McLaren's Fernando Alonso has been at the top of the Monza time sheets since Friday afternoon and he wasn't about to let anyone take the place off him in the race. The Spaniard dominated the Italian Grand Prix from pole to flag to take his first...
McLaren's Fernando Alonso has been at the top of the Monza time sheets since Friday afternoon and he wasn't about to let anyone take the place off him in the race. The Spaniard dominated the Italian Grand Prix from pole to flag to take his first win at Monza and his fourth of the season. McLaren celebrated its fourth one-two with Lewis Hamilton in second, while Ferrari's reliability let it down as only Kimi Raikkonen reached the chequered flag for third.
It was fine and sunny on Sunday afternoon, with the track temperature around 30 degrees at the start of the race. Pole sitter Alonso was clean away from the line and Hamilton cut across to defend from a charging Felipe Massa. The Ferrari got squeezed to the edge but drew ahead towards the first chicane then Hamilton came back around the outside. There was slight contact between them but Hamilton regained second.
Meanwhile, Raikkonen got past the BMW Sauber of Nick Heidfeld to take fourth. Heidfeld's teammate Robert Kubica retained sixth and Renault's Heikki Kovalainen and the Williams of Nico Rosberg likewise held onto their starting positions of seventh and eighth. Jarno Trulli's Toyota dropped out of the top 10 which put Jenson Button's Honda up to ninth and Mark Webber's Red Bull to 10th.
Massa harassed Hamilton all the way round the first lap but eventually he backed off a bit. David Coulthard had got his Red Bull up to 15th from 20th by the third lap but then crashed out heavily at Curva Grande. According to Coulthard contact with the Renault of Giancarlo Fisichella damaged his front wing, which soon failed and sent the Red Bull careering across the gravel and into the barrier. Coulthard was unharmed.
"David had what looked to be a nasty accident after making contact with Fisichella at the chicane," said Red Bull team principal Christian Horner. "The impact damaged his front wing, which caused it to collapse through the next fast right hander. Effectively, he was a passenger for the rest of his journey across the grass into the tyre barrier. Thankfully he's totally uninjured."
The safety car was deployed and it took a few laps to clear the car. Alonso backed the pack up then shot off when the track was green with Hamilton in hot pursuit. The Brit had a little look at the first chicane but thought the better of it and held station. Outside the top 10 Honda's Rubens Barrichello was 11th, followed by Alex Wurz' Williams, Trulli, Super Aguri's Anthony Davidson, Fisichella and the second Toyota of Ralf Schumacher.
The Toro Rossos of Tonio Liuzzi and Sebastian Vettel and the Spykers of Adrian Sutil and Sakon Yamamoto made up the back of the pack, along with Takuma Sato's Super Aguri. Further ahead Button had got in front of Rosberg for eighth and the pair spent much of the race arguing between themselves. Unfortunately for Massa his afternoon was short- lived when he retired to the pits on lap 11 with a suspected mechanical problem on the rear suspension.
"It's horrible to see your chances go in the early stages because of a reliability problem," said the disappointed Brazilian. "There was something not working with the rear suspension: coming into Ascari I could feel a problem under braking and came into the pits, thinking it might be due to a puncture. However, once the tyres were changed that was still undriveable and I had to retire."
That put Raikkonen up to third but he was 10 seconds behind the McLarens and not seeming to be making any inroads. Was the Finn one stopping compared to McLaren's two? Heidfeld was hanging on to the Ferrari, two seconds behind and Hamilton was the first of the front runners to pit. It was a mix of one and two-stop strategies through the field so it was never quite certain who was going to end up ahead of whom.
Alonso followed the lap after Hamilton which left Raikkonen in the lead, with the McLarens reforming their previous positions of Alonso in front of Hamilton. Button and Rosberg were still arguing their way round the track, Rosberg having a shot round the outside through one and two but Button holding him off. Again the Williams came back at the Honda and this time he made it stick to take seventh.
Raikkonen's lead over the McLarens was 18 seconds by then -- it wasn't enough to jump them in the pits but it would certainly put him in contention. Kubica was delayed in his pit stop by a problem with the front jack that stranded him for 17 seconds and dropped him to 11th. Then Raikkonen pitted and the amount of fuel that went in indicated that he was indeed on a one-stopper. Bad news for McLaren but would it work out for the Finn?
Heavy on fuel, he was lapping over a second off the Silver Arrows and 18 seconds behind Hamilton when he was back on track. But his rivals had to pit again and although Alonso looked to be out of reach, Hamilton was firmly in Ferrari's sights. Meanwhile, much of the midfield had taken their one stop for the afternoon, without a great deal of change to the order. But all eyes were on the front as Hamilton took his second stop.
