Monaco Grand Prix: 5 Things We Learned from This Weekend
The 2012 Formula 1 season has been absolutely incredible.
After six races, a record six different drivers from five different teams have stood on the top step of the podium.
The Drivers Championship standings reflect the opening part of the season as Ferrari's Fernando Alonso only holds a three-point advantage over Red Bull pair Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber with McLaren's Lewis Hamilton just 13 points behind and Mercedes' Nico Rosberg 17 back.
The Monaco Grand Prix is always full of drama, be it on-track battles or off-track controversy. This year was no different.
5. Michael Schumacher Is Still Fast
Michael Schumacher has been mediocre since his return to Formula One after a three-year absence at the start of the 2010 season.
His crash into the back of Williams' Bruno Senna at the Spanish Grand Prix two weeks ago earned him lots of criticism and opened the door to questions about his ability to still mix it with F1's best.
Then came Saturday qualifying for the Monaco Grand Prix.
Schumacher's Mercedes was fairly fast all weekend before he launched his car around the streets of the principality to an astonishing pole position lap time.
Unfortunately, his accident in Spain had earned him a five-place grid penalty, sending him back to sixth place.
His race was compromised from the start as the Lotus car of Romain Grosjean forced him to clip the wall and damage from that later caused the German's retirement.
We've still got that incredible lap, a hallmark of Schumacher's perfectionist driving style, to drool over.
4. Jenson Button Is in a Slump
Since winning the opening Grand Prix of the season in Australia, Jenson Button's form held for two more races before slumping totally.
A 13th-place qualifying effort on Saturday, the second consecutive pole position shootout he has failed to take part in, led to a terrible race on Sunday afternoon.
Button was jumped amid the first-corner chaos by the fast-starting Caterham of former McLaren driver Heikki Kovalainen.
Kovalained then drove one of his best races to deny the Brit any chance of getting past him for the next 70 laps before Button spun out of the race.
The 2009 World Champion now finds himself 29 points off championship leader Alonso.
3. Felipe Massa Might Not Be Done Yet
Felipe Massa has had a 2012 season to forget.
Poor performances throughout last season and during the start of this season sparked intense speculation about his future at the Italian marque with some pundits even predicting the Brazilian would be replaced midseason if results did not pick up.
Massa answered his critics with an assured performance in Monaco, finishing sixth after a strong race and good showing in qualifying on Saturday as he made it into the final pole position shootout.
Massa's qualifying all season has been an issue as his bad qualifying has caused him to struggle in races.
Fans of the 2008 Championship runner-up will hope that this is the turn around in performance Massa needs to keep his job.
2. Mark Webber Can Beat Sebastian Vettel
Saturday qualifying perhaps signaled more than just Mark Webber's growing ability to stick a car on pole.
For the second race running, teammate Sebastian Vettel's qualifying performance has left a lot to be desired.
In Spain, he only managed seventh on the grid.
In Monaco, he had to burn up a set of the prime 'super-soft' Pirelli tires just to escape elimination in the very first session. In the second session, he again had to set a late lap-time to scrape through to the final shootout session.
After using up a set of super-softs in the first session, Vettel could only manage one run at pole position.
Rather than do so, Vettel chose to sit the session out in the pit-lane and start from 10th (rising to ninth after a penalty for Pastor Maldonado).
Although Vettel rose through the field to finish fourth in Monaco, he used to be a master of qualifying.
All of this points to the Red Bull car being a better fit for Mark Webber's driving style rather than Vettel's, a fact that will not go unnoticed by the two parts of the Red Bull garage.
Webber will now have the confidence that he can lead the team to his first and the team's third consecutive Drivers Championship.
1. Lewis Hamilton Has Decisions to Make About His Future
Lewis Hamilton was Mr. Consistency in the early part of the season after a string of good performances.
Now, like his teammate Jenson Button, his finishing positions have been on the slide.
A third-place start in Monaco should have been a launch pad to attack the two cars in front for the race win.
Instead, the McLaren struggled with the pace of its rivals and slid backwards through the field. Most infuriatingly to Hamilton, Sebastian Vettel popped out ahead of him after his pit-stop.
This prompted Hamilton to complain about a lack of communication from his team, who apparently failed to notify Hamilton that he would have to push hard to keep Vettel behind him.
The 2008 World Champion is out of contract at the end of the year. With Felipe Massa likely to leave Ferrari at the end of the season, a seat could open up with McLaren's eternal rivals.
Red Bull's Mark Webber may move on too after the 2012 season, and Mercedes' Michael Schumacher's three-year return is due to end this year too.
There are options open to Hamilton should he want to get some fresh oxygen with a different team. Though all of the options have big red flags hanging over them.
Ferrari is now Fernando Alonso's team. He and Hamilton had a turbulent time at McLaren in 2007 as the Spaniard was rattled by the rookie Englishman's stunning ability to challenge him at all levels. Would he want to team up with someone who he never really saw eye-to-eye with?
Red Bull would still feature Sebastian Vettel, a very similar driver to Hamilton which could result in a division in a famously tight-nit team.
Mercedes have improved every year since re-entering the sport in 2010, but the team's future in the sport is far from confirmed. Nico Rosberg is a long-term friend from the pair's go-karting days, so this perhaps represents the likeliest landing spot for Hamilton.
It's only six races in and the driver rumor mill has already been sparked to life.