Third place sees Alonso take lead

Mark Webber manages win amid chaotic conditions in Monaco

Ferrari's Spanish driver Fernando Alonso and Red Bull Racing's Australian driver Mark Webber spray champagne at the Circuit de Monaco. / JEAN-CHRISTOPHE MAGNENET (AFP)

He may not have been given a winning car by Ferrari, but the results that Fernando Alonso has been racking up this season, combined with perhaps the closest field among the top teams in living memory, have seen him take the lead of the Drivers’ Championship after just six races.

Indeed, for proof of just how close it is, the victory of Red Bull’s Mark Webber at Monaco on Sunday marks the sixth different driver to win in as many races — a first for the sport’s record books.

Pole sitter Webber managed to hold the lead at the start, which was marred by a coming together of Lotus’ Romain Grosjean and Mercedes’ Michael Schumacher. The accident left Grosjean’s car in the middle of the track, prompting a safety car period — although not before the entire field had passed dangerously close by the marshals who were removing the stricken Lotus.

Webber was chased down throughout the race by Mercedes’ Nico Rosberg, followed by McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton and then Alonso. The Spaniard managed to pass the Briton during a pit stop, however, as did Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel.

The skies had been threatening to unleash showers all afternoon, with intermittent rain bunching up the six front runners — completed by Ferrari’s Felipe Massa — during the final 10 laps, which meant a thrilling finish as the drivers fought to get past the car in front around the windy street circuit.

In the end, though, Webber held his nerve, becoming the sixth different winner this season, and also the fifth different winner over Formula 1’s last five visits to Monaco.

As the cars passed the checkered flag, just 6.1 seconds separated the Red Bull of Webber, and Massa, in sixth place.

Speaking after the race, Alonso was clearly delighted with the result, in what is shaping up to be another challenging year for the double world champion.

“The target was to try to finish in front of Sebastian [Vettel] and Lewis [Hamilton], as they are with us in the championship,” Alonso told the press after the race. “At the start I had contact with Grosjean so thought there was damage, but the car was fine. We took Hamilton at the stop with a perfect time and a perfect stop again, so well done to the team.”

Alonso had at first appeared to drop back from Hamilton before passing him, but was simply saving his tires so that he could get the most out of them during his rivals’ pit stops. In fact, when Webber and Hamilton stopped on lap 29 — two laps after Rosberg — Alonso stayed out on the track, managing the two fastest sectors of the race up until that point. The move came off, and he emerged ahead of the Briton.

The race puts Alonso three points ahead of Vettel and Webber in the standings, the Spaniard having racked up 76 points. The Red Bull drivers both have 73 points, but Vettel leads due to better position finishes. Hamilton, meanwhile, has slipped back into fourth place on 63 points, and his teammate Jenson Button is now way down in seventh place, after a disappointing retirement.

In the casino heaven that is Monaco, it was a brave man who placed a bet on Sunday’s result. It will be an even braver man, in fact, who bets on the outcome of this, the closest championship race the sport has seen in years.

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