25 May 2008
Monaco 2008: Lewis bounces Ta-bac.
Lewis Hamilton emulated his hero Ayrton Senna by winning the Monaco Grand Prix in tricky conditions, but had to thank an early brush with the barriers for the break which put him in position to win.
Once in front, not even a late safety car period could prevent the Briton from fulfilling what many believed to be his destiny, although it did provide a moment that helped reshape the look of the world championship.
Despite being out-gunned in qualifying by Ferrari, Hamilton immediately set about redressing the balance in his quest to show that McLaren deserved to be pre-race favourites by jumping a slow-starting Kimi Raikkonen to slot in between the two scarlet cars on the run to Ste Devote.
The first three, and the rest of the field, made it cleanly through, despite rain during the build-up making the track greasy and tyre choice fraught, but the incidents began at the hairpin, with Fernando Alonso being tapped by Nico Rosberg. The German thus began a procession of drivers heading for the pits over the opening laps, his Williams requiring a new wing. Jenson Button followed suit, having collected Nick Heidfeld at the Swimming Pool, while Timo Glock had to complete an entire lap before making his call fourth time around after an error at Antony Noghes.
The leaders were taking full advantage of their clear track, lapping anything up to ten seconds faster than those mired in the seething midfield, but were about to lose one of their number, as Hamilton clanged the barriers on the exit of Tabac.
The Briton had run slightly too deep into the quick left-hander, running wide and clipping the armco with his right rear wheel. The impact was enough to dislodge the tyre from the rim, but not, apparently, sufficient to damage the suspension, and the McLaren made it back to the pits at reasonable speed. The Woking team then made the tactical decision to brim its tanks and send Hamilton back out on another set of standard Bridgestone wets, despite the conditions worsening.
Indeed, the rain was coming down a lot harder now than it was at the start, when only Nelson Piquet Jr appeared to start on the 'extreme' rubber, and the other Renault was soon heading pit-ward for repairs. Caught out by the amount of standing water at the top of Massenet, Alonso had smote the barriers on the outside of the corner with some force, but again appeared to have got away with minimal damage.
While the Spaniard returned to the pits and received a set of the deeper grooved wets, however, two of his rivals on track were out at the same spot that had almost claimed the Renault. David Coulthard, enjoying very little luck at a circuit that had twice seen him take victory, followed Alonso's route into the barrier, but with substantially more damage to the right-side of the Red Bull. And, if there was any question of the Scot limping back to the pits, Sebastien Bourdais made sure that he was going nowhere by ploughing his brand new Toro Rosso STR3 into the back of the RB4.
The incident brought out the first safety car of the afternoon, but few teams opted to pit their drivers, confident that the rain would abate before too long. Massa had been some 13 seconds up the road at the time the yellows flew, but now had team-mate Raikkonen right in his wake. The Finn, however, was under investigation, amid claims that Ferrari had dallied too long in choosing which tyres to fit. The stewards agreed that the crew had infringed on the three-minute board and duly summoned the world champion for a drive-thru'
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