Michael Schumacher took an emotional home win for Ferrari at the Italian Grand Prix, while title rival Fernando Alonso lost a big chunk of his championship lead as his Renault engine blew in spectacular fashion and put him out of the race. McLaren's Kimi Raikkonen lost the lead in the first round of pit stops and came home second and BMW Sauber's Robert Kubica scored his first F1 podium with third.
Ferrari announced immediately after the race that Schumacher will retire at the end of the season. Today was his last race at Monza, his 90th career victory and 71st with Ferrari. The sport's most successful driver is aiming to go out on a high by claiming his eighth world championship title and with Alonso scoring no points at Monza, the gap between them is now only two points.
The race start was clean, with pole sitter Raikkonen leading from Schumacher and surprisingly everyone got through the first corner pretty much unscathed. Kubica had a great start and got up to third but teammate Nick Hiedfeld, who started from the position, dropped back. Jenson Button's Honda gained a place to fifth and Alonso two to eighth.
Ferrari's Felipe Massa also got past Heidfeld and Alonso similarly dispatched McLaren's Pedro de la Rosa. He then homed in on the struggling Heidfeld and got him at the first corner, but then cut the chicane. He didn't cede the position and no action was taken by the stewards, presumably because Alonso was already past the BMW when he cut it.
The second Renault of Giancarlo Fisichella was ninth, followed by the Honda of Rubens Barrichello, Williams' Nico Rosberg, Toyota's Jarno Trulli and Williams' Mark Webber. Massa was all over the back of Kubica's BMW but not finding a way past, while towards the back of the field the newly named Spyker MF1s of Tiago Monteiro and Christijan Albers were scrapping.
Raikkonen and Schumacher were pulling away at the front and Rosberg was the first retiree, cruising back to the pits with a suspected transmission problem. "It was the second chicane where it happened," he said, referring to the harsh ride over the kerbs possibly causing the damage. "It's unfortunate as we went through there so many times in testing with no problems."
Behind Raikkonen and Schumacher came Kubica, with Massa still hanging on to his rear wing, Button, Alonso, Heidfeld and de la Rosa. Further down the field, behind Webber, were David Coulthard's Red Bull in 14th, the Toro Rosso of Scott Speed 15th, Ralf Schumacher's Toyota 17th, Tonio Liuzzi's Toro Rosso 18th, Christian Klien's Red Bull 19th, the Spyker MF1's, Albers leading Monteiro, and the Super Aguris of Takuma Sato and Sakon Yamamoto at the back.
Raikkonen was racking up fastest laps but Michael was sticking with him and de la Rosa kicked off the first round of pits stops on lap 15. Raikkonen was in next, then Michael and the German rejoined ahead of Raikkonen. Kubica was then leading while Alonso was still stuck behind Button and not making any inroads.
The Spaniard and Massa pitted, then Button, who nearly clashed with Albers as the Dutchman exited his pit box. Button rejoined behind Alonso and Heidfeld jumped both of them when he took his stop. However he was subsequently penalised for speeding in the pit lane and had to serve a drive through penalty for his efforts.
Coulthard, Speed and Ralf were having a good battle and Yamamoto retired unseen with a hydraulic problem. Some drivers were on a one-stop strategy, including Fisichella who duly visited the pits. Massa had a bit of a moment at the first Lesmo but kept going and after the first round of stops the points order was Michael, Raikkonen, Kubica, Massa, Alonso, Button, Heidfeld and Fisichella.
Michael made a bit of a mess of the first chicane and Raikkonen closed in a little then some kind of gremlin made de la Rosa spin off into the gravel to end his race. "We suspect it was the engine," he remarked. "I lost power and had to stop the car." McLaren later confirmed it was indeed an engine failure.
Kubica, Massa and Alonso were running pretty much nose to tail, while Raikkonen took his second stop and rejoined just ahead of the little train. Michael was in next and retained the lead, followed by Massa straight afterwards. Kubica and Alonso did likewise and they came out side by side, Alonso gaining the advantage and third place. Not a bad effort from 10th.
Unfortunately his efforts came to nothing when his engine blew in a huge cloud of smoke at the first corner. Kubica managed to continue unscathed but Massa locked up and skidded across the grass, picking up a right front puncture along the way. He had to pit again and returned in ninth. That put Kubica back to third and Fisichella fourth.
"There is not too much to say on a day like this," Alonso remarked. "When you start from tenth, you have to push everything to the limit -- yourself, the car, the tyres and the engine. I was going to easily finish on the podium today, and we showed that without the penalty, the car had the pace to fight for the victory."
Monteiro was also a late retiree with brake issues and in the closing stages Heidfeld was attacking Trulli for seventh but couldn't get past the Toyota. Michael took the chequered flag and there were tears in the Ferrari ranks, along with an emotional Luca di Montezemolo on parc ferme, which pretty much confirmed what many suspected, that Michael was retiring.
It was fitting that Michael should take victory at Monza in the last race that he will compete in at Ferrari's home circuit. The German has as many detractors as he has supporters but it's undeniable that he is the driver of his generation and the most successful driver in the history of Formula One. It's the end of an era.
"The race was relatively straightforward," Schumacher said. "We were hoping that Kimi would pit before us and he did. Everything went according to plan with no particular worries. The most emotional moment the final lap. After the chequered flag I came on the radio and told all my friends in the team what I was about to announce and it was really difficult to keep my emotions under control."
"This win is very important in terms of both titles. We have taken the lead in the Constructors' and as for the Drivers,' we are no longer dependent on our rivals' performance."
Although it was unlikely that McLaren could stand up to Ferrari's pace over a race distance, Raikkonen did a good enough job to score second and the team is definitely improving. It's now official that the Finn will replace Michael at Ferrari, on a three year deal, and will be teammate to Felipe Massa next year.
"All in all this was a good weekend for us, and the team has done a fantastic job," Raikkonen commented. "We have improved our starting system, which helped me a lot on the run to the first corner. I was controlling the race until my first pit stop but the fact that Michael was able to stay out for one more lap than me eventually decided the outcome of the race."
Kubica showed great confidence and maturity to bring his BMW home third and the team is another that is improving. Heidfeld had a miserable first couple of laps, which wasted his excellent third place on the grid, but despite his woes and penalty, he picked up the final point in eighth.
"Before the race some guys from the team came to me and told me they would like to see me on the podium, I thought it was a joke and now we are here," said Kubica. "It was always a tough race as I had to fight with Massa and Alonso. I now have the first podium of my life in Formula 1. I want to thank the team for giving me this opportunity - we all are very, very proud."
Fisichella's one stop strategy gave him a fourth place finish and Button pretty much sat in fifth place the whole race and duly took the flag there. Teammate Barrichello had a fairly quiet afternoon and came home sixth, a solid if not spectacular result for Honda. Toyota struggled at Monza but Trulli managed two points in seventh.
Massa's late puncture dropped him down to ninth and Webber rounded out the top 10. Klien was rarely seen but finished one ahead of teammate Coulthard in 11th while the Toro Rossos had a formation finish, Speed 13th and Liuzzi 14th. Ralf was a anonymous 15th while Sato and Albers were the last classified in 16th and 17th respectively.
Monza was not exactly a thriller -- most of the interest was off track -- but the title fight has certainly taken a tense turn. Ferrari has overtaken Renault in the constructors' by three points and with two between Alonso and Michael the last three races look set to be nail-biters. Final top eight classification: M. Schumacher, Raikkonen, Kubica, Fisichella, Button, Barrichello, Trulli, Heidfeld.