2009 Monaco Grand Prix report


Before the weekend Jenson Button said that winning the Monaco Grand Prix would mean no more to him than any other race, but on Sunday afternoon he admitted that wasn’t quite the case. “Bit of a lie, really,” he said. “I said that just to reduce pressure on myself – this is the race everyone wants to win, isn’t it?”


They’re very fit, these Grand Prix drivers. At the end of his slowing-down lap, instead of parking his car in front of the Royal Box, in time-honoured fashion, he steered the Brawn into parc ferme with everyone else. Then they told him his presence was required elsewhere, and so he set off running, waving all the way, helmet still on. “Makes you realise,” he said, “how long that pit straight is – but it’s amazing how much energy you have sometimes. I was so elated today – the closing laps were the most enjoyable of my life…”


It was another perfect weekend for Button and Brawn. Five wins in the first six races, and a third 1-2 for Jenson and Rubens Barrichello. Even for an established team with a huge budget, these would be amazing results; for one not even truly in existence a few months ago, and emphatically not near the top of the money tree, they are staggering.


If a Brawn 1-2 has ceased to be a surprise in 2009, a Ferrari 3-4 at Monaco had not been expected. For once Kimi Räikkönen narrowly had the edge on Felipe Massa, in both qualifying and race, and afterwards he was about as close to exhilarated as he ever gets. “Compared with the start of the season,” he said, “we should be happy – we’ve improved the car very quickly, I must say. At the start we were faster than Rubens, but we couldn’t get past…”


This was stretching things a little. After only a few laps Barrichello’s rear tyres began to ‘grain’ badly, and suddenly he could run at nowhere near Button’s pace. While Jenson raced away, Rubens indeed slid back into the Ferrari’s clutches, but at no stage was Räikkönen close enough to take a stab at passing.

“I was lucky,” Barrichello admitted, “to have this graining problem at Monaco – where overtaking is impossible. Because of the problem, I made my first stop much earlier than intended, and after that I had no problems of any kind.”

Button said much the same. “When I got here on Thursday I wasn’t happy with the handling – at all. But the great thing about this car is that when you change the set-up, it listens to the changes. Today my car was as perfect as a car can be at Monaco…”

Räikkönen won the Ferrari battle by a couple of seconds, and there were more points for Mark Webber, the mainstay for Red Bull after Sebastian Vettel clouted the fence at Ste Devote.

In the early laps Vettel was up in fourth place, but tyre problems slowed his pace drastically, and a queue – headed by Massa and Nico Rosberg – formed behind him. By the time the Ferrari and Williams found a way by, Barrichello and Räikkönen were 20 seconds up the road, while Button had disappeared into a race of his own.


Massa and Rosberg drove hard and fast all afternoon, but, thanks to Vettel, were too far removed from the leaders to offer any real threat. For Fernando Alonso there was seventh place, poor reward after a relentless drive in a lacklustre Renault, and the last point went to Sebastien Bourdais’s Toro Rosso.

More than at any other race on the calendar, of course, the grid at Monte Carlo effectively determines the race. And this time around what a weird grid it was. Consider: at Bahrain, just a month ago, the Toyotas of Jarno Trulli and Timo Glock were on the front row: here they were on the back row. In fact, the four slowest cars in qualifying were the Toyotas and the BMWs, which just went to show that there’s more to this business than money.

Their problem? Simply that they couldn’t get their cars to work on the Bridgestones on offer at Monte Carlo. And the worry was, of course, that such as Ferrari, Red Bull, Williams and – overwhelmingly – Brawn had no problems whatever in that regard.

Trulli and Glock did not start from the very back, however, for there sat the 2008 winner. While no one was suggesting that McLaren had made a huge stride forward with their recalcitrant MP4-24, at Monaco, where aerodynamic grip is of secondary important to mechanical, the car – whose fundamental balance has always been good – was pretty competitive, and there were even those who optimistically tipped Lewis Hamilton for pole position.


In the opening segment of qualifying Hamilton, having setting the fastest ‘first sector’ time, dropped it in the ‘second sector’, spinning backwards into the wall at Mirabeau, which not only knocked a corner askew, but also damaged the gearbox sufficiently that it had to be replaced – for which there is these days a penalty, of course. Lewis started dead last, and made remarkably little impression, damaging a front wing endplate against Heidfeld’s BMW, and finally finishing 12th, a lap down.

The tentacles of the credit crunch envelope everything, it seems, including Monte Carlo. The Mediterranean sun shines brightly, and the self-important glitz of the place abides, but beneath the surface there is clear evidence that those adorable bankers have done their worst here, too.


As the F1 clans arrived, word was that only four of 14 grandstands were sold out, that rooms were still widely available in the Principality, even – whisper it – at the fabled Hotel de Paris, where Jackie Stewart always stays. Except that JYS, a man synonymous with the Monaco Grand Prix, wasn’t there this year.

All told, a very low-key weekend by the standards of Monte Carlo – and perhaps none the worse for that. As for the World Championship, J. Button, apparently out of work at the start of the year, is beginning to look unstoppable.

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