Italian Grand Prix - Ferrari is back after phenomenal race at Monza
Ferrari drivers Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa delivered a phenomenal result for Scuderia Ferrari during their home Grand Prix at the Autodromo Nazionale di Monza in front of tens of thousands tifosi, the nickname for the Italian race fans. After the race the tifosi took possession of the start-finish straight, waving the red and yellow colored Ferrari flags to celebrate Alonso's third win of the season. Massa joined him on the third step of the podium, while Jenson Button attended the Italian festivities on behalf of McLaren after losing the lead to Alonso after his mandatory tyre pit stop. He was nevertheless content with his second place, as he knew he simply had not been able to match the relentless pace of Alonso's scarlet Ferrari during the second part of the race.
Both Alonso and Button revived their hopes to win this year's Drivers' Championship, and Ferrari is now also back in the hunt for the Constructors' Championship. Alonso started his weekend well after, much to his own surprise, securing his first pole position for Ferrari on Saturday. Ferrari President Luca di Montezemolo was proud of the 18th win of his team at Monza. "This is a very special day for me, and one that involves contrasting and very strong emotions. There is the delight for such a great win, which I want to dedicate to all our fans. I am proud of what the Scuderia has done, both on the track this weekend and back in the factory: it is an extraordinary job."
After taking the first 1-2 win of the season at Bahrain, Ferrari lost their magic touch, and were struggling to keep up with Red Bull Racing and McLaren. Their heavily criticized race in Germany gave them another 1-2 win, in Hungary Alonso and Massa were right behind the Red Bulls, but in Belgium the team lost their upwards momentum, Massa had to settle for fourth place, while Alonso retired from the race. But at Monza in front of their home crowd Ferrari did what they were expected to do: they reeled in the pole position and won the race.
Ferrari didn't seem to be affected by the new FIA flexibility tests and the team took advantage of the problems McLaren and Red Bull encountered over the weekend. When the lights changed to green on race day, Alonso wasn't quite as quick off the line as Button and the McLaren driver managed to slip past him just before the Variante Rettifilio. "I got a reasonably good start, but Jenson's was definitely better and more effective. I tried to attack him at the first corner but I did not manage it and there were some very exciting moments, when I collided with him and with Felipe. I was worried there might be some damage, but fortunately everything was fine," Alonso reported after the race.
Alonso was able to keep up with Button, but he could not find a way past him. His team at the pit wall worked out a strategy and when Button decided to pit, Alonso stayed out one more lap. When he pitted one lap later he rejoined the race just a few feet ahead of Button who immediately attacked him, but to no avail, the Spaniard defended his line and stayed ahead of Button. Alonso about his pit stop, "The pit stop was super: we gained the tenths that made the difference. Today, it was the mechanics who won the race and they produced a real miracle." Alonso was faster than Button on the hard tyres, and he slowly build up a gap to the McLaren and ultimately crossed the finish line 2.9 seconds ahead of Button.
Massa made his pit stop on lap 38, and he rejoined the race behind Button. Massa was not 100 per cent satisfied with his stop, "The pit stop was not perfect and maybe the time lost there cost me second place." But the Brazilian was happy with his third place, "All race long the car worked very well and I was always competitive. All the same, it was really nice to be on the podium: seeing all the people underneath it was incredible, with the whole straight packed with fans. It was a special feeling, especially as I feel I am part Italian."
Two-way strategy for McLaren
Ahead of the race McLaren were not sure whether they would use the F-Duct at the high-speed Monza circuit, but after tests on Friday they decided not to put their money on just one horse, Button would race with the F-Duct, while Hamilton would race without it. Hamilton already regretted the decision after qualifying. "It would appear that we took the wrong route by running without the F-duct this weekend. I just didn't have the down force today, and the car was sliding in the corners -- I couldn't push any harder because the car just wouldn't give me any more."
