World championship leader Jenson Button added the jewel in Formula 1's crown to his increasingly glittering career CV by triumphing in the 2009 Monaco Grand Prix held around the narrow, tortuous streets of the glamorous Principality, leading home team-mate Rubens Barrichello in another crushing Brawn GP one-two.
Key to the British star's success – one that has increased his lead in the drivers' standings to 16 points over Barrichello and 28 over the first non-Brawn competitor – was the manner in which he managed his super-soft tyres in the opening stint, ceding little ground as his immediate rivals gave away seconds to gift the Frome-born ace some vital breathing space.
Former world champion Kimi Raikkonen put the smile back on Ferrari's face with the Scuderia's
first podium of the season in third, narrowly ahead of the sister scarlet machine of Felipe Massa and Red Bull Racing's Mark Webber. The greatest drama of the race, though, arrived after the chequered flag had fallen, when the winner mistakenly parked his car in the wrong parc fermé and had to jog along the pit straight to the podium ceremony, holding the celebrations up in the process. On current form, it looks doubtful that he will take quite so long to be crowned 2009 F1 World Champion.
A textbook getaway from pole-sitter Button was matched by a similarly fast start by Barrichello behind, as the Brazilian – who had turned 37 the previous day – vaulted past Raikkonen's Ferrari. Behind them, Sebastian Vettel in the Red Bull Racing chopped off the second scarlet machine of Massa to preserve his fourth place, allowing Nico Rosberg to get a run on the São Paulista up the hill, only to ultimately be forced to yield to the KERS-equipped car and settle into sixth position ahead of Heikki Kovalainen and Webber.
As the two Brawns made good their escape with little to choose between them – trading fastest lap times at the head of the field as they pulled inexorably away from Raikkonen in third – the lightly-fuelled Vettel began to frustrate the ambitions of Massa and Rosberg several seconds further behind. There was a change of position, though, when a ragged Massa ran off the circuit at the seafront chicane at the exit of the tunnel, and in ceding the place back to Vettel once again, the Ferrari ace inadvertently allowed Rosberg to aggressively and opportunistically force his way past too – meaning rather than gaining a spot, he actually lost one.
With Vettel's super-soft tyres shot less than ten laps in and no rear grip or traction left, the RBR rapidly found itself holding up an entire gaggle of cars lapping as much as four seconds slower than the race leaders. Rosberg was the first man to successfully make a move, followed by Massa, before Vettel peeled into the pits for an early first stop, as did Lewis Hamilton a long way further down the order, with the Briton having looked racy in the opening laps before coming a cropper when he nerfed somewhat clumsily into the side of the BMW-Sauber of Nick Heidfeld and also brushed against a barrier.
The first retirements, meanwhile, came when Scuderia Toro Rosso rookie Sébastien Buemi locked up his wheels entering Ste Dévote and shunted the Renault of Nelsinho Piquet into the barriers, putting the former out on the spot and causing the latter to trundle slowly back to the pit-lane and out of the race.
With Barrichello quickly slipping back into the clutches of Raikkonen as his tyres – like those of Vettel – similarly faded, fourth-placed Rosberg was the fastest man on the track, gaining on race leader Button at the rate of two seconds a lap, albeit more than twelve seconds in arrears. The Briton, however, succeeded in managing his super-soft rubber rather better than did his team-mate, leaving the latter to back Raikkonen up towards Rosberg, but it was the Finn who was the first to blink.
Vettel was the next man to fall out of contention, understeering off into the barriers at Ste Dévote to cap a less-than glorious weekend for the sport's youngest-ever grand prix-winner, as Barrichello pitted – retaining track position over Raikkonen – and a lap later Button did likewise, rejoining behind Rosberg but critically ahead of Massa. The young German pitted next time around, but the timing failed to work out for him as he rejoined behind not only Barrichello and Raikkonen once again, but also, critically, the heavily-fuelled Renault of former double world champion Fernando Alonso.
Massa's first stop a couple of tours later still enabled the 2008 world championship runner-up to leapfrog the luckless Rosberg as well, and Webber would increase the misery in the Williams garage when he too jumped the FW31 following his own first pit visit a handful of laps further into the grand prix.
Button, though, was continuing to peerlessly maintain his lead – a commanding 17 seconds 23 laps in, albeit being gradually chipped away at by Barrichello – with Alonso coming in for the first time on lap 28, rejoining behind the Force India of former team-mate Giancarlo Fisichella and outside the top ten. Kubica's cheerless weekend reached a perhaps fitting conclusion as he climbed out of his troubled BMW F1.09 with barely 30 laps completed, leaving just 16 cars in action.
As Barrichello continued to put the hammer down in his efforts to draw himself back into the fight, Raikkonen and a hard-charging Massa behind him were being dragged along into the bargain, with Webber not altogether out of the reckoning either as sixth-placed Rosberg's challenge conversely faded. Massa set fastest lap twice in quick succession as he clearly pushed right to the ragged edge – and increasingly ramped up the pressure on team-mate Raikkonen – but in occasionally cutting the chicane in order to do so, the ten-time grand prix-winner found himself in danger of receiving a penalty.
With Button steadily managing his advantage as half-distance approached and passed, Webber was the next man to show his hand with fastest lap for Red Bull, as Raikkonen copied the 'Massa line' across the chicane. Barrichello was the first of the front-runners to pit with 28 laps left to run, followed by Button just a lap later, with the latter narrowly losing track position to new leader Raikkonen – though with both Ferraris still needing to switch over to the unfavoured super-soft rubber before the end of the grand prix, and the first of them making the change with 25 laps still to go, as Massa continued to push on.
McLaren's weekend – that had begun so brightly in Thursday practice – came to an abject conclusion when Kovalainen, pushing hard in an effort to put pressure on sixth-placed Rosberg ahead, shunted into the circuit barriers in the Swimming Pool section of the track.
With the Ferraris now on effectively the wrong tyres, Barrichello found himself liberated from much of the pressure behind and free to focus on closing the gap on Button ahead – and close it is just what he proceeded to do, reducing the world championship leader's advantage to just over twelve seconds with 19 laps to the chequered flag.
As the laps ticked down, in typical Monaco fashion the status quo
went largely unchanged, with Button maintaining his lead over Barrichello and Raikkonen and Massa slowly slipping back, and Rosberg pitting from fifth with just 13 laps remaining and relinquishing places to Webber and Alonso, before the latter pitted again only a lap later. Behind them, Fisichella was doing his utmost and pushing hard in a bid to wrest the final points-scoring position away from the Scuderia Toro Rosso of Sébastien Bourdais barely a second in front of him, with Kazuki Nakajima in the second Williams holding a steady watching brief behind at the rear of the three-car train.
That squabble aside, the major interest in the closing stages was focussed on the two Ferraris, with Massa closing in on Raikkonen and Webber remaining a threat to the pair not far behind. The Australian, indeed, had closed right onto the back of the second of the Ferraris by the chequered flag, but it was not quite enough as the New South Wales native was forced to settle for fifth in the final reckoning, behind Button, Barrichello, Raikkonen and Massa.
The points-scorers were rounded out by Rosberg, Alonso and Bourdais, as Fisichella cruelly missed out by barely two seconds in ninth place for Force India following an impeccable drive, with Timo Glock, Heidfeld, Hamilton, Jarno Trulli, Adrian Sutil and Nakajima the remaining classified finishers, though the latter failed to reach the line after crashing into the barriers on the penultimate lap. There were no such errors from the race-winner.Crash.net Driver of the Day:
Giancarlo Fisichella (just missed out on registering Force India's first points after a dogged and determined drive)
To see the race result in full, click here