MARK Webber became the sixth different winner of this unique 2012 season as won his second Monaco Grand Prix for Red Bull Racing on Sunday.
The Australian held off a late charge from Mercedes driver Nico Rosberg to take victory on the streets of the Principality, adding to his win in 2010, and making it a hat-trick of wins for Red Bull Racing.
Reigning world champion Sebastian Vettel, who started the day on top of the championship table, finished just off the podium in fourth place.
The win also moved Webber level on 73 points with Vettel and just three from the summit, currently occupied by Fernando Alonso in the Ferrari.
Webber’s win also signals the most open start to a season since 1983, with six different winners in the opening six races and the top five drivers in the championship separated by just 17 points.
But after the race, Webber admitted he isn’t concerned with the historical nature of his victory.
“I’m not bothered by the history of it,“ he said. “Even if someone had won the first five races, we’d still be celebrating in the same way.
“It is probably the weakest car we’ve won with here. But if you could pick a race to win, it would probably be this one.”
Team boss Christian Horner sung Webber’s praises and said he was delighted to make it a hat-trick of Monaco wins for the team from Tilbrook.
“It’s a fantastic result for the team to achieve a third consecutive victory in Monte Carlo. Mark drove an immaculate race and after a very clean get away, he controlled the race from the front.
“All the races carry the same amount of points, but some are that little bit more special to win.”
Webber inherited pole position on Saturday despite setting the second fastest time of the session. Veteran Michael Schumacher’s misdemeanours at the last round in Spain saw him handed a five-place grid penalty, relegating him to sixth place and handing Webber the all-important first place on the grid for Sunday’s race.
Notoriously a slow starter, Webber bucked the trend and got off the line cleanly with Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton close behind as the drama unfolded behind, eliminating French favourite Romain Grosjean in the Lotus before the first corner and bringing out the safety car.
When the race restarted, Webber looked in total control, easily managing the gap back to Rosberg as the pair began to pull away from Hamilton, the two Ferrari drivers and Vettel.
Rosberg was the first to blink and pitted for new tyres, and Webber stopped a lap later but came out in front of the Chinese Grand Prix winner.
As the rest of the field dived into the pitlane, Vettel stayed out – having opted to start on the harder compound Pirelli tyres, he managed to leap-frog to the front of the pack until he finally pitted on lap 45.
His strategy paid off too. Almost impossible to overtake around the tight circuit, Vettel crucially emerged from the pits ahead of Felipe Massa and Lewis Hamilton in fourth place, with Webber retaking his lead, closely followed by Rosberg and Alonso.
There was late drama to come though as spots of rain began to fall on some parts of the circuit, making the already tough track even more difficult to negotiate for those already on the ragged edge.
Webber initially looked too cautious as he tip-toed through the rain, allowing the chasing pack to close dramatically. For the final 10 laps, Webber, Rosberg, Alonso, Vettel and Hamilton were racing nose-to-tail in a remarkable dice, but none were able to make the all-important pass.
The top six crossed the finish line in as many seconds, but it was Webber who took the plaudits at the chequered flag to become the sixth winner of the season.
“There were different parts of the race where I had to be incredibly focused and make sure we really capitalised on the positioning we had,” Webber said afterwards. “A good friend of mine sent me a text message this morning and said ‘You’re in charge, you’re in front and in charge’ and we were, but you can get bitten here very quickly.
“There were a few key stages around the stops that were interesting. Sebastian had his tyres very hot and was quick at that point and I couldn’t get mine going, but once he pitted I reverted my attention back to Nico and just looked after the rears until the end of the race.
“Then the rain came, which around here is very, very tough. But we had composure and experience and great team work on the pit wall.
“It’s a tough nut to crack this race, but we did it again. I had both hands on it today and I wasn’t going to let go.”
Sebastian Vettel’s fourth place finish was a great achievement, considering his ninth place grid position after a disappointing qualifying. And the champion was pleased for his team-mate, and suggested it might see Red Bull return to form.
“It’s definitely good for Mark to win here and also for the team to get their third Monaco win in a row – it’s impressive.
“It would have been nice to have been on the podium today. I think the speed was there, but in the end we had the same strategy as the leaders, just the other way round.
“It was quite difficult as we were on older tyres, but we had some good laps and we gained roughly around eight seconds, so that was strong.
“After that I was in traffic and it’s difficult to pass in Monaco, as I showed last year and Mark showed this year.
“We were hoping some of the leaders would be forced to do two stops, but unfortunately Kimi (Raikkonen) made quite a big gap behind me, so the leaders had clean air after their first stop.
“That helped them and it made it more difficult for us, but we started ninth and considering it’s hard to pass here, then to gain five places was a good day.”
Team boss Christian Horner added that the performance of both drivers was extremely impressive considering the conditions.
He said: “We weren’t sure if it was going to be a one or two-stop strategy heading into the race, but Mark did such a good job on the soft tyre that he bought the option to make a one-stop really work and delivered the pace when he needed to. Despite some heart stopping moments in the last few laps, he controlled his pace fantastically well and never looked under threat.
“With Sebastian, after a good start he was in a high speed train in sixth place until all the soft runners pitted and then he had his window of opportunity to put in some really competitive lap times on the worn hard tyre and that, together with a fantastic pit stop, enabled him to jump both Felipe Massa and Lewis Hamilton.
“So first and fourth is a great team result, it’s great to achieve a result like this, especially when all our partners are here in the Principality.”
After starting the season as heavy favourites having won both championships in 2010 and 2011, Red Bull have been off-colour by their own high standards in 2012, but look to be returning to form at the right time.
After Vettel’s dominant victory in Bahrain and now Webber’s win in Monaco, Red Bull top the constructors’ championship standings by an impressive 38 points over early pace-setters McLaren.
But with the season proving not to be as cut-and-dried as in previous years, no-one at Tilbrook will be resting on their laurels ahead of the Canadian Grand Prix in two weeks time.
Last year, Vettel looked comfortable in the lead despite a two-hour weather delay, before a late charge from Jenson Button forced the German into a mistake on the final lap, handing victory to the McLaren driver.