Saturday 21 October 2017

F1: Webber can raise two fingers after Monaco mastery

The Australian held his nerve to produce a faultless performance, writes David Kennedy

The Monaco Grand Prix wasn't run between the years 1938 and 1946 so William Butler Yeats -- who died in nearby Roquebrune-Cap-Martin in 1939 -- wasn't likely to write about Grands Prix cars from his perched abode overlooking the Mediterranean and Monte Carlo.

But a few lines from one of his last works The Tower has words appropriate to Mark Webber's terrific win last Sunday:

Or that of the sudden shower

When all streams are dry,

Or that of the hour

When the swan must fix his eye

Upon a fading gleam

Float out upon a long

Last reach of glittering stream

And there sing his last song.

Webber has lived for what seems like forever in the shadow of Sebastian Vettel, and whilst he may not have sang his last song on the streets of Monte Carlo last Sunday, he definitely delivered his finest aria.

His previous five pole positions -- in Turkey and Belgium in 2010, and in Spain, England and Germany in 2011 -- failed to translate into a win so now he knows the answer lies in someone else getting pole who already has a grid penalty. That someone was Michael Schumacher.

In the post-qualifying Monaco press conference, Schumacher, seven-time world champion, wore a smirk that said it all. As well he may. The 43-year-old proved he could still cut the mustard against kids half his age. The tangle with Bruno Senna in the previous Grand Prix in Spain, which resulted in the penalty that saw him relegated to sixth, will forever haunt him with 'what if'. For this is one track on which he could feasibly have claimed victory. In any event he had fuel pressure issues and wasn't classified. Nico Rosberg made up for team disappointment by finishing runner-up.

The post-race suggestion that Webber tried to slow his pace to help team-mate Sebastian Vettel clinch a podium place was not only brusquely dismissed by the Australian himself, but it is inconceivable that he would ever jeopardise this -- the ultimate win, the holy grail on the F1 calendar -- to help his rival, a double world champion, score a few more points.

'Casino' is Vettel's favourite corner, which taken at 250kmh is beholden to have a name associated with risk. In missing out on Q3 in qualifying, the German was able to choose his starting tyres, of the harder variety. That's a gamble that looked like paying off when he came from ninth to lead the race by lap 31, but he still had to make a pit-stop.

Webber was under the most intense pressure to keep a buffer so Vettel did jump him when the German made his pit-stop some 14 laps later. The rain, coming ten laps from the end, had Webber working frantically on a greasy track with all the inevitability of an accident waiting to happen. But he kept his concentration and a faultless performance from the Aussie produced a remarkable victory. The top six finishers, with three world champions amongst them, crossed the line within six seconds of each other.

Webber should have raised two fingers which could have had several connotations. It's the second time he has won in Monaco in three years. It could be a victory sign or turned into a derogatory signal to those who irritated, rankled or piqued him on his journey to this pantheon of great warriors.

In the GP3 support race, Ireland's Status GP team won with Swiss-Filipino Marlon Stockinger. To say as a team we were ecstatic is an under-statement. If he never turned a race steering wheel again, he could live off the kudos forever. 'I won in Monaco' is not something many get to boast about.

And back home in Manila it was big news. Marlon's mother, who doesn't look much older than her son, couldn't watch the race she was so nervous, and when the chequered flag was shown she was one relieved lady. Mark Webber once said of Monaco: "The track is a law unto itself because there's no difference between a small mistake and a big mistake". Conor Daly's monumental crash in the same GP3 race, in a history-repeating-itself accident, was hauntingly similar to his father Derek's spectacular shunt in F1 in 1980.

Fast forward 32 years and Conor, who had battled his way from the back of the field in 23rd place to 12th, fought to overtake the slower car of Dmitry Suranovich. Coming out of the tunnel, Daly's nosecone kissed the rear of the Russian's car. Daly's Lotus ART was launched into the most terrifying pirouetting rocket, which resembled a giant black bear roaring on its hind legs, before eventually coming to rest with the driver and monocoque miraculously intact as every bolt and washer tried to shake free in the violent aftermath of the accident. He is one lucky boy to have escaped unscathed, and another driver with very relieved parents but for a different reason.

Next weekend is the Canadian Grand Prix in Montreal. Button, Vettel, Webber, Schumacher, Petrov, Massa were the top six finishers in 2011. The four-hour race was held in torrential rain, the safety car was deployed five times and Button, who won on the last lap, made six pit-stops.

With an historic six winners in six races, let's see what statistics Montreal can pull out of the bag. Keep an eye out for Fernando Alonso who is doing wondrous things with a recalcitrant Ferrari; in Monaco he finished third. The Spaniard is currently leading the championship and will do his upmost to keep up the stealth attack on the title. Mercedes get to use their F-duct to its maximum advantage in Montreal, so Rosberg and Schumacher could be in the frame.

Today in Dublin, Jenson Button's McLaren is in action as Bavarian City Racing and Vodafone bring F1 to the capital's streets. There are F1 demos by McLaren and Caterham, a GP2 driven by former Status A1 champion Adam Carroll. Japanese F3 competitor Gary Thompson from Donabate will showcase his car. The Ferrari owners parade, Superbikes, Super Cars, Touring cars, Formula 2, World Rally Cars all feature in today's line-up.

Over 100,000 spectators are expected to attend with events taking place between 12.0 noon and 5.0pm, starting at the Convention Centre Dublin, taking in Customs House Quay, Butt Bridge, D'Olier Street, College Green and the Central Bank on Dame Street before reaching the chequered flag on O'Connell Bridge. For further details on the event the website is: www.bavariacityracing.ie. Don't forget your earplugs.

Oh, and in case there's a Yeats-like shower, bring a brolly as you could end up singing in the rain.

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