Stroll in the park for Lewis

By on Monday, September 10, 2012

The Italian Grand Prix was owned from start to finish by Lewis Hamilton. On and off track, the 2008 world champion was the centre of attention throughout the weekend. His victory may strengthen his side of the fence in contract negotiations, but so will McLaren’s, who have now locked out pole position and the victory champagne for the past three events.

It could have been a lot more difficult for McLaren had the anti-roll bar on Fernando Alonso’s F2012 not failed at the start of Q3, rendering his car horrible to drive and the world championship leader stranded down in tenth. Felipe Massa started third, so the McLaren drivers still had to be wary of a driver who had nothing to lose…

Felipe Massa challenged for the lead but settled for second

After the previous weekend’s mayhem at the start, the drivers were fairly well behaved bar some minor contact between Timo Glock and Narain Karthikeyan. Jenson Button made a poor start, “too much wheelspin”, allowing Massa through to second. Massa briefly challenged Hamilton for the lead into the first chicane but wisely decided that discretion was the better part of valour.

Alonso made his customary good start, running eighth at the end of the first sector. The Ferrari driver then passed two rivals in quick succession: Kamui Kobayashi into the Parabolica and Kimi Raikkonen at the end of the main straight.

Alonso also dispensed with Michael Schumacher, but reigning champion Sebastian Vettel was proving harder to deal with.

Alonso passed Vettel into the first chicane, but the Red Bull driver defended his position, compromising his exit towards the Curva Grande.

Alonso moved to the left – in a reversed situation to their 2011 scrap – but Vettel moved across until the Spaniard was on the grass and briefly skated through the edge of the gravel trap. Was it payback? Who knows, but Fernando was not amused at being sent off the circuit.

After a few incidents earlier this year, the stewards are clamping down on such defensive moves. Alonso was halfway alongside Vettel when the Red Bull began to edge him off of the circuit. It was deemed a dangerous move and Vettel was subsequently handed a drive through penalty.

Sebastian Vettel had a terrible afternoon

“I don’t want to comment on the penalty he received, but what he did was definitely on the limit”, said Alonso. Red Bull team principal Christian Horner naturally defended his driver, but the implications of the penalty were rendered useless – although for the record, it dropped Vettel down from fourth to ninth - when he retired with five laps remaining.

The alternator on his RB8 had failed for a second time in two days, with the same issue affecting Jerome d’Ambrosio prior to qualifying.

Renault Sport later apologised to Red Bull and admitted being perplexed as to why a new specification – introduced after failures for Vettel and Romain Grosjean in Valencia – did not work properly.

“We are still looking into why the part failed again here but we do know that even though the alternator was being operated entirely within the prescribed range, the part itself overheated and shut off the power supply”, said Rémi Taffin, Renault Sport F1 head of track operations.

Most of the front runners stopped around lap twenty, although Button passed Massa before the round of pit stops. This left McLaren running comfortably in first and second, around eight seconds between their two world champions.

However, disaster soon struck when Button’s car coasted to a halt, a suspected fuel pick-up problem ending his chances of finishing as the runner-up in Monza for the fourth successive season.

Ferrari’s tactics soon saw Alonso running ahead of Massa, but by now a new threat was emerging and one that would eventually usurp them both.

Sauber celebrates another podium

Sergio Perez started from twelfth place on the harder compound tyres. The Mexican made a good start and passed several rivals in commanding fashion, including around the outside of Raikkonen at the first chicane. He pitted on Lap 29, switching to the option tyres and came out in sixth place.

With the demise of Button and Vettel, a podium was suddenly on the cards. Perez’s lap times of high 1:27s was strong enough to ensure that he eased past both Ferrari drivers, who were lapping in the 1:29s and was only four seconds shy of Hamilton after fifty-three laps, although both parties agreed that the McLaren driver had enough in hand.

Alonso and Massa dropped back significantly from Perez but still claimed a good haul of points at Ferrari’s home race. Raikkonen eclipsed the two-stopping Michael Schumacher by four tenths of a second, with Lotus praising the Finnish driver for achieving what they believed to be the maximum from their package. Schumacher expressed his pleasure after a “fun race”, but lamented that the race wasn’t a few laps longer.

Nico Rosberg also stopped twice and finished a couple of seconds shy of his illustrious team-mate but was compromised by a lack of grip on his first set of option tyres. His pace improved and he set the fastest lap for the fourth time in his career.

Fernando Alonso finished on the podium

Paul di Resta picked up eighth place but was a little fortunate not to be penalised for moving over on Bruno Senna at the second chicane. Senna felt that his rival deserved a sanction.

“I had the front wing of my car next to his car and then of course the tyre under braking and he squeezed me off the track”, the Brazilian said. “It's a stewards' decision, so we'll respect it, but I don't think that what Paul did was right”.

Senna went on to finish tenth, a place behind Kamui Kobayashi, who was left ruing a lack of running on Friday as he believed this hampered his long run pace. Pastor Maldonado had a rare error-free race on his way to eleventh, ahead of the luckless Daniel Ricciardo.

Ricciardo was tenth exiting Parabolica on the final lap when a fuel pick-up problem left him powerless and he coasted across the line in twelfth.

“I accelerated to exit Parabolica and nothing happened”, he said. “At the moment, I don’t know the cause, but to miss out on a point by a few hundred metres is bitterly disappointing.”

Team-mate Jean Eric Vergne exited proceedings in spectacular fashion. The Frenchman appeared to suffer a rear suspension failure under braking for the first chicane and was launched backwards over the unnecessarily high kerbs. He escaped from the incident uninjured, although Toro Rosso later inferred that it was driver error, not car failure, which was the root cause of the problem.

Jerome d’Ambrosio was never a feature in the race, although that was down to a KERS failure rather than his own ability. Had his energy system been working – and remember, it was the first time the Belgian used KERS in his career – he would have been very close to the points.

Caterham, Marussia and HRT had both drivers finishing the race a lap down, with Heikki Kovalainen narrowly eclipsing Vitaly Petrov.

Mark Webber’s dismal Monza record continues; the Australian qualified eleventh, made little progress and then spun out on worn tyres exiting the Ascari chicane. Nico Hulkenberg started the race from the back of the grid after a problem in qualifying and retired near the end with a brake issue, compounding a miserable weekend for the young German.

Hamilton was perhaps not his usual exuberant self after the race, because his drive was so comfortable, and he now sits thirty-seven points behind Alonso with seven rounds remaining.

“We should enjoy today, but this victory is just one step. Tomorrow, we’ll start all over again, for Singapore”, he said after the race. It shall be interesting to see whether Jenson Button, whose title hopes were remote even prior to his retirement, will now act as a rear-gunner.

Raikkonen and Vettel remain narrowly behind Hamilton, although Webber is slowly slipping out of contention, having taken just sixteen points in the four races since his victory at Silverstone.

The last word, however, goes to the man who could deliver Ferrari a first drivers title in five years.

"This Sunday was perfect for the championship, almost like a film with a happy ending: another podium finish, three of my closest rivals with no points and an increased lead over my closest pursuer".


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