 3 points. But crucially, Kimi was able to close up 5 points to the Spaniard. The gap between the two men now 22 points in the championship. The Flying Finn can still win this year's title yet.

Both of them dropped the bookies third favourite championship contender Schumacher again this weekend, thus firmly further away from contention. Schumacher managed to collect just 2 points in this race. Kimi now moves up into second in the standings.

Next up is the Nurburgring, where Raikkonen has managed to do extremely well in the past. Recall year 2003 where he simply dominated before an accursed Mercedes engine gave up on him. Fast circuit or slow, this year's McLaren is simply in a class on its own. It uses its tyres well. Kimi's tyres on parc ferme looking good at the end of the race. I have no doubt that Kimi can go even faster than he did today and at Barcelona but he simply doesn't need to.

But Fernando Alonso and Renault does have work to do. They are clearly on the back foot right now. Williams, in the race at least is showing signs of catching up. The BARs will return in the next race as well. And you can never discount the Ferraris, at least during the race.

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