27 May 2007
Monaco 2007: McLaren celebrate 150 not out.
Fernando Alonso delivered McLaren's 150th grand prix triumph around the streets of Monaco today, as the Silver Arrows utterly destroyed the opposition to lay down an ominous marker for the remainder of the campaign.
After leaving their rivals trailing in their wake for the majority of the weekend, there seemed little doubt this race would turn into a McLaren-Mercedes demonstration as soon as the lights went out, and so it was to prove. But if it was a demonstration, dull it most certainly was not.
As the rain that had threatened for much of Saturday held off on race day, one more variable was removed from the equation, and with McLaren having locked out the front row in qualifying and Kimi Raikkonen's costly smash in Q2, Ferrari knew it was going to have its work cut out if it was to prevent the silver steamroller from walking away with proceedings in the race.
As the lights went out, though, Lewis Hamilton was taking no chances, immediately cutting across to prevent any attack from Felipe Massa behind, and allowing team-mate Alonso to safely maintain his pole position advantage as the two McLarens negotiated Ste Dévote for the first time line-astern. Behind them Massa held third place, with Giancarlo Fisichella also retaining his grid spot in fourth. Nick Heidfeld in the BMW-Sauber made up for a disappointing qualifying performance to nip past Nico Rosberg and Mark Webber into fifth, with Honda's Rubens Barrichello also displacing the Australian to run eighth.
By the end of the opening lap alone, it was already looking like turning into very much a McLaren-Mercedes benefit, as Massa dropped away in third and Fisichella held a similar advantage over Heidfeld and Rosberg behind. Indeed, such was the McLarens' searing pace right from the word go, Heidfeld in sixth place was a full five seconds adrift after just one lap.
The first major drama of the race came as early as lap two, when Tonio Liuzzi – one of the stars of qualifying in placing his Scuderia Toro Rosso machine 12th on the grid – undid all his good work of the weekend by planting his STR-2 in the barriers at Massenet while under pressure from fast-starting team-mate Scott Speed, already up four spots from his 18th grid position.
As the race began to settle down a little, Alonso held a steady one second gap over Hamilton, with Massa a further three seconds in arrears. Further back, Heidfeld was continuing to stave off the advances of a racy-looking Rosberg, while queues were beginning to form up behind both Hondas, as Webber and Kubica started putting the pressure on Barrichello and Jenson Button found his mirrors full of Raikkonen's Ferrari. Equally intriguingly, a few spots further back was to be found David Coulthard holding up Heikki Kovalainen – not for the first time this weekend – as the two subjects of Saturday's controversial qualifying incident looked set to turn it into seconds out, round two.
As the laps slowly ticked away, Alonso began to stamp his authority on proceedings by eking out a gap over his chasing team-mate, with Massa holding a watching brief back in third. Meanwhile, we still had the unfamiliar sight of a Honda leading a Ferrari in 2007 as Raikkonen found himself unable to make any impression on the earth-themed car ahead of him around the most difficult circuit on which to overtake of them all.
Ten laps in, and the gap between the leading two stood at four seconds. Whatever McLaren team principal Ron Dennis may have claimed afterwards about his two drivers 'cruising' from there on in, the on-track evidence suggested rather differently, as no quarter was asked and none was given. Indeed, the more Alonso extended his lead, the more wayward Hamilton's MP4-22 seemed to get as he doggedly gave chase, and there was many a heart-in-the-mouth moment as Lewis slid the car around the corners mere millimetres away from kissing the barriers, something that at Monaco can invariably spell instant disaster.
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