Jack Evans, F1 Correspondent
Lewis Hamilton controlled the race but it was Sergio Perez who starred, charging from 12th to 2nd and around two Ferraris in a scintillating FIA Formula One Grand Prix of Italy.
Fernando Alonso delighted the red-clad fans by steadily moving up the order from 10th to just a few seconds behind leader Hamilton, but when Perez came alive with laps to go he passed the Spaniard and set his sights on 1st, the race ending as he closed fast on the win.
So instead it was Hamilton atop the podium. The win will be welcome by all at McLaren in the face of rumors of a team switch for the Brit, and he looked as happy as could be celebrating with his crew a win at Monza.
"Since I started in Formula 1, Monza has been one of the races I always wanted to win at," he said. "It’s such an incredible, historic circuit and all the great racing drivers have won here. To finally put my name on that list makes me feel extremely proud, but also very humble."
“I was out on my own for most of the race and just tried to manage the gap behind me. I was cruising at the end, but, once I heard that Sergio [Perez] had got past Fernando [Alonso], I had to push a little to keep the cushion over second place."
He pushed just enough. At the checkered flag Perez was 4.3 seconds behind and closing fast.
Felipe Massa looked set for a podium until Perez relegated him to 4th, but did manage to follow Alonso home, surely impressive enough.
Red Bull's race could not have gone much worse, with Sebastian Vettel suffering a drive-through penalty for harshly defending against Alonso in the fast Turn 3, then pulling to a halt laps later as team engineers shouted "Stop the car, it's a safety issue" through his radio. Mark Webber then compounded the disappointment with a spin at Ascari, righting himself in 11th position. Out of the points with severely flat-spotted tires, he simply pulled into the pits for the remaining few laps.
"The rear tyres were completely finished," Webber said. "So I dropped it out of the Ascari chicane. I managed to keep it off the wall, but then the tyres were so heavily flat-spotted...I couldn’t see the track, so we decided to retire.”
Kimi Raikkonen ended 5th behind Massa having had a relatively uneventful race, and thereby secures 3rd spot in the championship standings behind Hamilton now in 2nd and still-leading Alonso.
The results could have been very different, though, had Jenson Button finished the race. He was running second in a provisional 1-2 for McLaren when he parked off-track,apparently with an engine problem. The exact cause has not yet been confirmed.
"I don’t entirely know what caused my car to stop," Button explained. "I’m told it was a fuel system problem that we’re still investigating. The engine cut out and I had to coast to a stop. These things happen."
The two Mercedes cars followed Raikkonen with Michael Schumacher leading Nico Rosberg. Their Mercedes powerplants looked fast in qualifying, and indeed one won the race, but another failed Button and the rest did not deliver the overwhelming speed advantage expected going in. Paul di Resta, running one in his Sahara Force India, finished next, 8th.
Kamui Kobayashi managed only 9th in a Sauber identical to Perez's, and Bruno Senna scored the last point for Williams.
The only major crash of the day was Jean-Eric Vergne's at Rettifilo; the suspension on his Toro Rosso broke, sending him airborne over the kerbs. He emerged uninjured.
The major effect of this race is point standings, shuffled again with only seven races to go. Alonso’s 179 look foreboding over Hamilton’s 142, but even in Italy the Ferrari can be beaten and a single DNF can bring it right down to the scrap for 2nd. That scrap is a close one now, as winless Raikkonen lies a single point behind it in 3rd, and Vettel a single point behind that in 4th. He and all of Red Bull will be ruing their Monza mishaps.
Because of them, the teams’ championship has changed as well. Finally a team is within reasonable reach of Red Bull: McLaren 29 points back. And thanks to Massa’s contribution, Ferrari has leapfrogged Lotus-Renault. The black-and-gold team did not have Romain Grosjean to score with, but instead reserve Jerome D’Ambrosio. In his first outing in a competitive car he finished an admirable 13th, and—more importantly—did not crash. Grosjean will be back in the cockpit for the next round in Singapore, having served his one-race ban today.