Hamilton made a good start, but when he approached the Variante della Roggia he hit the Ferrari of Massa, his right front steering rod broke and only seconds later he ended his race in the gravel trap. Hamilton about his first lap exit, "I made a good start, gained a position, got up to fourth, and, at that moment, perhaps I should have just stayed there for a while. But I put my car up the inside of Felipe into Turn Four, trying to get third, and that was probably a little bit too much."
Button was happy with his decision to use the F-Duct and he started the race from second position on the grid. His start was marginally better than Alonso's, and although Alonso hit him and damaged the McLaren's diffuser and left rear wing end plate, Button came out of the first chicane leading the race. The McLaren had more down force, while Alonso's Ferrari had more top speed and Button was worried about the Ferrari right behind him. "It was a very tough race mentally, and it was tricky holding off the challenge from behind. I spent the first half of the race either looking in my mirrors or at the TV screens to see where Fernando was."
Button made his mandatory pit stop on lap 36, but lost the lead when Alonso made his stop one lap later and pulled out of the pit lane just ahead of him. Alonso kept the door shut and after that Button had no chance to overtake the Ferrari again. Although Button was happy with the result of the race, he had some doubts about the pit stop strategy, and was wondering whether his team had made the right call at the right time. Button after the race, "Maybe it was the wrong call to pit when we did, but the team felt the new prime tyres were faster than the options. But I couldn't find any grip on the new tyres, and lost a little bit of time on them."
But team principal Martin Whitmarsh was adamant he made the right call and defended his decision. "The timing of pit stops is always an inexact science -- but, once we saw that Robert [Kubica] was immediately lapping quicker on prime tyres after his pit stop, we resolved to put Jenson on primes straight away. That was a logical and therefore sensible thing to do. It was incredibly close, and I'm sure it made edge-of-the-seat TV viewing, but on this occasion it went our opponents' way rather than our way. But that's racing."
Red Bull in damage limitation mode
During qualifying it became apparent Webber and Vettel were certainly not the fastest drivers on track, for the first time this season they were not able to dominate qualifying, and Red Bull decided to adapt the strategy of 'damage limitation'. The ramped up FIA flexibility tests have led to speculations Red Bull did have to make changes to the front wing and floor of the car, which in its turn could account for their lack of speed and mediocre performance at Monza.
Webber again had a troublesome start, he experienced a lot of wheel spin as he started from the dirty side of the track, and lost five places. He then got stuck behind the Mercedes of Michael Schumacher. "I had a good scrap with Michael in the early laps, I got past him on lap six," Webber said after the race. Webber was now behind his team colleague Vettel but was able to pass him after Vettel slowed down and reported he had an engine problem.
Things really got frustrating for him when he tried to overtake Nico Hulkenberg in the Williams. Hulkenberg missed the first chicane at least three times and thus stayed ahead of Webber. "He was all over the place, but he was very difficult to pass because his Williams was quick in a straight line. We were convinced that he'd get a penalty for bolting the chicane too many times, and I understand that he got a warning from Charlie [Whiting, FIA race director], but he was never asked to relinquish his position," he said, making it clear he was not happy with the lack of action of the FIA Stewards.
Webber knew Hamilton was out of the race, and he wanted to score as many points as possible, therefore he was not willing to risk everything to overtake Hulkenberg. But the Williams driver finally made a slight mistake and Webber passed him four laps before the end of the race. The Australian crossed the finish line in sixth position and scored six points and regained the lead in the Drivers' Championship.
The race was disappointing for Vettel, after a bad start the lack of straight line speed hampered his attempts to overtake other competitors. On lap 19 Vettel reported his engine was 'dying on him' and he lost speed, but the Renault men in white in the back of the Red Bull garage determined there was nothing wrong with the engine, but all the same recommended an alternative engine setting. Vettel was able to continue his race, and even recorded the fastest lap time several times.
A post-race investigation revealed one of the brakes had locked, which slowed him down for a few laps. The Bridgestone soft tyres lasted longer than expected, Vettel did 52 laps, almost 300 km, on his soft tyre compound before he made his mandatory stop during the very last lap of the race, he crossed the finish line one lap later in fourth position.
