Harder, Better, Faster, Monza for Vettel: Italian GP review

By on Sunday, September 8, 2013
Red Bull/Gety Images

Red Bull/Gety Images

For the second successive race the build-up was all about the weather. When will the rain arrive, and how heavy will it be? As it turned out, those folk in the paddock about an hour before the lights went out were the only ones to get wet. The clouds cleared, the sun appeared and Sebastian Vettel disappeared off into the distance.

Vettel didn’t make the best start from pole position but was still ahead under braking for the Rettifilio chicane. The Red Bull driver locked up and somehow made the corner amid a plethora of white smoke. Felipe Massa rocketed off the line and was up to second, while Mark Webber and Fernando Alonso rounded out the top four. Nico Hulkenberg, the star of qualifying, lost two places but was nonetheless still in the hunt.

Vettel soon extended his advantage to escape the DRS zone while Alonso set about getting past Webber. He had a nosey into Rettifilio but did it the hard way by going around the outside of the Red Bull at Roggia. Webber damaged his front wing on the first lap and struggled for balance during the early stages but didn’t believe it cost him a huge amount of time.

Alonso began closing in on Massa and eased up the inside of his team-mate into Rettifilio. The Brazilian didn’t put up a fight and slipped to third.

As ever, Vettel was being told simply to maintain his advantage but it was up to seven seconds by the time Red Bull elected to bring him in for his sole stop from options to primes. It was a quick turnaround for the team, as they also serviced Webber mere seconds later.

Ferrari decided to stay out for an extra couple of laps and it cost them. Alonso emerged only a second ahead of Webber as the Australian had managed to usurp Massa.

Webber tried to get through on Alonso but had to short shift from second to third gear, thus scuppering his chance of completing a Red Bull 1-2. Massa was always within striking distance but never close enough to make a realistic attempt at passing Webber.

Sauber F1 Team

Sauber F1 Team

The ‘best of the rest’ was, astonishingly, Hulkenberg. The German drove an exquisite race to more than double Sauber’s 2013 points tally as he came home in fifth place. Hulkenberg had to defend from compatriot Nico Rosberg and was given some breathing space when the Mercedes driver made a mistake at Rettifilio. By the finish, Hulkenberg was just 10 seconds behind race winner Vettel; a vast improvement over any performance from Sauber this season.

There was then a 20 second gap back to the next group of drivers, led by Daniel Ricciardo. The Toro Rosso driver matched his career best result with seventh place, finishing a few tenths of a second ahead of Romain Grosjean.

You’d have noticed by now that there has so far been no mention of two championship contenders – if they can be called such, given Vettel’s enormous advantage – Lewis Hamilton and Kimi Raikkonen.

Hamilton declared his title hopes as over after a miserable weekend in which he qualified in twelfth place and finished just three places higher. The Brit started on the prime tyres but sustained a slow puncture and had to revert to a two stop strategy. He lit up the timing screens but was ultimately fighting a losing battle and collected just a couple of points. Radio issues merely compounded his woes.

Raikkonen meanwhile locked up under braking for Rettifilio on the opening lap and nudged the back of Sergio Perez. The contact was only minor but it was sufficient enough for Raikkonen to require a trip to the pits for a new front wing. Raikkonen was therefore on a similar strategy to Hamilton but he lacked the pace of the Mercedes driver. After umpteen races in the points, Raikkonen has now gone two races without a top 10 finish and is firmly out of the running for the title. If reports are to be believed, an announcement on his future will be made this week…

Mercedes AMG Petronas

Mercedes AMG Petronas

McLaren spent the weekend celebrating their 50th anniversary, with a party in their motorhome and the entire team wearing retro kit – including flat caps – on race day. Sadly there was little to celebrate on-track as Jenson Button held on for the final point by just three tenths of a second, while Sergio Perez was a few seconds back in twelfth. 2014, and perhaps even 2015, cannot come soon enough.

Esteban Gutierrez finished a lonely thirteenth while Pastor Maldonado and Valtteri Bottas never challenged the points and finished in fourteenth and fifteenth. Charles Pic turned the tables on Giedo van der Garde to win the intra-team battle at Caterham, and the Marussia duo briefly got very dicey in a scrap that was settled in favour of Jules Bianchi.

It was another difficult race for Force India as neither driver scored a point. Adrian Sutil was classified in sixteenth but pulled into the pits on the penultimate lap but Paul di Resta didn’t even complete one run of the circuit. Di Resta appeared to make an error under braking for the Roggia chicane and slammed into the back of Grosjean. The Lotus driver was fortunate to continue as the front left of the Force India was damaged.

The only other retirement was Jean-Eric Vergne. The Toro Rosso driver was on course for points until he suffered a smoky demise two third of the way through the race.

So the final two races of the European season in Belgium and Italy were supposed to be damage limitation for Red Bull. Instead, Vettel has emerged with a pair of comfortable victories and a healthy championship lead after claiming his third Italian Grand Prix win.

The next stops for the sport are Singapore, Korea, Japan and India, where Vettel won in 2012. What’s more is that the end of the season is usually when Vettel turns up the wick.

Vettel was once again booed on the podium – although such honours are usually reserved for non-Ferrari victors in Monza – but had a simple message.

"The more booing we get, the better we've done," he said in the post-race press conference. There may well be more booing to come before the season is out…

Vettel Monza 2

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