McLaren's Juan Pablo Montoya took victory in the Italian Grand Prix with a strong drive from pole to flag, despite some tyre worries in the last laps. Renault had both cars on the podium with Fernando Alonso and Giancarlo Fisichella in second and...
McLaren's Juan Pablo Montoya took victory in the Italian Grand Prix with a strong drive from pole to flag, despite some tyre worries in the last laps. Renault had both cars on the podium with Fernando Alonso and Giancarlo Fisichella in second and third respectively, while Alonso's title rival Kimi Raikkonen had a storming drive to come home fourth even with a few problems thrown in his way.
While there wasn't a great deal of track action in the way of overtaking, Monza was still a very tense race. At the start the pack edged rather cautiously through the first chicane with only a few bumps and scrapes. The leaders got away but further down there were one or two incidents. David Coulthard tapped the back of Fisichella and damaged the Red Bull, while the Williams of Mark Webber also got a nudge somewhere.
Narain Karthikeyan's Jordan got a shove from behind by the Minardi of Christijan Albers and all four of the damaged cars ducked into the pits then rejoined the race after quick repair jobs. Raikkonen, who started from 11th after his engine penalty, got a bit of a slow start and the Sauber of Jacques Villeneuve nipped in front of him, which was to be the first of Raikkonen's problems.
BAR's Takuma Sato lost his fourth place to the Toyota of Jarno Trulli but took it back again at the Parabolica. Trulli was then scrapping with the Ferrari of Michael Schumacher; Schumacher cut the chicane and got ahead but had to cede the position to save getting a penalty. Sauber's Felipe Massa had got up to 12th from 15th on the first lap.
Montoya and Alonso were already pulling away at the front, trading fastest laps. Jenson Button's BAR had held on to third, followed by teammate Sato, then came the Ferrari of Rubens Barrichello, who had managed to get past his teammate, Trulli, Michael and Fisichella holding station in eighth. The Ferraris were first to pit, followed by Villeneuve which was no doubt a relief for Raikkonen, who hadn't been able to pass.
Free of the Sauber, Raikkonen immediately began climbing the order, aided by others going in for their first stops. But his job was twice as hard now after losing time behind Villeneuve for so long and Montoya was still belting out fastest laps at the front -- McLaren had presumably decided it was too late for Montoya to be able to play any role in Raikkonen's situation and told him to get on with his own race.
Coulthard and Webber were locked in their own little battle in the midfield after their problems at the start, the Williams harassing the Red Bull but not finding a way past. Sato had a fuel rig problem in his first stop and BAR thought he hadn't been filled up so they bought him in again on the next lap. It turned out he had actually been fuelled the first time so he spent some very long laps with a very heavy car.
Alonso had a bit of a slow first stop but it didn't really hamper him and he squeezed out just in front of Raikkonen. Another problem Kimi did not need! Alonso put up a bit of a fight for a couple of laps but the Renault was heavy with fuel Raikkonen was yet to stop. The McLaren nearly got ahead but cut the first chicane and had to cede. At the second chicane Alonso decided it wasn't worth it and Raikkonen went.
However, those couple of laps probably cost Raikkonen another couple of precious seconds. He was up to second by the time he came in for his first stop, the last to pit, which again underlines what a stunning qualifying lap he did with that much fuel on board. McLaren changed his strategy to a one-stopper so he would not have to pit again -- or so they thought. It wasn't as if Kimi didn't have enough problems to start with but they kept coming.
The order at the front remained Montoya from Alonso after the pit stop shakeout, with Fisichella up to third, Trulli fourth and Raikkonen fifth -- Button lost out somewhere along the line and dropped down the order. Next on the list of Raikkonen's troubles was his left rear tyre peeling off a strip. There was a lot of debate about whether it was delaminating or a puncture, but whatever the case he had to pit for a change.
That dropped him to 12th, back behind Villeneuve again. The middle stint of the race was fairly sedate; Albers got a drive-through penalty for ignoring the blue flags, while Montoya was maintaining a lead of nine seconds over Alonso. The second round of pit stops got under way, with Button in first. Raikkonen had made short work of Villeneuve that time around, followed by Massa, and was up to ninth.
Barrichello was next to have a tyre problem, his a slow puncture on the left rear which necessitated a change. Webber came out of his pit box alongside Sato and the pair went side by side up the pit lane, the Williams getting the advantage as they took to the track. The second set of pit stops passed without incident and it was then it was still Montoya leading Alonso, with Fisichella third.
