• Monaco Grand Prix

Vettel wins Monaco thriller after late red flag

ESPNF1 Staff
May 29, 2011

Sebastian Vettel won a dramatic and tense Monaco Grand Prix, which ended with a sprint to the flag after the race was halted by a three-car pile-up with six laps remaining.

Vettel had been leading a spell-binding three-way battle ahead of Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button when a crash involving Lewis Hamilton, Jaime Alguersuari and Vitaly Petrov at the Swimming Pool brought out the red flags. Petrov was taken away in an ambulance with minor leg injuries, prompting the stewards to bring a 20 minute halt to the race.

During that period the cars all stopped on the grid and the teams were allowed to change tyres and repair any damage to their cars. As a result Vettel exchanged a set of 57-lap old prime tyres for a fresh set of super-softs, taking a huge amount of pressure off the world champion in the final six laps. Before the red flag Alonso and Button had been on much newer tyres and it would have been touch and go whether Vettel's Pirellis would have lasted the distance.

Behind them, Mark Webber took fourth after passing Kamui Kobayashi late on, and Hamilton finished sixth having collided with Pastor Maldonado at the restart, costing the Williams driver his first points and leaving Hamilton under investigation.

Vettel led away off the line as Button moved across to cover Webber. The second Red Bull had got away slowly, however, and Alonso slotted in to third place. Initially Vettel was able to pull away comfortably, opening up a five second gap inside four laps, before Button started to ease back towards him. Schumacher had made the worst start of all, bogging down off the line and then running in to the back of Hamilton at turn one. He recovered to pass the McLaren down the inside in to the Loews hairpin, but struggled with his tyres and once Hamilton muscled his way back through at Ste Devote he was the first man to pit on lap 12.

When Button pitted for a new set of super-soft tyres on lap 14, Red Bull responded by bringing Vettel in immediately but a delayed stop dropped him behind the McLaren. Alonso was next to pit and rejoined behind Vettel, but both had put on the harder compound and Button was able to open up a substantial lead.

Medics work to remove Vitaly Petrov from his Renault © Sutton Images

Further back, Hamilton managed to jump Maldonado and Petrov with an early pit stop, and was soon all over the back of Felipe Massa. He tried to make a move in to the Loews hairpin but couldn't get enough steering lock and ran in to the side of the Ferrari. Though Massa held position, Hamilton then got alongside in to the tunnel and Massa understeered wide on the marbles and hit the wall, causing the first safety car of the afternoon.

Unfortunately for Button, he had just pitted for another set of super-soft tyres, and so had rejoined behind Vettel. On the restart Button had to clear three backmarkers, allowing Vettel to build a four second lead. Button soon closed up on the leader, and was told that he would have to try and pass on track. Hamilton was handed a drive-through penalty for his clash with Massa, as his chances of substantial points slipped away.

On lap 48, Button pitted for a new set of soft tyres, but Vettel stayed out as Red Bull made it clear that he was going to try and run to the end of the race, and Alonso mirrored the strategy. Button started setting fastest lap after fastest lap as he closed the gap, and 12 laps later he rejoined the front two as the race became an 18 lap battle between the trio on heavily worn tyres.

McLaren were expecting Vettel's tyres to lose all performance with 10 laps to go, but just as that moment was imminent the leaders caught up with the scrap for fifth place. Kobayashi had passed Sutil for fourth following contact at Mirabeau, and Sutil suffered a puncture which backed up the field which caused an almost inevitable accident.

Lewis Hamilton and Pastor Maldonado come together at turn one © Sutton Images

Sutil had been holding fifth, but as Maldonado passed him on the inside of Tabac he ran wide and hit the barrier. Immediately behind, Hamilton passed Petrov in to the same corner, but then had to brake to avoid Sutil as the Force India cut the chicane. Alguersuari had followed Hamilton passed Petrov, but ran in to the back of the McLaren and Petrov hit the wall on the outside of the chicane. The race was stopped while the medical team extracted him from the car as he complained of ankle pain, but X-rays confirmed no injuries.

At the restart it was more of a procession at the front, but Hamilton tried a lunge up the inside of Maldonado in to Ste Devote and pushed the Williams in to the barrier. The incident landed Hamilton a post-race drive-through penalty, but the 20 seconds added to his time made no difference to the result. Meanwhile, Webber was being held up by Kobayashi and finally made his move at the Nouvelle Chicane to take fourth position on a difficult afternoon.

Sutil recovered to take seventh ahead of Nick Heidfeld, Rubens Barrichello and Sebastian Buemi who all managed to steer clear of trouble to secure points.