Where was Raikkonen as the McLaren left its box and headed for the pit exit? Flying down the start/finish straight was the answer and he snatched second from Hamilton, much to Ferrari's delight. But it wasn't over; Hamilton was not about to concede defeat and set about catching Raikkonen in no uncertain fashion. It was likely he would but it happened a lot quicker than most expected, probably including Raikkonen.
Hamilton scorched up behind the Ferrari along the straight and got a nice slipstream into the first chicane, where he just blasted past and left Raikkonen trailing in his wake. It was a really gutsy move from Hamilton and as soon as he was free he immediately shot off at a pace that the Ferrari had no real hope of catching. At the front Alonso took his second stop and comfortably rejoined in the lead. And that, as far as the podium was concerned, was that.
It was Alonso's weekend; he was consistently head of Hamilton and despite its early showing on Friday Ferrari just couldn't compete. It was a result Alonso really needed and he went about it in no uncertain fashion; there's now just three points between him and Hamilton at the top. For McLaren it was a dream result on Ferrari ground and one that will, temporarily at least, give the team reason to celebrate.
"A perfect weekend for me," Alonso said. "Sometimes everything seems to go in the right direction and you feel good and you need to keep up the momentum. All weekend has been good for me. Sometimes I have started well here in Monza but I always had some problems in the race, and I always missed the victory and the win here so to win here in Monza for the first time is a very very special win."
Hamilton described the pass on Raikkonen: "Once we knew that Kimi was on a one-stop strategy it was key to really optimise my second stop. Unfortunately I came out behind him, but I knew I was faster on the new tyres, if only for a couple of laps, and so I just took the opportunity when I caught him up. It was really important for me to get that place back, not only for my position in the Championship, but also for all the team."
Ferrari won't be celebrating, that much is for sure. Massa's car problem has almost certainly ended his title hopes, as the gap to Hamilton is now 23 points. Raikkonen also lost out by Hamilton retaking second and although he moves back ahead of his teammate in the standings, his deficit is 18 points. But the Finn did a pretty good job considering he was in some pain after his heavy crash in practice on Saturday.
"This was definitely a tough race for me because of the pain I felt in my neck after yesterday's accident, which was bad enough to make it hard for me to hold my head steady under braking," he admitted. "Having said that, today we were not really quick enough. We knew it would not be an easy weekend, as we had already realized that in last week's test, with Friday and yesterday confirming it. The car was not bad in the first stint but then we were not strong enough."
Kubica made up some places once others had stopped and in the closing stages he dispatched Rosberg to take fifth behind Heidfeld. BMW has been very consistent this season but is still some way off McLaren and Ferrari's competitiveness. Heidfeld must be getting a bit exasperated with fourth place but he and Kubica once again consolidated BMW's position and further distanced the team from Renault.
Rosberg had a lively afternoon and crossed the line in a well-earned sixth place, followed by Kovalainen. The youngsters are regularly putting their more experienced teammates in the shade and it wouldn't be a huge surprise to see Wurz (13th) and Fisichella (12th) make way for other new talents next year. Neither of the old hands had a particularly notable race, Fisichella only when he was fighting with Davidson, which he probably won't care to remember.
Button finally scored another point for Honda in eighth, something that should give him and the team reason to smile. That says a lot for how far Honda has fallen but there are definitely one or two signs of improvement. It wasn't that long ago that the team wouldn't even have been hoping for a point. Barrichello rounded off the top 10 and in between the two Japanese cars was Webber's Red Bull in ninth.
Trulli started ninth and finished 11th, which he'll no doubt have some excuse for, while Davidson ended in the same place as he began, 14th, which for a Super Aguri isn't a bad result. Schumacher only made little progress to get home 15th, followed by Sato. Liuzzi was the lead Toro Rosso in 17th and Vettel was one behind, and Spyker was the tail-ender, Sutil 19th and Yamamoto 20th.
After the argy-bargy of the first lap and Coulthard's crash, there wasn't a great deal of excitement at Monza. The will-he-or-won't-he scenario of Raikkonen getting in front of Hamilton was quite tense but, no insult to either of them, once he did then Hamilton took it back, it was kind of a let down. Still, McLaren deserved its triumph today and Ferrari -- as far as is currently known -- has only got itself to blame for Massa's car problem.
Unfortunately the next major event on the calendar is not the Belgian GP but the World Motor Sport Council meeting on Thursday. For the moment that dark cloud is hanging over not only McLaren and its drivers but over the championship and F1 itself. We can only hope that the titles will be decided on track and not in Paris. Final top eight classification: Alonso, Hamilton, Raikkonen, Heidfeld, Kubica, Rosberg, Kovalainen, Button.