Raikkonen was fourth, having jumped Trulli's Toyota but then the McLaren spun and stopped. Amazingly, seeing as the rear wheels were virtually in the gravel, Raikkonen kept it together and managed to get back on track, but it had let Trulli back into fourth. It wasn't an easy race for Raikkonen and after that he went ballistic. He shot past Trulli so fast at the Parabolica that Jarno might as well have been stood still.
Raikkonen looked to be on the edge of control, the McLaren having one or two wobbles as he pushed it to the limit, but it was amazing to watch. He was catching Fisichella at nearly two seconds a lap but time was running out. With four laps to go, Montoya's left rear tyre peeled off a strip almost exactly the same way Raikkonen's had. Were we going to get a repeat of Europe where Kimi stayed out and crashed out on the last lap?
With so little time remaining there was no choice for Montoya and McLaren but to stay out and not change the tyre. He was evidently struggling with it and Alonso was closing at over a second a lap. Montoya's luck held and so did the tyre; he took the chequered flag just two and a half seconds ahead of Alonso. Great drives by both of them but they didn't exactly have to fight, away on their own at the front.
"I pushed really hard for the first few laps and I opened up a gap and I felt quite comfortable," said Montoya. "Generally it went pretty good but we got to the end of the race. I could see the tyre breaking up a little bit on the left but at the end it just went really bad, there was just no grip... I was calculating but I couldn't go any quicker to be honest. Any quicker was a big risk to go off. When I had four seconds with two laps to go I thought it should be OK."
Alonso tried to catch Montoya but there was not enough time. "At the end the team informed me of the tyre problem that Juan Pablo was suffering," he explained. "I pushed a little bit more and like Juan Pablo, I turned the engine up again, full power and we tried to put on some pressure but maybe it was too late, but for us, second place is good. The target for the last six or seven races was to be on the podium and I am constantly on the podium and sometimes in front of Kimi, so it's OK for me.
Fisichella's bad luck for once went off to plague someone else (Raikkonen presumably) and he had a good drive to finish third, the first time Renault has had both cars on the podium since Melbourne. The Monza fans may not have had a Ferrari on the podium to cheer about but at least they had an Italian and by the look of it they were happy enough about that.
"I had no problems in the pit stops so today has been a good day for me and I'm able to achieve a good third position which is what I expected from this race," said the Italian. "The strategy was perfect and the team did a good job on the pit stops, so I was confident, especially when I was in that third position, to run through to the end and keep my third position."
Raikkonen's race was just extraordinary. Many drivers would be hoping for perhaps a couple points after starting 11th but Raikkonen was going for the win. Whether he could have done it or not will never be known but to finish fourth with all the problems he had was still remarkable. However, it's put a dent in his championship hopes as Alonso has now extended his lead to 27 points.
Toyota had a fairly solid race with Trulli and Ralf Schumacher coming home fifth and sixth respectively. Neither seemed unduly troubled and Ralf had a quiet time, although he did hinder Raikkonen's charge for a few laps early on. Pizzonia did a good job to bring his Williams over the line in seventh but Webber's early problems left him outside the points in a lowly 14th. Button had a tough time and managed the last point in eighth.
Amazingly, there were no retirements from a full grid, an event that's not happened since the Dutch GP in 1961 -- yes, there was Indy but that was only six cars. Massa came home ninth, two ahead of teammate Villeneuve in 11th, which was not a bad result seeing as Felipe started three places behind Jacques. Next year Massa will go to Monza as a Ferrari driver but this time it was a sad home race for the Scuderia.
Michael went briefly off track in the closing stages and finished 10th -- his long-running reign is over as we will now definitely have a new champion this year. Barrichello crossed the line two places behind in 12th. Christian Klien was the better of the two Red Bulls in 13th, with Coulthard 15th. Sato struggled on to 16th and Jordan's Tiago Monteiro was the backmarker leader in 17th. Minardi's Robert Doornbos followed in 18th, then came Albers and Karthikeyan.
The drivers' title is edging closer and closer to Alonso but the constructors' is still wide open. McLaren lessened the gap to Renault by one point, the French squad now on 144 and McLaren with 136, and there is a distinct possibility that McLaren can gain the advantage in the remaining four races. Raikkonen, of course, will not give up and while Alonso has the advantage there's still the chance that could change.
There's just a week until Spa, another high speed track, and we can expect more of the same tension. If Raikkonen doesn't have any problems, Alonso will have a problem with Raikkonen. But has Kimi's chance already been lost? We'll just have to wait and see. Final top eight classification: Montoya, Alonso, Fisichella, Raikkonen, Trulli, R. Schumacher, Pizzonia, Button.