Mark Webber withstood trial by safety car in Monte Carlo yesterday, but despite no fewer than four interventions, the Red Bull driver kept his cool to win his second grand prix in eight days and become the first Australian since Jack Brabham in 1959 to win the Monaco Grand Prix.
Before emulating recent Spanish MotoGP winner Jorge Lorenzo by jumping in Red Bull's swimming pool, Webber said: "It's absolutely fantastic, the greatest day in my life. To win here is very, very special. This place is such a test for two hours and the track was changing quite a lot, there were backmarkers, safety cards. I was tested quite often with the restarts, keeping the tyre pressures right. It was just very, very rewarding and I'm absolutely elated to join Ayrton Senna and those guys who have won round here."
Without question it was the best drive of Webber's fast-burgeoning career, yet it came close to disaster as backmarkers Jarno Trulli and Karun Chandhok collided in the Rascasse corner on the 74th of the 78 laps – right in front of Webber's Red Bull.
"You could lose so much time when you caught the slower cars," Webber said, "and when I saw Jarno go for the lunge at Rascasse I just thought, 'What the hell is gonna happen here?' I was just hoping that I'd have some options to go to the inside, and that Chandhok was OK as Trulli's car was around his head area. I thought, 'God another safety car! Let it stop at that!' But it was quite straightforward just to cross the line at the end."
Once again, Webber gave his much vaunted team-mate Sebastian Vettel a drubbing. The young German, highly rated as a champion of the future, squeezed ahead of Robert Kubica's Renault as they left the line at the start, but could never get close enough to challenge the Australian veteran who has hit a purple patch. After the first safety car was deployed on the opening lap when Nico Hulkenberg crashed his Williams in the tunnel, Webber streaked away, only to lose an 11.4-second lead when Rubens Barrichello crashed the other Williams going up to Casino Square on the 31st lap. Again, Webber moved away from Vettel but another safety car on the 43rd lap – when a drain cover worked loose at the spot where Fernando Alonso crashed on Saturday morning – saw him have to do it all over again.
However, Webber proved equal to each and every task, and had everyone covered on his day of days.
Vettel was more focused on defending from Kubica, who drove the wheels off his Renault to keep the dominant Red Bulls in sight, as Felipe Massa and Lewis Hamilton ran together without ever looking like changing places, and an inspired drive by Alonso took him from the back of the grid to sixth place, in the race of follow-my-leader that Monaco so often produces.
"Especially at the beginning and again after all restarts, I was not able to keep up with Mark," Vettel admitted. "There was a big difference later on when I finally found the grip, but early on he was already way down the road so there was no real point making an effort to catch him. And I spent more time looking in the mirrors today as Robert was pushing quite hard and I was having difficulty in getting away from him in the restarts.
"I was getting more sideways than going forward. I'm happy though, I couldn't have done any better today."
Well he might be, for he and Webber share the lead of the world championship for drivers, as Red Bull move to the top of the constructors' table for the first time this season.
"I think I was a bit quicker than Seb, especially after the restarts," Kubica said. "But then with 30 laps to go I got a big flat spot on one of the front tyres and that gave me big vibrations and I was really scared I might have to pit again to change the tyres, or that the tyre might explode, so I was surprised about pace after that. With third place we have to be positive, because nobody expected us to be there before this race."
Crashes apart, one of the few dramas came when Michael Schumacher pushed his Mercedes ahead of Alonso on that final lap as the safety car pulled in. The race stewards, however, took a dim view of Schumacher's opportunism; one of them was Damon Hill, his old title adversary. They ruled that he had breached Article 40.13 of the Sporting Regulations, and added 20 seconds to his race time, dropping him to 12th. Schumacher said he would appeal the decision. A date for the appeal is yet to be set.
"Two victories in eight days," said Webber. "To win in Monte Carlo is the dream of any F1 driver. Every F1 victory is special, but to join the winners here is a very special moment. Jack won here more than 50 years ago, so it's been a while for us Australians. This was an absolutely faultless day, apart from the start. It was a relief that Seb got Robert, because he'd have been very strong today. So this was the ultimate result for us. A one-two for the team in the Principality is mega. I'm predicting some serious headaches tomorrow."
Monaco Grand Prix, Monaco:
1 M Webber (Aus) Red Bull 1hr 50min 13.355sec
2 S Vettel (Ger) Red Bull 1:50:13.803
3 R Kubica (Pol) Renault 1:50:15.030
4 F Massa (Br) Ferrari 1:50:16.021
5 L Hamilton (GB) McLaren 1:50:17.718
6 F Alonso (Spa) Ferrari 1:50:19.696
7 N Rosberg (Ger) Mercedes GP 1:50:20.006
8 A Sutil (Ger) Force India 1:50:20.325
9 V Liuzzi (It) Force India 1:50:20.660,
10 S Buemi (Swit) Scuderia Toro Rosso 1:50:21.554
11 J Alguersuari (Sp) Scuderia Toro Rosso 1:50:22.490
12 M Schumacher (Ger) Mercedes GP 1:50:39.067
13 V Petrov (Rus) Renault at 5 Laps.
Not Classified: 14 K Chandhok (India) HRT-F1 70 Laps completed, 15 J Trulli (It) Lotus F1 70 Laps completed, 16 H Kovalainen (Fin) Lotus F1 58 Laps completed, 17 B Senna (Br) HRT-F1 58 Laps completed, 18 R Barrichello (Br) Williams 30 Laps completed, 19 K Kobayashi (Japan) BMW Sauber 26 Laps completed, 20 L di Grassi (Br) Virgin Racing 25 Laps completed, 21 T Glock (Ger) Virgin Racing 22 Laps completed, 22 P de la Rosa (Sp) BMW Sauber 21 Laps completed, 23 J Button (GB) McLaren 2 Laps completed, 24 N Hulkenberg (Ger) Williams 0 Laps completed.Drivers' Championship:
1 M Webber (Aus) Red Bull .....................78pts
2 S Vettel (Ger) Red Bull .....................78
3 F Alonso (Sp) Ferrari .....................75
4 J Button (GB) McLaren .....................70
5 F Massa (Bra) Ferrari .....................61
6 R Kubica (Pol) Renault .....................59
7 L Hamilton (GB) McLaren .....................59
8 N Rosberg (Ger) Mercedes GP ......... 56
9 M Schumacher (Ger) Mercedes GP ......... 22
10 A Sutil (Ger) Force India .....................18
11 V Liuzzi (It) Force India .....................9
12 R Barrichello (Br) Williams ......... 7
13 V Petrov (Rus) Renault .....................6
14 J Alguersuari (Sp) Scuderia Toro Rosso......... 3
15 N Hulkenberg (Ger) Williams......... 1
Manufacturers' Championship: 1 Red Bull 156pts, 2 Ferrari 134, 3 McLaren 129, 4 Mercedes GP 84, 5 Renault 65, 6 Force India 27, 7 Williams 8, 8 Scuderia Toro Rosso 3, 9 BMW Sauber 0, 10 Lotus F1 0, 11 HRT-F1 0, 12 Virgin Racing 0.