Webber leads championship after Monaco win

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The Independent Online

Mark Webber became the first Australian for 51 years to claim victory in the Monaco Grand Prix, spearheading a Red Bull Racing one-two, and catapulting himself to the top of the championship standings.

In repeating his lights-to-flag triumph of one week ago in Barcelona, Webber now leads the way by virtue of two wins to one over team-mate Sebastian Vettel as they are level on 78 points apiece.

It was in 1959 that three-times world champion Sir Jack Brabham won the first race of his illustrious career, that around the Monte Carlo principality, with Webber now able to stand tall alongside his hero.

Vettel finished just 0.4secs behind Webber at the end of the 78 laps as the safety car had pulled in moments before, and for what was the fourth time in an incident-strewn race.

Robert Kubica grabbed the third podium place for Renault, followed by the Ferrari of Felipe Massa and McLaren's Lewis Hamilton.

It was a race which began in dramatic circumstances, and heralded a particularly bad day for Williams.

Following a relatively routine start in which Kubica ceded his second place on the grid to the man behind him - Vettel, coming through the tunnel young German Nico Hulkenberg rammed into a concrete barrier.

Hulkenberg then slid along the wall for around 100 metres before emerging into the daylight with a shattered front left of his car, forcing the first of the four safety cars into play.

It was also an incident which accounted for reigning champion Jenson Button, who retired at the start of the third lap as the field filed round behind the silver Mercedes.

With smoke billowing from his McLaren, Button pulled over at first corner Sainte Devote from his 11th place following a poor start from eighth.

It was a team mistake that contributed to McLaren's first failure of their Mercedes engine since the 2008 Japanese Grand Prix when Heikki Kovalainen was at the wheel.

"We left a bung in on the left-hand side of the car that obviously you're meant to take out on the way to the grid, and that's cooked the engine," explained Button.

"It got very hot under the bonnet and I had to turn it off. I didn't want to leave oil on the race line.

"It would have been fine if we hadn't had the safety car. That was what ended it. At such a slow speed you can't get any air into it to cool it down."

We were then treated to some exhilarating overtaking manoeuvres from Fernando Alonso, who had started from the pit lane in his Ferrari after a crash in final practice ruled him out of qualifying.

Superb tactics saw Alonso pit at the end of the first lap once the safety car had been deployed, switching to the harder tyre.

On laps 11, 12, 15 and 16, coming out of the tunnel at 200mph and down the hill into a chicane, Alonso passed Virgin Racing's Lucas di Grassi, the Lotus of Jarno Trulli, then the second Virgin and Lotus of Timo Glock and Heikki Kovalainen respectively.

It was enthralling stuff from the Spaniard, and once the first round of pit stops had played out for the leaders, his strategy unfolded to perfection as he found himself in sixth behind Lewis Hamilton.

The retirements of Sauber duo Pedro de la Rosa and Kamui Kobayashi, sandwiching Virgin's Glock and Di Grassi, all followed before Rubens Barrichello emulated team-mate Hulkenberg's spectacular shunt.

On lap 31 Barrichello lost his car heading up the hill through Beau Rivage, the Williams careering backwards into a metal barrier due to an apparent rear tyre or wheel problem.

The Brazilian rebounded across the track and hit the opposite barrier before coming to rest in the middle of the circuit facing the wrong way, minus his front and rear wing.

In an understandable fit of pique Barrichello, who celebrates his 38th birthday next Sunday, tossed his steering wheel out of the cockpit of his car and onto the track where it was hit by a passing rival.

That brought the safety car into play for a second time, and for two laps, before re-emerging again on lap 44 in bizarre circumstances due to a loose drain cover at turn three, Massanet.

When it disappeared, Webber then led the field away for the fourth time in the race, but there was still room for one more incident as Trulli attempted to pass Hispania Racing's Karun Chandhok on the inside of Rascasse at lap 75.

As the two cars touched tyres, Trulli bounced up and over Chandhok, his car coming to rest on the side of the HRT before catching fire.

Inevitably, the overworked safety car came into play for the fourth time, pulling into the pits just after Rascasse, ensuring the race did not finish behind it.

But as Webber took the chequered flag, seven-times champion Michael Schumacher slipped up the inside of a sleeping Alonso in his Mercedes to take sixth, although the stewards are to investigate.

Nico Rosberg came home eighth in his Mercedes, followed by the Force Indias of Adrian Sutil and Vitantonio Liuzzi, with the Toro Rossos of Sebastien Buemi and Jaime Alguersuari 11th and 12th and the only other cars to finish.

Following the fourth win of his career, an exultant Webber said: "It feels absolutely incredible - the greatest day of my life.

"To win here is a very special day. I did well in qualifying, but this place is such a test for two hours and I knew I had a lot of work to do.

"We had lots of tests, safety cars, so a very satisfying win. I'm elated to join the likes of Ayrton Senna and those guys around here."

Vettel admitted he did not have the pace to keep up with Webber and was happy to settle for second.

"I just wasn't able to keep up with him," said Vettel.

"There was a big difference, and then late on when I felt the grip come back I wasn't too far off.

"There was no real point to make an effort to overtake, but to be honest I had to look more in the mirrors as Robert was pushing quite hard.

"But I'm very, very happy. I don't think we could have done better."

Kubica conceded it was his poor start which cost him as the Pole said: "Pulling away I thought I had a chance to overtake Mark.

"But I got on the power too early, had too much wheel spin, and then I had to defend from Felipe.

"But this is a positive. No-one was expecting us to finish on the podium."

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