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Late-race attrition adds twist to Monaco GP, six cars out in 20 laps (VIDEOS)

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Sebastian Vettel may have looked calm on the podium after clinching victory in Sunday’s Monaco Grand Prix, but some late-race drama caused by cars further back had put him under far greater pressure in the closing stages.

Vettel leapfrogged Ferrari teammate Kimi Raikkonen through the pit stops to take the lead of the race at half distance before surging 10 seconds clear.

However, Vettel’s lead was wiped away when the safety car was deployed following a clash between Jenson Button and Pascal Wehrlein at Portier, one of the tightest parts of the circuit.

Battling for 18th place, Button tried diving down the inside of Wehrlein, only for the pair to knock wheels and the German’s Sauber to tip in the air, coming to rest at a 90-degree angle up against the wall.

The incident sparked concern among the passing drivers, but Wehrlein soon reported to his team that he was OK, and simply could not get out of his car due to the position of the wall.

The Monegasque marshals were quick to come to Wehrlein’s aid and right his car before sending him off to the medical center for a check-up.

The incident acted as the first in a string of late drama that saw six cars drop out in the close 21 laps, with the safety car bunching the field and resulting in some desperate moves.

The next retirement came courtesy of Marcus Ericsson in one of the more embarrassing mistakes you will see in F1 this year as he crashed behind the safety car.

As a lapped car, Ericsson was given the wave-by to pass the safety car and try to unlap himself, only to duff his Sauber into the wall at Turn 1 in the process.

Turn 1 would claim another victim on the restart when Stoffel Vandoorne threw away McLaren’s chance to score its first points of the year. As Sergio Perez made a divebomb move up the inside, Vandoorne was unable to slow on the marbles and careered straight into the barrier, bringing his race to an end.

Perez continued to charge after passing Vandoorne, making an opportunistic move on Daniil Kvyat through La Rascasse. The pair made contact, leaving a hole in Kvyat’s sidepod and forcing the Russian driver to park up at Casino Square.

The final casualty of the race was Lance Stroll, who after reporting concerns with his brakes was seen being parked up in his garage with seven laps to go, extending the Canadian’s point-less start to life in F1.

Button gets pre-race radio message from Alonso in Indianapolis (VIDEO)

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Jenson Button was given a special message by Fernando Alonso live from Indianapolis ahead of his one-off Formula 1 return in Monaco on Sunday just seconds before lights out.

Button stepped away from racing full-time in F1 at the end of last year, but was drafted in by McLaren to race in Monaco when Alonso secured a deal to enter the 101st Indianapolis 500.

Button qualified ninth in Monaco despite not having driven the McLaren-Honda MCL32 car until Thursday, only to be sent to the back of the grid due to a power unit penalty.

McLaren decided to start Button from the pit lane instead, with the Briton getting a special radio message from Alonso – who is up and watching the race in Indianapolis – as he left the garage.

Alonso wished Button the best of luck before telling him: “Look after my car!” Button responded by saying: “OK, I’ll pee in the seat!”

Button to start Monaco GP from pit lane after floor change

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Jenson Button will start his one-off comeback Formula 1 race in Monaco from the pit lane after McLaren opted to change the floor on his car after qualifying.

Button was drafted in by McLaren for the Monaco Grand Prix weekend following Fernando Alonso’s decision to race in the 101st Indianapolis 500, with the Briton previously stepping away from F1 at the end of last year.

Despite having no prior testing heading into the weekend, Button was quick to tame the McLaren-Honda MCL32 car, taking it to ninth place in qualifying.

A 15-place grid penalty for changes to his power unit resigned Button to the back of the grid for the race, prompting McLaren to make setup alterations overnight and favor a pit lane start for Button.

“As the floor is different from the one originally used in qualifying the competitor is required to start from the pit lane,” the FIA race stewards said in a bulletin ahead of the race.

Marcus Ericsson has also been handed a five-place grid penalty for a gearbox change. The Sauber driver’s qualifying position remains unchanged, though, by virtue of finishing 19th.

The Monaco Grand Prix is live on NBC and the NBC Sports app from 7:30am ET on Sunday.

2017 Monaco Grand Prix – Starting Grid

1. Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari
2. Sebastian Vettel Ferrari
3. Valtteri Bottas Mercedes
4. Max Verstappen Red Bull
5. Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull
6. Carlos Sainz Jr. Toro Rosso
7. Sergio Perez Force India
8. Romain Grosjean Haas
9. Daniil Kvyat Toro Rosso
10. Nico Hulkenberg Renault
11. Kevin Magnussen Haas
12. Stoffel Vandoorne McLaren
13. Lewis Hamilton Mercedes
14. Felipe Massa Williams
15. Esteban Ocon Force India
16. Jolyon Palmer Renault
17. Lance Stroll Williams
18. Pascal Wehrlein Sauber
19. Marcus Ericsson Sauber
PL. Jenson Button McLaren

What to watch for: Monaco Grand Prix (NBC from 7:30am ET; NBCSN, NBC Sports app from 7am)

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In Formula 1, races do not come any bigger than Monaco.

The sport’s ultimate sporting challenge combines with the glitz and glamor that F1 has become so famous for throughout its 67-year history, making the Monaco Grand Prix the ultimate event.

The race comes six rounds into what is shaping up to be one of the most intriguing title fights in recent history, with Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton going toe-to-toe for Ferrari and Mercedes.

