Monday 11 December 2017

Long game pays off in record style for Webber

David Tremayne in Monaco

Mark Webber carved another little bit of motor racing history yesterday after holding his nerve throughout a nail-biting climax to the Monaco Grand Prix.

For the first time ever, a sixth different driver won the sixth race of the season. But it so nearly didn't happen.

Nico Rosberg, Fernando Alonso and Sebastien Vettel, previous winners this season, harassed him to the chequered flag. Just 1.3 seconds covered them all, with Webber 0.6 ahead of Rosberg, and 0.3 gaps back to Alonso and Vettel.

"When did I know I had it won?" Webber answered a particularly asinine question. "When I came out of Turn 19 at the end of the 78th lap!"

Once the dust had cleared from a startline crash involving Alonso, Romain Grosjean's Lotus and Michael Schumacher's Mercedes, Webber led from Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton.

However, the McLaren driver lost third place to Alonso during the rash of pit stops which Rosberg initiated on the 27th lap. Webber described that as the first piece of the chess game, and was grateful not to lose out to the German when he made his own stop a lap later.

The top nine starters were obliged to start on the supersoft compound Pirelli tyres on which they had qualified. But because he elected not to set a time in the final qualifying session, Vettel was able to gamble on starting with the more durable soft compound tyres. He thus ran a much longer first stint and was able to take the lead as Webber, Rosberg, Hamilton and Alonso came in.

Now Webber had to fight not to let his team-mate open up the 21-second advantage that he needed to make his own pit call. Complicating the issue was the threat of rain. Had Vettel been able to stay out and wait for that, he'd have been handed the race on a plate. From his advantage of 17 seconds he would have been able to make just the one stop, for wet weather tyres, whereas his closest rivals would have had to come in again for them.

But in the end the rain only came 10 minutes after the chequered flag fell, so by the 46th lap he came in for his mandatory switch to the supersoft tyres.

revitalised

Crucially, he got out in fourth place fractionally ahead of Hamilton, who had the revitalised Felipe Massa threatening him. At times in the final third of the race the top six were all within 3.1 seconds of one another.

Very light rain for a short while at the Mirabeau corner added to the challenge and stress. But none of them made any mistakes and Webber just held on to win for the second time in Monaco.

In the closing stages Hamilton fell back a little, but still the top six cars were blanketed by just over six seconds.

"It feels incredible," Webber said. "Early on it was all reasonably straightforward and a matter of just managing the gap with Nico. Then he went for the undercut on the pit stop and we had to react to that. But then the next stage was very strange, because it took a while for the soft tyres to warm up. I had very, very low front grip and had to manage that with the brake balance while managing Nico, and with Seb out front I had to make sure he didn't get the magic time he needed for his stop.

"Then there was also the threat of rain. I was praying for it not to! But in the end it was a major day for the team and myself and I'm really, really happy.

"Being the sixth different winner in six races feels pretty good. It's all still up and down in quallie and the races are hard to predict. That's a little frustrating for us and different to how it was in the past, but maybe we'll get things sorted by Montreal and get a bit of route out. There's more to come."

While Red Bull, Mercedes and Ferrari celebrated, Hamilton and Button stewed at McLaren. The former made a poor start then lacked pace, the latter was stuck behind Heikki Kovalainen's Caterham, spun after picking up a puncture, and then retired.

"I really dislike going backwards," Hamilton said. "We still came away with some points, but we need to react fast. The team have definitely got some work to do because we are falling behind race by race. The others are picking up some serious pace."

He was unhappy with his start, and what he felt was another slow pit stop: "I just don't understand why the two guys next to me and the guy behind me got perfect starts. I was very, very fortunate not to get caught up in the crash." (© Independent News Service)

Irish Independent

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