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Kimi Raikkonen scores a scorching victory

MONACO: Kimi Raikkonen won the Monaco Grand Prix to secure his second consecutive victory for McLaren with a controlled performance as rivals Renault struggled in the sunny principality on Sunday.

Raikkonen, who started from his third consecutive pole position, proved he is now the man in form as McLaren executed the perfect one-stop strategy to pile the pressure on early championship leader Renault.

An early-race incident looked set to turn the race on its head but McLaren stuck with its plans as its rivals dived to the pits and Raikkonen was able to ease to victory with a comfortable gap.

Spaniard Fernando Alonso, the championship leader, struggled with his tyres and dropped from second to fourth late in the race when Williams drivers Nick Heidfeld and Mark Webber passed to climb onto the podium.

Best ever for Heidfeld

Heidfeld secured a best ever finish of second after getting the better of Australian team-mate Webber, who made it onto the podium after 56 races of trying.

Colombian Juan Pablo Montoya raced his way to fifth place for McLaren, despite starting from 16th after being punished for causing an accident in practice, while German Ralf Schumacher managed to secure sixth for Toyota.

And the Ferrari duo of Michael Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello climbed up from their mid-grid starting positions to secure some points for the ailing Italian team as they finished seventh and eighth.

Raikkonen made a clean get-away to lead Alonso through Sainte Devote, despite locking both front wheels as he pushed hard into the corner to make sure the Renault stayed behind him.

Webber, starting behind the front row pair, suffered again for Williams' poor startline performance as he dropped down to fifth with Giancarlo Fisichella moving up to third and Jarno Trulli fourth.

Felipe Massa made a strong start to shoot up from 11th to ninth, while Montoya was up to 12th from the start.

Raikkonen reeled off several fastest laps early in the race to extend his lead over Alonso to 3.2 seconds by the end of lap 10 with Fisichella just 1.7 seconds further back.

Albers spins

The race was thrown open when Christijan Albers spun heading into Portier on the leaders' 24th lap and was hit by David Coulthard as the Red Bull Racing driver came up to put the Minardi driver a lap down.

Michael Schumacher hit the back of Coulthard, knocking off the front wing on his Ferrari, and Jacques Villeneuve was also involved as the cars came to a standstill and the safety car was deployed.

Both Renaults of Alonso and Fisichella took advantage and pitted, as did the two Williams of Webber and Heidfeld and seventh placed Massa but, crucially, Raikkonen and Trulli stayed out behind the safety car.

Schumacher also stopped to repair his front wing and Coulthard was forced to retire because of too much damage.

The incident left Raikkonen leading ahead of Trulli, both still to make a stop, with Alonso third, Webber fourth, Heidfeld fifth, Massa sixth, Villeneuve seventh and Fisichella eighth.

Raikkonen flew away when the safety car peeled in at the end of lap 28 and extended a 5.6-second lead over Trulli and a 7.5-second advantage over Alonso within the first lap of racing.

Fastest laps

Raikkonen continued to reel out more fastest laps as he pushed hard to build a lead before his stop and he was left with an advantage of 29-seconds over Alonso when Trulli gave up his second place by heading for the pits on lap 39.

Raikkonen pitted on lap 41 and, after a long stop, he still came out with a 15-second advantage over Alonso as the Spaniard absorbed pressure from Webber, who was right up on the rear of the Renault.

Raikkonen continued to hold his 15-second lead at the front as Alonso stayed just ahead of Webber with Heidfeld less than a second further behind and a chase for second place with 25 laps left to run.

Webber made it past Alonso in the same place on lap 73, but both cut the chicane, Alonso more than Webber, and the Renault driver held station. Webber tried again on the next lap and made it past. — AFP

Narain fails to finish

Our reporter adds

Meanwhile, Narain Karthikeyan's season appears to be unravelling somewhat after a promising start over the first few races. Narain has now had to endure two bad races since Imola; the 28-year-old Indian failed to finish on Sunday after his car ran into several problems one after the other.

"My engine experienced pneumatic trouble so I had to pit on lap 13; then my front right wheel began to trouble me and I had to head back to the pits again in the very next lap," an evidently disappointed Narain said immediately after the race. "I kept losing pressure so I had to retire in the end."

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