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Vettel tightens grip on F1 title bid

Sebastian Vettel
Sebastian Vettel celebrates his run in Monaco.
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MONACO (AP)

The Red Bull team failed to win the Monaco Grand Prix for the first time since 2009, though it felt like a victory for Sebastian Vettel as the three-time defending champion strengthened his overall lead heading into next month's Canadian GP.

SCENIC ROUTE

Formula One drivers on road to Monaco Grand Prix. PHOTOS

What a difference one race can make.

After the Spanish GP two weeks ago, Kimi Raikkonen had trimmed Vettel's lead to four points with his second-place finish behind Fernando Alonso, who had clawed back to within 17 points.

But that lead again feels a lot more secure after both challengers finished way out of contention in Monaco. After Vettel placed second behind Mercedes' Nico Rosberg, Alonso lagged behind in seventh and Raikkonen was 10th.

So, instead of looking over his shoulder, Vettel can feel euphoric going to Montreal in two weeks.

''Overall I'm happy and pleased with the result,'' said Vettel, who is 21 points ahead of teammate Mark Webber, who was third in Monaco, and 29 clear of Alonso. ''It was a good achievement by the team. We seem to like this place: two cars on the podium is very good.''

Red Bull team principal Christian Horner agreed.

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''I think second and third was probably optimum from our grid positions,'' he said.

Vettel has won two of the season's six races, but felt he could have chalked up another win if the pace had been higher - and if he'd found any room on Monaco's sinewy, tube-like track.

''Usually you expect two silver arrows in front of you, but they were more like buses going for a cruise,'' the German driver said. ''They (Mercedes) were going slow and trying to make a one-stop happen. Fair play, they were in the lead, and it is very tricky to pass.''

Nor was there any sign of the much-publicized friction between Vettel and Webber over the weekend after their fallout at the Malaysian GP, where Vettel avoided punishment despite ignoring team orders and overtaking to snatch victory away from his teammate.

Ferrari, meanwhile, needs a major boost in Montreal.

It was a bad race for the Italian team, with Felipe Massa crashing out of the race and ending up in a hospital, although the Brazilian only had precautionary checkups and was released soon after.

''I believe that in the space of a few days he will back in perfect shape,'' Ferrari team principal Stefano Domenicali said.

Massa was third two weeks ago in Barcelona, raising hopes that Ferrari could finally match Red Bull for pure racing speed after beating both of their cars at the Circuit de Catalunya.

But expectations fell away amid the crashes and the chaos of Monaco - where six drivers failed to finish a manic race that was stopped three times on arguably the most difficult and volatile track on the F1 calendar.

''Now it is important for us to understand why we were not as competitive as we were in previous races and try to react right away in Canada,'' Domenicali said. ''Our aim is still to improve our qualifying, and try to get back to the pace we had seen to date.''

Two-time former champion Alonso has not given up hope of catching Vettel.

He knows how quickly the leadership can change hands. He was 43 points ahead of Vettel after the summer break last year, only to lose the F1 title to the German on the last day by a mere three points: 281-278.

Vettel

THREE FOR THREE

Think Sebastian Vettel is on a roll now? Take a look back at his previous F1 season after winning his third straight title.

''(The) outcome doesn't bother me in terms of the next round in Canada, because we have to consider Monaco a law unto itself,'' the Spaniard said. ''We know there is still much to do to improve, but we are looking ahead with confidence.''

Although Red Bull and Ferrari are fierce rivals, they did at least unite in one way in Monaco.

Both teams lodged a protest against Mercedes for conducting in-season testing in accordance with Pirelli straight after the Spanish GP. Motor sport's governing body is reviewing the case, which could end up before an FIA tribunal.

Mercedes and Pirelli are under pressure to answer questions over why Mercedes was allowed to conduct such testing, in a case that is set to rumble on in the days leading up to the Canadian GP, and could even end up impacting Mercedes' whole season.

''You might expect a sporting penalty. But because it is not really clear what could be the effect on the race weekend, it may be bigger than that,'' Domenicali said. ''Because there is no precedent, I have no idea what should happen.''

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