Monaco always has an extra spice – but this year, we have new cars, a reinvigorated title fight, some surprises on the grid, and even an old face making a guest appearance.

Combined, we are poised to enjoy one of the most unpredictable and perhaps significant Monaco races in recent memory.

You can watch the Monaco Grand Prix live on NBC and the NBC Sports app from 7:30am ET. CLICK HERE for NBC live stream.

F1 Countdown begins at 7am ET on NBCSN and the NBC Sports app, and runs until the NBC coverage begins. CLICK HERE for NBCSN live stream.

Here’s what to watch for in today’s race.

2017 Monaco Grand Prix – What to watch for

Can the Iceman stay cool?

Kimi Raikkonen may have ended his pole drought of almost nine years on Saturday, but the popular Finn remained as non-plussed as ever, simply saying “ah good” when informed of his success.

Raikkonen’s charge to pole came as a surprise, going some way to responding to the critics who have questioned his lack of pace compared to teammate Sebastian Vettel so far this season – yet the real challenge is to come.

With Lewis Hamilton so far back, Ferrari knows that this is a golden chance for Vettel to extend his championship lead. If Raikkonen wants to win this race, he’s going to have to do it convincingly and rekindle some of the old Kimi that has arguably been missing for a few years now.

There was a flicker of that flame in qualifying. The Iceman now needs to turn that into a fire.

Damage limitation the focus for Hamilton

Lewis Hamilton’s had a pretty rotten weekend so far. From setup troubles on Thursday to tire temperature woes in qualifying, the three-time champion is resigned to starting 13th in Monaco – a track where overtaking is nigh on impossible.

So Hamilton’s focus must be on damage limitation. A good start should help, and on raw pace along, a top six finish should be possible – but it would take a bold strategy, a slice of luck and perhaps a safety car or two to bring him into the fray at the front.

Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas can do his bit and try to cause trouble for Vettel at the front of the pack, but most probably, Hamilton is going to be having a Sunday drive through the streets he calls home.

Will tire management decide this race?

Mercedes has struggled for much of this season to manage its tires, with Hamilton’s qualifying problems being the height of that. The fact neither the driver nor the team had an answer after qualifying shows there is still plenty to be worked out overnight.

The ultra-softs seem to be lasting well in Monaco, but the hotter things get, the more difficult it could be. Expect a fine balance between this being a one and two-stopper. Safety cars will certainly alter things as well.

If things do heat up, then Ferrari should run away with this at the front. It’ll then be up to the likes of Mercedes and Red Bull to work on the fly to rein in the Prancing Horse.

Button out to make more memories

Jenson Button’s one-off comeback to F1 has been a real good news story. Despite having not tested the 2017-spec McLaren, he was rapid throughout practice and even took the team through to Q3, taking P9 on the grid.

The bittersweet part of this story is that he will start last after another Honda power unit penalty following the emergence of an issue following FP2. So don’t go thinking JB will be taking any final points to add to his career haul, although with a finish and high attrition rate, it’s certainly possible.

But points aren’t what this comeback was about for Button. No, it was about making memories. That’s what he did in qualifying, taming the MCL32 en route to Q3. And it’s what he’ll be out to do in the race.

This will most probably be goodbye to Button in F1 – but it’s an opportunity we thought had passed us by in Abu Dhabi. It’d be great if he can make it to the checkered flag this time.

2017 Monaco Grand Prix – Starting Grid

1. Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari
2. Sebastian Vettel Ferrari
3. Valtteri Bottas Mercedes
4. Max Verstappen Red Bull
5. Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull
6. Carlos Sainz Jr. Toro Rosso
7. Sergio Perez Force India
8. Romain Grosjean Haas
9. Daniil Kvyat Toro Rosso
10. Nico Hulkenberg Renault
11. Kevin Magnussen Haas
12. Stoffel Vandoorne McLaren*
13. Lewis Hamilton Mercedes
14. Felipe Massa Williams
15. Esteban Ocon Force India
16. Jolyon Palmer Renault
17. Lance Stroll Williams
18. Pascal Wehrlein Sauber
19. Marcus Ericsson Sauber
20. Jenson Button McLaren**

* Stoffel Vandoorne takes a three-place grid penalty as punishment for a crash with Felipe Massa in the Spanish Grand Prix.
** Jenson Button takes a 15-place grid penalty following power unit element changes by McLaren ahead of FP3.

You can watch the Monaco Grand Prix live on NBC and the NBC Sports app from 7:30am ET. CLICK HERE for NBC live stream. To watch the race with Mosaic View, CLICK HERE.

F1 Countdown begins at 7am ET on NBCSN and the NBC Sports app, and runs until the NBC coverage begins. CLICK HERE for NBCSN live stream.

Monaco offers incredible lifestyle, sporting experiences (VIDEO)

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Both on and off the track, there are very few places like Monaco.

A hub for the rich and famous, through the Formula 1 race weekend, the city becomes the most exclusive place in the world. If you want to be seen, you need to be in Monaco.

Away from the glitz and the glamor, it is an F1 weekend with an added twist: the challenge is unlike any other on the planet as drivers have to retain their focus to take one of motorsport’s toughest circuits.

In this video, we hear from Mika Hakkinen (two-time F1 world champion, 1998 Monaco GP winner), Jenson Button (2009 F1 champion and Monaco GP winner), Sergio Perez (2016 Monaco GP podium finisher) and Stoffel Vandoorne (Monaco GP2 winner) about what makes the race so special.