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F1 Ð JUST LIKE THE GOOD OLD DAYS Ð PART 2

  And now it’s six from six as Mark Webber has joined the seasons growing list of winners after taking out the Monaco Grand Prix for the second time in three years. For the first time though, one team, Red Bull, has taken a second victory and we don’t have a new championship leader as King Fernando dragged the unwieldy Ferrari into places it should never have been and now sits on top of the pile. The ghosts and memories of seasons past continue to grow ever sharper this year. Just a few weeks ago we were celebrating (if that’s the right word) the tragically shortened life of the majestic Gilles Villeneuve who died some thirty years ago at Zolder while just one year earlier, at Jarama in 1981, we witnessed what was probably his greatest triumph, leading home a queue of five cars which were separated by just over a second.

 

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   Based on Red Bulls practice times Webber should never been in a position to win in the principality but a stonking effort in Q3 gave him the second best time of the session which, of course, became pole after Schumacher’s richly deserved five place penalty came into effect. Webber got his best start in years and led the charge through St Devote while Grosjean got it all very wrong and ruining his part of his team’s 500th Grand Prix. Not the 500th Grand Prix for Lotus, you understand, but the 500th Grand Prix for the team formally known as Renault, which was the team formally known as Benetton, which was the team formally known as Toleman, which, although failing to qualify at that race at Jarama, had it’s first Grand Prix start in 1981, at Monza. Racing against Lotus. Confused? Go to the back of the queue.

   Webber was not in the fastest car on the day, that particular pleasure fell to Nico Rosberg in the Mercedes, but as often happens at Monaco, the faster car could not over-take the leader. Mark led all but 17 laps which were shared between the two Ferraris that stopped for tyres on the two laps following Webber, and Vettel who was on a different tyre strategy to make up for his poor qualifying position. In the 15 laps that Seb led he almost brought himself back into contention for victory as his harder tyres were still giving good grip while the others, on new harder tyres were struggling to get them up to the necessary temperatures. He emerged from his stop in the middle of the scrap between King Fernando and The Hoon and held on to fourth place, which was a fine recovery from his ninth place on the grid, which would have been tenth had it not been for Maldonado’s penalties. After all the maturity shown by Pastor at Catalunya he suffered multiple brain explosions at Monaco and so after clouting Perez in practice and then needing a gearbox change after smacking the barriers a lap later the Williams did not start in ninth place but right at the back of the field. He completed a wonderful weekend by then ploughing up the back of  Pedro de la Rosa’s HRT and not completing a single racing lap.

   When Webber regained the lead after Seb pitted he grimly defended his lead, not in any harsh or unfair manner, but going just fast enough to stay ahead, and just slow enough to not bugger his tyres. It was a superbly judged drive and produced a gaggle of cars all squabbling over the leading positions. At the flag the top four were covered by just 1.343 seconds and The Hoon was just another 2.8 seconds adrift as his tyres gave up towards the end. Felipe Massa had his first moderately competent weekend of the season and finished sixth, just six seconds down ahead of the two Force Indias, (di Resta and Hulkenberg), Raikkonen and Senna who rounded out the point scorers. 

  The parallels with Jarama in 1981 are numerous. The guy who won was not in the fastest car but drove beautifully to hold off a baying pack. The guy in the fastest car on the day came second. The Ferrari was, in the words of Gilles Villeneuve, a big red Cadillac and should have been nowhere near the podium but for a genius driver defying the odds. And in Gilles case, defying his supposed reputation. Many saw Gilles as a driver with just one speed, flat out. And yes that was how he often drove, but on many an occasion, he did so with a mechanical sympathy that belied that reputation. Through most of 1980 for example, in an utterly crap Ferrari 312T5, he was able to make his tyres last much longer than his reigning World Champion team mate while being well in front of him in the race. At Monaco, just two weeks earlier, he had let Alan Jones’s Williams past early in the race so as to preserve his tyres life, which meant that when Jones hit fuel feed problems late in the race, Gilles was there to take a most unlikely win.

 

 

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    At Jarama Gilles qualified only seventh but a storming start saw him up to third by the end of lap one, and second on lap two. When Jones ran off on lap 14 Villeneuve was into a lead that he would defend for the next 67 laps. Gilles had just one card up his sleave and he made the most of it. The Ferrari 126CK may have handled like a bucket of shit but the V6 turbo engine had plenty of grunt. So Villeneuve drove as slowly as possible through the twisty parts of the track, holding the following pack up, and then would plant it on the straight. This continued for lap after lap with, at first the Williams of Carlos Reutemann crawling all over the back of the Ferrari and then the Ligier-Matra of Jaques Laffite taking up the challenge. On numerous occasions both Reutemann and Laffite got alongside Gilles but always on the outside of a turn. Villeneuve always gave his opponents enough room to make the turn but never enough to make it past and would again pull out a gap down the main straight. 

  At the end he won by just 0.22 seconds from Laffite with John Watson’s McLaren another three tenths back. Reutemann was fourth, 1.01 seconds down with Elio de Angelis in the Lotus right up his duff just 1.24 seconds adrift of the winner in fifth place. The closest fifth place in history, barring races finishing under yellow flags. Webber’s drive was similar. To maintain his tyres life he drove slowly around the bulk of the lap but always managed to pull a small gap coming out of the final corner so that he was safe going through St Devote and up the hill to Massenet. By the time Rosberg could get back onto Mark’s tail it was too late to make a realistic attempt at the only other possible passing point on the shore-front chicane and Webber would be safe for another lap.

 

 

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    Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying Webber is as gifted as Villeneuve was or the Red Bull is as bad as that Ferrari was, but this drive was very similar, and right out of the top drawer.

 For full results go to;

 http://www.mmmsport.com.au/index.php?option=com_docman&task=cat_view&gid=148&dir=ASC&order=name&limit=5&limitstart=5 

Sam Snape 

29/05/2012