FIA Stewards Report
On Saturday during qualifying, Vitaly Petrov was given a 5-place grid penalty for impeding Timo Glock. The Stewards also investigated an incident involving Jaime Alguersuari and Schumacher, but decided the incident did not need further action. On Sunday during the race Alguersuari received a drive-through penalty for cutting a chicane and gaining advantage.
After the race the Stewards investigated the pit stop of Sakon Yamamoto, and the HRT team was fined $20,000 for an unsafe release of Yamamoto after his pit stop. During the stop one of the mechanics checked the radio connection, but he wasn't finished when Yamamoto was given the nod to take off, the man was injured and taken by ambulance to the Medical Center for check-ups. According to the team he remained conscious and suffered no serious injuries, and HRT expects he will make a speedy recovery..
The best of the rest: Rosberg, Kubica and Hulkenberg
Both German Nicos did well at Monza, Rosberg again outclassed Schumacher and finished in fifth position and took over the seventh place in the Drivers' Championship from Kubica. Rosberg had a dream start and overtook both Red Bull cars, and after Hamilton had crashed, he finished the first lap in fourth position right behind Massa. He successfully kept the Renault of Robert Kubica behind him, he had an fairly uneventful race, but nevertheless had to work hard and later told he basically drove 53 qualifying laps to keep Kubica behind him. He pitted on lap 35, but lost his fourth position to Vettel. "Fifth place was an ok result today except for losing the place to Sebastian [Vettel] at the end there. It was a tough fight and I was pushing to the maximum throughout the race, firstly with Robert [Kubica] at the start and then with Sebastian towards the end," he said after the race.
Renault's Kubica also had a good start, "I got a great start and passed Hulkenberg off the line, then the two Red Bulls in the first chicane. After Hamilton went off, I was running fifth at the end of the first lap, and from that point on I was managing the gap to Rosberg in front and Hulkenberg behind." He decided to stop a little earlier than the others and was immediately quicker on the hard tyre compound, but unfortunately for him, he lost two places right after his stop.
"From my out lap I was at least a second quicker, but unfortunately we had a slow stop and lost a couple of seconds," the Pole explained. And continued, "That meant Hulkenberg came out of the pits level with me, and we were wheel-to-wheel under braking. He took a defensive line through the chicane, which meant Webber also got a run on me through turn three, so I lost two positions." Kubica finished in eighth position ahead of Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello.
Hulkenberg outclassed his Williams team colleague Barrichello during qualifying and the race, during the start he lost one place, but regained two places in the first chicane. He was dicing with both Red Bull drivers all afternoon and furiously defended his sixth position. He gained one position when Kubica made his pit stop, but lost a place to Vettel after his pit stop, and then got into a memorable fight with Webber. Hulkenberg missed the first chicane several times, but was not punished for it, but Webber passed him after he made a small mistake. Hulkenberg, "It was made all the more difficult as I was struggling with the brake pedal, but it was an exciting afternoon of attacking and defending with great work in the pit stop, so I am pleased with the outcome."
Still five races to go
With now still five races to go, the complete top eight in the Drivers' Championship are still in the running for the title, but the last three of those eight, Massa, Rosberg and Kubica, in reality need a few major miracles and only still have a mathematical chance to win the title this year. The point of no return is approaching fast now, if one of the leaders in the championship makes a mistake, he could be out of contention for this year's title. Five Grands Prix are left on the calendar: Singapore, Japan, Korea, Brazil and Abu Dhabi.
Korea will be unknown territory for all 12 teams, Japan and Brazil are circuits where Red Bull, McLaren and Ferrari have performed well and won races before. Singapore is an altogether different circuit, it is a high down force street circuit with very little overtaking opportunities, with tight corners and barriers close to the track, a circuit notoriously hard on the brakes, a race in the night under artificial light; it seems all ingredients are in place for yet another episode of this year's Formula One World Championship.