Monaco flashback 2007 - Hamilton unconvinced by McLaren one-two
This time last year four championship contenders arrived in Monaco with a point to prove. McLarenís Lewis Hamilton had gleaned 30 points from the opening four races and led the standings, but had yet to win a maiden race - something he hoped very much he could rectify in Monte Carlo.
McLaren team mate Fernando Alonso (on 28 points) was under increasing pressure to stamp his authority on his rookie partner, while the Ferrari duo of Felipe Massa (27) and Kimi Raikkonen (22) were keen to end the Italian teamís dry spell at the Principality and gain a firmer footing for their title challenge. All four, however, were only too aware of the eventís reputation for maverick results and amongst the midfield teams BMW Sauber, Renault, Toyota, Red Bull and Williams were all touted as possible wildcard victors.
On Thursday it looked like McLaren had the edge around Monte Carloís streets, with Alonso setting the fastest time in both the morning and afternoon sessions. However, it didnít all go the British teamís way when a braking error caused Hamilton to crash his MP4-22 heavily at Ste Devote. Toyotaís day was equally bittersweet, Ralf Schumacher unable to improve on 20th place, but Jarno Trulli finishing fourth in the afternoon. For the rest of the grid, chiefly Ferrari, BMW Sauber and Williams, the day was both productive and promising.
After Monacoís traditional Friday respite, the teams woke up on Saturday morning to find rain had arrived. A heavy downpour disrupted the morning practice and it was Adrian Sutil who was the surprise beneficiary of the unsettled conditions, the Spyker driver taking the top slot on the timesheets. The rest of the field was predictably jumbled although, of the frontrunners, Raikkonen and Hamilton were the fastest.
While it was forecast to fall again, the rain never materialised for qualifying. And the drier conditions saw McLaren once again rise to pre-eminence, with Alonso pipping Hamilton to pole position by two-tenths of a second. Massa took third, but Raikkonen had to settle for 16th after clipping the barrier exiting the swimming pool during Q2 and being left stricken with front suspension damage.
Renaultís Giancarlo Fisichella directly benefitted from the Finnís demise, ending the day in fourth, while Nico Rosberg was a strong fifth for Williams, despite only running once in Q3 due to a rear suspension problem. The BMW Saubers were relegated to seventh and eighth after a mistaken warning of rain, but the team remained positive for the race, while Toro Rossoís Vitantonio Liuzzi was a surprise entry into Q2.
If Saturday had gone well for McLaren, then Sunday went even better. Alonso led the race from the start, only handing over P1 to team mate Hamilton during pit stops on his way to a comfortable victory. The British driver, meanwhile, performed admirably, fending off Massa at the start and finishing just four seconds behind the victorious Spaniard.
Massa was third for Ferrari, but finished over a minute adrift of the dominant McLarens. Fisichella followed the Brazilian home for a well-deserved fourth, while the steadfast BMW Saubers clinched fifth and sixth for Robert Kubica and Nick Heidfeld after the team opted for a bold one-stop strategy. Williamsí Alexander Wurz took a similar single-stop gamble and clinched seventh, while the final driver to finish in the points was Raikkonen with a spirited drive to eighth.
Red Bullís Mark Webber had looked like a possible points scorer before a gearbox failure ruled him out, while Toro Rosso stable mate Liuzzi was eliminated on lap two following a coming together with David Coulthard in the other Red Bull. Remarkably for Monaco, just a further two cars retired, both of them Spykers. Practice star Sutil crashed out on lap 54, while team mate Christijan Albers succumbed to driveshaft problems.
So McLaren left Monte Carlo with cheered hearts thanks to their dominant one-two. Not only was the result the British teamís 150th Formula One victory, they had also scored 11 points more than rivals Ferrari, leaving their two drivers level pegging at the top of the standings. No sooner had the champagne dried, however, than an inkling of dark clouds began gathering on the horizon when in the press conference Hamilton subtlety bemoaned McLarenís choice of race strategy. It was the first sign of things to come.