History was made at the Monaco Grand Prix, 2012 over the weekend. For the first time in F1’s 62 years, Six different drivers have won the first six races of the season. Those worried about competition and one-sidedness, dominance of the Red Bull cars and Vettel after 2011, can breathe easy. This Championship is going nowhere, except, in Ravi Shastri-speak, right down to the wire.
License to Chill
Mark Webber, winning his 2nd race here in three years, has crossed off two of three tasks in his bucket list- Win more than one race. Win at Monaco. All that’s left is to win that Championship, a position he was so strongly in at the end of the 2010 season.
When Michael Schumacher grabbed a heart-stopping pole position in qualifying with seconds to go on the clock, atleast for a day, there was an odd kind of romanticism about the sport. Melancholy reigned as Schumi, Seven-time World Champion, was back where he belonged, if only theoretically. A 5-place penalty from last race only meant that he could start from 6th on the grid in the race, but that seldom mattered as he marched into the press conference with the biggest, most redeeming smile this season. With only two points from the first five races, this was the wake-up call that needed to be made. He still had it in him, the old fella did, as whispers travelled through the paddock- about the man who could still drive the wheels of any car for a single lap, age no bar.
The question was- could he maintain that level of excellence, skill and concentration for the entire 50-odd laps of a race day, in this modern day and age? Unfortunately, fans got an answer within seconds into the race- a racing equivalent of the question: Will Rod Laver, playing with modern tennis racquets and clay courts, be able to take more than a brilliant set off Rafa Nadal in 2012? Most probably not. But it looks so beautiful till it lasts.
Men in Black
With Schumacher suffering yet another retirement in a wretched season, thanks to Roman Grosjean’s misfiring Lotus, Vettel was biggest gainer- and he quickly moved upto 6th place from 9th– previously unheard of at Monaco start lines. Furthermore, the Champion’s one-stop strategy on soft Pirellis did not backfire, and he was able to cut damages to eventual Championship-leader Fernando Alonso, who finished in third. If one observes the gap of just a second separating the first four cars at the finish line, you’d think it was one of the most exciting races of recent times. But the Monaco street-race circuit, combined with a virtual impossibility to overtake, made Australian Mark Webber’s race relatively straightforward. Webber’s clinical demonstration of why he is still the best number 2 in the world, has propelled him into second position- for the first time, locked with teammate Vettel- in the Championship.
Consistent podium finishes and expertly-executed pitstops after a disastrous 2011 season have made Alonso’s job a lot easier this year, with consecutive podium finishes now elevating him to the top of the standings. Out-pitting the only competitive Brit once again, Alonso even joined forces with Vettel temporarily, to relegate Hamilton and McLaren out of the top 4 once again.
Monaco may have its oddities, because Webber wasn’t even the fastest car on the track. But that’s the case in this race, with qualifying positions often dictating eventual race positions- with this being the case for 6 out of the last 7 years. On pole, a driver can merrily dictate the pace of the race, like Webber did, bunching up the faster cars behind him- making it a relatively frustrating race for the quick Rosberg- who seems to finally be living upto his potential with another podium finish.
The standings are still not dramatic enough to predict an eventual Champion, but one thing is for sure, Sebastian Vettel does not have it easy. He will have to prove, this year, that with his admirable skill and loads of talent, he also possesses a high amount of German grit and fight that may keep him in contention till the end. Red Bull clearly isn’t the best of the cars so far, but it has still done enough to fire off a warning to its rivals- You race ugly, We race uglier- right to the end.
On to the American continent, for a single race- the Canadian Grand Prix at Montreal. Don’t be surprised to see another young gun shooting to the top of the order over the weekend of June 8th. That said, don’t be surprised if you see a desperate German ex-champion past his prime, rattling his way to the top with one last, final lunge for glory that was once his to own.